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Sport and Doping – The law needs to keep up with the racing

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Spanish cyclist, Alberto Contador won the Giro d’Italia for a second time on Sunday 28 May 2011.  This was his sixth Grand Tour win – three wins in the Tour de France, one at the Vuelta a Espana and a previous Giro win in 2008.  However, a cloud hangs over his success. 

In September 2010, it was announced that Contador had tested positive for the banned drug, Clenbuterol, at a drugs control taken during the 2010 Tour de France.  Contador claimed the Clenbuterol was consumed unwittingly in a contaminated steak. Although he was suspended during an initial investigation, he was cleared by the Spanish Cycling Federation.  However, the Spanish Cycling Federation’s decision is subject to review by the Court of Arbitration (CAS).  If CAS rules against Contador, he may face a ban of up to 2 years and the loss of his third Tour title.  Contador could also be stripped of his Giro win.

The law needs to catch up with the racing.  Imagine if one of the top Premier League contenders was subject to ongoing investigation for several years which might ultimately invalidate its results in the League. A long period of uncertainty would be considered unacceptable. Even worse, in cycling, racing tactics mean that the presence or absence of a top contender will influence the development of the race and the second placed finisher and stage winners may not have been the same if Contador had not participated. The whole race might have played out differently.

The participation of sportspeople under investigation leaves a cloud not only over the individual, but the event and the sport. It is unfair to those who are entitled to have their names cleared quickly. If they ought to be banned, the injustice of allowing them to compete cannot be righted.  How many people remember who came second to Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson after he was stripped of his Olympic title or American cyclist Floyd Landis after he was stripped of victory in the 2006 Tour de France also for a doping offence? Those caught cheating may be stripped of their wins, but still enjoyed the prestige at the time and usually keep much of the financial benefit of their wins.  A legal system which is too slow is unfair and it is damaging to sport.  The law needs to catch up and sort the cheats from those who are entitled to participate much more quickly.

John Mackle is a keen cyclist (if only he had more time), has lectured on the liability of clubs and unincorporated associations (including sport clubs) and has advised the Premier League, The Football Association and various Premier League and other sports clubs in litigation.  The views expressed in this blog are his own. John Mackle is a senior associate solicitor in the Litigation Department at Clarion Solicitors can be contacted on 0113 336 3336 or at john.mackle@clarionsolicitors.com

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