Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lance Armstrong Doping Controversy

Lance Armstrong  had until 8 PM Mountain Time on August 23, 2012, to respond to the United States Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA) allegations that he took performance enhancing drugs and transfused his own blood to increase his red blood cell count (known as blood doping) during his career as a professional cyclist. On the day of the deadline a weary Armstrong released an official statement saying that, "Enough is enough." Maintaining his innocence, Armstrong stated he would not fight the charges and asserted that the arbitration panel was rigged to find him guilty.

Armstrong had had until the deadline to either contest the allegations through an arbitration hearing or accept the charges and associated penalties. According to USADA's mandate, by not seeking an arbitration hearing, Armstrong accepted the charges. On August 24, USADA moved to strip Armstrong of all results dating back to 1998 including his seven Tour de France wins. Armstrong also received a lifetime ban from competing in cycling

The entire process offers insight into the complicated, and often bureaucratic, world of international sports governance, as well as the continuing controversy over the use, testing, and punishment for banned substances in sports.

When the USADA initially announced that it had evidence against him in June, Armstrong challenged the USADA's jurisdiction, leading to a brief legal battle between Armstrong, the International Cycling Union (UCI, cycling's governing body), USADA, and USA Cycling (the U.S. Governing body for cycling).  He argued that USADA was denying him his right to due process. Furthermore, he argued that USADA did not have jurisdiction over him in this case, but the International Cycling Union (UCI) did. The UCI backed Armstrong.

While expressing surprise that the national and international sports bodies could not cooperate, the judge in the case ruled that the U.S. courts did not have jurisdiction to make a decision and the USADA was free to proceed.

While a hero to many fans who admire his impressive record and courageous battle with cancer, Armstrong has also faced constant scrutiny from the press since his early days of winning and has been forced to fend off doping allegations that have been leveled against him by former teammates, journalists, and associates. The UCI and the organizers of the Tour de France refused to comment initially on the USADA's decision. How his fans and historians will ultimately judge Armstrong's legacy remains to be seen.

ABC-CLIO has had several titles that have analyzed the accusations against Armstrong in great detail as well as the history of doping in sports.

In Dope: A History of Performance Enhancement in Sports from theNineteenth Century to Today, (2008, Praeger/ABC-CLIO), Daniel M. Rosen discusses Armstrong's legacy. Rosen analyzes not just the rise of drugs and doping methods, he also looks at the governing bodies that were developed to combat performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong himself has faced repeated allegations that he doped even well into retirement. Rosen addresses suspicions about Armstrong's first Tour de France win in 1999.

When Lance Armstrong won his seventh and final Tour de France, he gave a brief retirement speech in which he addressed the oft-repeated accusations that he could only have accomplished what he did through artificial means. “I want to send a message to people who do not believe in cycling, the cynics, skeptics. I am sorry that they do not believe in miracles, in dreams. Too bad for them,” Armstrong said on July 24, 2005, immediately after being awarded his final maillot jaune (the yellow jersey, the symbol of the Tour de France leader).
Just one month later, articles published in the French sports daily L’Equipe charged that Armstrong had used EPO when he won his first Tour in 1999. Armstrong had long been suspected of doping by various European publications, despite his firm denials, and L’Equipe claimed to have scientific proof that the seven-time Tour winner had used banned substances.
Armstrong quickly released a statement on his Web site vehemently denying the accusations against him. “Yet again, a European newspaper has reported that I have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs,” Armstrong's statement read. “L’Equipe, a French sports daily, is reporting that my 1999 samples were positive. Unfortunately the witch hunt continues and [their] article is nothing short of tabloid journalism. 
“The paper even admits in its own article that the science in question here is faulty and that I have no way to defend myself. They state: ‘There will therefore be no counter-exam nor regulatory prosecutions, in a strict sense, since defendant's rights cannot be respected.’ “I will simply restate what I have said many times: I have never taken performance enhancing drugs."
Damien Ressiott, L’Equipe's reporter on the doping beat, had gotten hold of documents from France's antidoping laboratory, LNDD, which purported to show that Armstrong and several other cyclists had positive test results for the blood-boosting drug EPO. The material Ressiott gathered included the results of tests conducted on old urine samples left over from the 1998 and 1999 Tours de France. LNDD claimed that the testing, performed in 2004, was research geared toward improving the urine test for the banned drug. Among the samples tested were six that appeared to belong to Armstrong, all of which—according to the documents—showed traces of synthetic EPO in his system. The revelation caused an immediate uproar.
Jean-Marie Leblanc, the director of the Tour de France, told L’Equipe that he felt shocked and “morally betrayed” by Armstrong, and went on to say, “It couldn't be expected, even from a controversial personality like Lance Armstrong, who has aroused both suspicion and admiration [over the years]."
In response, Chris Carmichael, Armstrong's trainer and friend for more than fifteen years, said, “There are always those who will try to destroy Lance. The attempt byL’Equipe being the latest example. Lance has always been one of those who has suffered most from [doping] controls. I have known Lance for the past fifteen years and he has never tested positive for the simple reason that he has never, ever used performance-enhancing drugs.”
Dick Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, called the charges “serious” if the story was proven to be true. But he also noted that the events took place four months before WADA was formed, and that most likely it was the responsibility of the UCI and USA Cycling to handle the matter. Still, he said that the agency would carefully consider its options in the case. Pound added that athletes tempted to cheat should learn from the story. “It is a lesson for anyone who uses performance-enhancing drugs,” the WADA chief told L’Equipe, “sooner or later the truth will be known."
Jacques de Ceaurriz, LNDD's director told the French sports daily that the tests were done anonymously because the lab does not have any information about whose samples they are testing. He went on to say, “It was not a doping control. These tests were conducted as part of a scientific research. Our objective was to develop the test and decision criteria. But all this was part of a research program much broader, we seek to construct a mathematical model for detecting EPO. We should also remember that the samples were taken in 1999, one year before the first official use of our detection test for EPO, at the Olympic Games in Sydney. On the Tour de France, our method was applied starting in 2001.” De Ceaurriz went on to tell the newspaper that the lab's test was reliable, and that there was no doubt about the validity of the results.
Armstrong, however, did not trust the lab. Speaking on CNN's “Larry King Live,” he said, “A guy in a Parisian laboratory opens up your sample, you know, Jean Francois so-and-so, and he tests it—nobody's there to observe, no protocol was followed—and then you get a call from a newspaper that says ‘We found you to be positive six times for EPO.’ Well, since when did newspapers start governing sports?”
Over the coming months, various officials suggested that Armstrong be sanctioned for doping. But as the cyclist noted, and Jacques de Ceaurriz reiterated, the tests weren't carried out as doping tests. There was one other not so minor problem with respect to prosecuting the seven-time Tour winner for a doping violation. Under the WADA antidoping code, to charge an athlete with a doping offense, there must be a backup sample available for counteranalysis. This requirement exists to protect athletes from false positive results. Should the counteranalysis not confirm the initial results, there is no doping violation to prosecute.
In Armstrong's case, there was no backup sample. The samples tested by LNDD had been the backup samples from tests conducted in 1998 and 1999, which would have (and according to rules in place at the time should have) otherwise been destroyed. There was no more material to test, so the results couldn't be confirmed by another round of lab work. From a legal point of view, no disciplinary action could be taken against the seven-time Tour champion. But many continued to ask: What should be done about Armstrong's alleged positive results?
By early October 2005, the accusations and counteraccusations from various organizations reached such a fever pitch that the UCI commissioned Emile Vrijman, a lawyer who had run the Dutch antidoping agency for ten years, as an independent investigator to look into the case, including the leaks of confidential information such as Armstrong's test results. Over the next eight months, Vrijman, with assistance from Dr. Adriaan van der Veen and Paul Scholten, collected all of the UCI's information related to the case. Vrijman also requested and received information from a number of other sources during the course of their research.
While both Vrijman and Scholten are attorneys, Dr. van der Veen is an expert in the application of the International Standards Organization's ISO 17025/1999 standards to laboratories, with particular expertise in the application of this international standard to antidoping laboratories. At the end of May 2006, Vrijman and his panel released a 130-page report. In the report, he found that the retrospective testing of stored samples for the purposes of determining a doping violation was not specifically included in the World Anti-Doping Code, as written in 2003. Vrijman's report also criticized LNDD and their handling of the testing, as well as noting concerns about the security of information at the lab.
In his conclusions, Vrijman indicated that while the testing of Armstrong's and the other cyclists’ urine samples may have been suitable for research purposes, it was clear that the proper antidoping testing protocols and procedures had not been followed. Therefore, the results did not prove any doping violations. The report went further, saying, “Had the LNDD conducted its testing in accordance with the applicable rules and regulations and reported its findings accordingly, any discussion about the alleged use of a prohibited substance by Lance Armstrong would not have taken place. Having concluded thus, the investigator however, would like to stress that ultimately it has been WADA's improper request to the LNDD—i.e. to include ‘additional information’ in its report—which has triggered the chain of events leading to the publication of said allegations in L’Equipe and subsequently this report.”
The report also contains numerous criticisms of the UCI, WADA, and LNDD, including that WADA and LNDD “behaved in ways that are completely inconsistent with the rules and regulations of international anti-doping control testing.” The report's authors went so far as to say that WADA's and LNDD's behavior may have also been illegal.
When it became public, neither the UCI nor WADA was pleased with the result. Dick Pound, the head of WADA, said, “The Vrijman report is so lacking in professionalism and objectivity that it borders on farcical. Were the matter not so serious and the allegations it contains so irresponsible, we would be inclined to give it the complete lack of attention it deserves.”
Lance Armstrong, however, released a statement that said, “Although I am not surprised by the report's findings, I am pleased that they confirm what I have been saying since this witch-hunt began: Dick Pound, WADA, the French laboratory, the French Ministry of Sport, L’Equipe, and the Tour de France organizers (ASO) have been out to discredit and target me without any basis and falsely accused me of taking performance enhancing drugs in 1999. Today's comprehensive report makes it clear that there is no truth to that accusation.”
The report did not explain how L’Equipe's reporter Damien Ressiot received information about Armstrong's test results, and from whom he received it. In part, this may have been because both the lab and WADA refused to cooperate with the UCI's independent investigation. Vrijman suggested that a tribunal be formed to look into the matter and determine what, if any, sanctions should be levied against the organizations named in his report.
In the end, only one person connected to the scandal received any sort of reprimand or punishment. Mario Zorzoli, the UCI doctor who apparently gave copies of Armstrong's doping control forms to the French newspaper, was suspended from his duties for one month in the early part of 2006, but was subsequently reinstated. No action, to date, has been taken against any LNDD staff members for violating Armstrong's confidentiality by releasing the test results to L’Equipe's reporter. 

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