The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced that it would bring formal charges against Lance Armstrong in a move that could end up costing Armstrong his seven Tour de France titles. USADA is charging Armstrong, as well as five others with an elaborate conspiracy to illegally boost racing performance though performance enhancing drugs.
In view of the Justice Department’s pass on criminal prosecution a few moths ago, it is imperative that the USADA proceed with an impartial and transparent process. The USDA is not a court of law and any appearance to unfairly prosecute Armstrong on years old stories of innuendo and suspicion will only damage their credibility. They must back up their claims with physical evidence to be believed. Most people who follow the sport believe that Armstrong is not an innocent, but they also acknowledge that he has passed more than 500 drug tests in competition and never failed one. Perhaps he gamed the system with better drugs or doctors. Cynically he may have thought that his success justified the “by any means possible approach” that too many elite athletes seem to embrace. But in the end the USADA will be judged by how fairly they treat Armstrong.
Beyond Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, his longtime manager; former team doctors Luis Garcia Del Moral and Pedro Celaya; former trainer Jose Marti; and consulting doctor Michele Ferrari are also charged. The specific charges include possession, trafficking and administration of banned performance-enhancing drugs. Beyond these specific charges, the letter filed by the USADA reveals a larger “doping conspiracy” and attempt by doctors, managers and racers on both the U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel racing teams. The groups allegedly created and sustained a massive cover-up to hide their illegal activities including coordinating false statements and threatening hostile witnesses.
The charges do not appear to be based upon physical evidence, but instead rely on the testimony of others who claim to have witnessed Armstrong doping. Floyd Landis, a fellow professional cyclist on Armstrong’s Postal Service team claims to have seen Armstrong and others receive blood transfusions along with injections of boosted blood. Landis is currently pursuing a whistleblower action claiming that the U.S. Postal Service team was defrauded of money thanks to a contract provision specifying that team members not engage in doping. Landis has credibility problems as he published a book several years ago denying the charges that he now claims are true.
Armstrong released a statement and Twitter messages condemning what he called “baseless” charges. “I have been notified that USADA, an organization largely funded by taxpayer dollars but governed only by self-written rules, intends to again dredge up discredited allegations dating back more than 16 years to prevent me from competing as a triathlete and try and strip me of the seven Tour de France victories I earned.” In case there was any doubt Armstrong went further and specifically stated: “I have never doped.”
The recent charges come only a few months after the Justice Department dropped a long running investigation into Armstrong’s behavior while on the U.S. Postal Service team. Because of the announcement by the anti-doping agency Armstrong has been temporarily banned from participating in events for his current sport of choice, triathlon.
The charges filed by the USADA are not criminal. The agency only has the power to ban athletes from competition and to revoke previous titles, including his record-breaking stretch of Tour de France wins. Athletes who are charged by USADA are allowed to request a hearing, and if they lose, they are permitted to appeal to an international arbitration body, the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Armstrong has 10 days to respond to the USADA’s letter.
USADA letter of Lance Armstrong’s Charges
(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 266-0605.)