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Omerta of the peleton triumphs again as commission is disbanded

IT was confirmed yesterday that the International Cycling Union is disbanding the independent commission which it appointed to investigate the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

The Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, centre, leaves after the second session of the Operation Puerto  anti-doping trial, in Madrid yesterday.  Picture: Javier Lizon/EPA The Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, centre, leaves after the second session of the Operation Puerto  anti-doping trial, in Madrid yesterday.  Picture: Javier Lizon/EPA
The Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, centre, leaves after the second session of the Operation Puerto anti-doping trial, in Madrid yesterday. Picture: Javier Lizon/EPA The Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, centre, leaves after the second session of the Operation Puerto anti-doping trial, in Madrid yesterday. Picture: Javier Lizon/EPA

The World and United States anti-doping agencies refuse to co-operate. They have no confidence in the UCI process or its ability to unearth the truth. The commission itself say failure to co-operate made the job "impossible".

The UCI proposed to amnesty those testifying, and claim WADA agreed, but WADA deny this. They would need to change their rules, and decline to do so. They accuse the UCI of "arrogance and deceit", and attempting to "deflect responsibility for the doping problem in its sport to others", as WADA chairman John Fahey put it.

He wants Armstrong to testify to them under oath. This seems increasingly unlikely. Effective investigation of the seven-time Tour de France winner and serial dope cheat may be over, and with it exposure of the extent of cycling's cancer. The omerta of the peloton has triumphed again.

The UCI propose replacing the independent commission with a truth and reconciliation commission, also under amnesty. Otherwise, they say, few would be prepared to testify. That surely hints at the scale of doping.

The central issue concerns two donations by Armstrong to the UCI, and whether they were complicit in covering up his doping.

Armstrong and US Postal were the subject of a damning USADA report on serial cheating. Their chief executive, Travis Tygart, is the witch-finder general of anti-doping. He was behind the Balco investigation and was instrumental in toppling a cohort of cheats including Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin, Dwain Chambers and Tim Montgomery. "The UCI cannot be allowed to script its own self-interested outcome in this effort," he said. "The UCI blindfolded and handcuffed its independent commission and now hopes the world will look the other way while the UCI attempts to insert itself into the investigation into the role it played in allowing the doping culture to flourish."

If there is a clue as to why the UCI should suddenly make the independent panel redundant, it may lie in its composition.

Its chair is former Court of Appeal Judge Sir Phillip Otton who said they were determined to investigate how Lance Armstrong and Postal were able to "engage in systematic doping without detection or sanction".

It also included the multiple Paralympic gold medallist Tanni Grey-Thompson, noted for her no-holds-barred UK Athletics anti-doping report, and Malcolm Holmes,a Sydney QC and professor of sports law. Was this more heavyweight than UCI anticipated?

Despite the scale of Armstrong's cheating, it may, though, have turned the focus too tightly on cycling. It has taken seven years for Operation Puerta to get Dr Eufemiano Fuentes into court. A haematologist, he finally gave evidence yesterday in Madrid where he is charged with endangering health. But not doping, because there was no applicable Spanish statute at the time.

He testified that he had "treated tennis players, athletes, footballers and a boxer", describing in painstaking detail how he helped athletes control the level of red cells in their blood by extracting some if the level was too high, and injecting stored blood if it was low.

Fuentes says he won't name names, but has previous boasted that, if he talked, "the Spain football team would be stripped of the 2010 World Cup".

A police raid of his office, laboratory, and home in 2006 uncovered some 200 blood bags. Fuentes worked with the ONCE and Kelme cycling teams. Arrests of several riders, including Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, and Roberto Heras followed.

The judge has rejected a WADA plea to disclose detailed evidence from Fuentes' files because it would be a breach of privacy. Evidence is limited only to cycling. A total of 36 riders are listed as witnesses, including Jesus Manzano, who nearly died during the 2003 Tour de France; Tyler Hamilton, who described Fuentes as the "Wal-Mart" of doping; and double Tour winner Alberto Contador, who served a two-year suspension.

At the time of Operation Puerta, Rafa Nadal had an outburst at Wimbledon after French and Swiss newspapers linked him to Fuentes. "I have never taken anything in my life and I never will," he said after a fourth-round match. "There is nothing more to say about this. My manager is speaking to my lawyers."

Tennis blogs and websites continue to heap rumour and innuendo on the Spaniard, though.

It has already been noted that Novak Djokovic won more in Melbourne on Sunday than tennis worldwide invests annually in anti-doping – a programme which players including Andy Murray and Roger Federer suggest is woefully inadequate. Djokovic has, more recently, also begun singing to their tune.

Given the rewards, tennis' anti-doping investment is derisory. It stands at $2m for this year, and remains, at best, superficial, especially regarding blood tests for substances which would be of greatest benefit to players routinely on court for four to five hours, and more. A world-class men's marathon takes just over two hours. Typically, a runner will only contest two marathons annually. Tennis players can play lengthy five-setters twice a week, or more.

'Fess-up to the crime and escape doing time! What a wizard wheeze to relieve pressure on prisons and Britain's creaking justice system. Don't jail offenders; simply send them to truth and reconciliation seminars.

We can have as much faith in the UCI process as we'd have in a criminal justice system based solely on truth and reconciliation. And permit me to be sceptical about the transparency of the Madrid trial. Pat McQuaid, the UCI president, already has claimed only 30% of those implicated in Puerta were cyclists, but WADA attempts to get documents on the others have been blocked by Spanish authorities.

Their government has a 2020 Olympic bid on the table, after all.

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