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Sufficient proof, or mere suspicion?

Alberto Contador's sanction shows the lack of coordination in anti-doping legislation

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has punished Alberto Contador with a two-year ban, as well as other penalties (the loss of his 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro de Italia titles), due to his positive test for clenbuterol in 2010.

This heavy array of sanctions, which may be further increased with a fine of almost 2.5 million euros, has been received with unease by various sporting authorities and by many cyclists, retired or competing, due to the perception that the court has not really succeeded in demonstrating the cyclist's doping offense. The sanction's impact on cycling is devastating. It casts doubt not only on the record of the decade's best racer, but on a whole epoch of bicycle racing ? a sport already hard hit by the well-known Operation Puerto scandal of 2006.

The ruling is in conformity with the regulations. In cases of doping, the sports courts work on the principle that the presence of a prohibited substance in the sportsman's body is prima facie proof that he has been using doping substances.

Thus it is the sportsman who bears the onus of proof to show his innocence. In the view of the CAS, Alberto Contador has not been able to prove this innocence, and for this reason a sanction has been imposed on him.

In any case, it seems obvious that the Contador affair has suffered from awkward political handling. It should be remembered that the Spanish Cycling Federation at first wished to impose on him a year's sanction, but later adduced extenuating factors. The International Cycling Union (UCI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency would have accepted this solution.

But Contador demanded a verdict of innocence. None less than then-Prime Minister Zapatero publicly remarked that "there are no reasons for sanctioning Contador." The decision reached by the Spanish federation (under considerable pressure) to totally absolve the cyclist brought on a visceral reaction on the parts of the CAS and the UCI, who were convinced that the federation's ruling was partial. The practice of doping in cycling, and in other sports, must be prosecuted with all the intensity that the law permits. But it must be prosecuted consistently, with consistent laws.

The Contador case conveys a feeling of chaotic, arbitrary action, which shatters public confidence in the necessary assumption that the sports authorities mean serious business. In connection with the same facts, while one organization (the Spanish federation) acquits the sportsman, another punishes him with the maximum sanction. While some cyclists found with doping substances in their systems get to keep their trophies and their t-shirts, others are obliged to give them up. Whatever may be said about the legal labyrinth surrounding the case, the sanction imposed on Contador, and the reactions to it, do show that in Spain doping is looked upon more tolerantly than it is in some other countries.

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