23 Jan 2013

Spain puts doping on trial

The wood-panelled sanctum of a parliamentary committee room is about as far removed as one could get from a blood doping clinic, but all the same, that is where the allegations were first formally raised in the UK.

Shortly after England’s shambolic bid to host the 2018 World Cup ended in very expensive humiliation, an inquiry was set up into what went wrong.

Which turned out to be the setting for Lord Triesman, former chairman of the FA, to confirm that he had seen documents that suggested what many had suspected for years – that Spain had been involved in what effectively amounted to a state-sponsored doping programme that spanned not just cycling, but other sports too. That was sanctioned by senior people in incredibly influential places.

Were the documents legit? Faked? Speculation? Hearsay? None of the above is clear. But that they were mentioned in parliament renders the issue worthy of discussion.

And why now? Because next week – with the tremors still rippling from Lance Armstrong’s damascene conversion from doper in chief to spiller of beans – the most notorious blood doctor in the history of sport goes on trial in Madrid.

And what this trial may reveal could do for other sports – and indeed politics – what we already know about cycling.

Well before Lancegate, there was Dr Eufemiano Fuentes. He orchestrated the biggest performance enhancing drugs programme in elite sport since the end of the Soviet bloc, back in 2006.

Fuentes was the target of Operacion Puerto, a pivotal investigation into industrial-scale blood doping in elite cycling.

But the key witness – the whistleblower – who brought the whole shebang down, much as Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis did for Lance – told Channel 4 News he regularly saw a range of athletes, not just cyclists, attending Fuentes’ clinic.

And former professional cyclist Jesus Manzano should know – because he doped too. And became so ill from bad transfusions he was hospitalised more than once.

And if what is whispered in the darker recesses of parliamentary chambers is indeed true, there may be repercussions that would make even Lance Armstrong wince.

Beyond the names of any other athletes, this is crucially about the names of the administrators, doctors and indeed politicians who would arguably have needed to be in cahoots to make it all allegedly happen – names that WADA (the World Anti Doping Agency) has been chasing to make public for years now.

The potential for embarrassment is huge. And thus it is little wonder there are suggestions the trial is already being scaled back, its focus restricted to cycling – which whether you believe it has cleaned up its act or not, we already know has been riddled with cheats for decades.

Which way will it go? Impossible to tell. But one option is this:  Monday. Madrid.  If you’ve only just read about him now – remember the name – Dr Eufemiano Fuentes.  And what’s alleged to be an extensive patient list with some incredibly high-profile athletes, who may have been visiting the suspected doping doctor for legitimate reasons.

But then again, they may not.

Lance Armstrong may soon be breathing a sigh of relief that he has unexpected company in the pantheon of notorious sporting drugs cheats.

And the real story will be in the list of names who helped them get there.

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