We learned in October 2007 that Floyd Landis will appeal the split decision of the arbitration panel that ruled 2-1 to uphold the penalty for his doping offense during the 2006 Tour de France. The "appeal" will be heard by the Court for the Arbitration of Sport. This Swiss based “court” is frequently misunderstood: it is not a court proceeding any more than the arbitration hearing in California in May 2007 was; essentially a further arbitration proceeding. As it turns out, this is probably good news for Floyd, as most appelate proceedings, at least in the US judicial system, would be resticted to a review for errors of law, not fact - in the CAS, however, there will be a a “de novo” review of the evidence, with another panel to rule on the evidence and law.
Many legal experts are watching these events unfold, as there are many interesting and important personal rights at stake. There are issues of fairness and due process. There are issues involving the anti-doping movement, and indeed issues involving ethics of sport. But for me, the issue is fairly clear: this is an opportunity to set to rights a process that needs systemic reform. Floyd was screwed. Along with him, sports fans and athletes were screwed. We were cheated out of a great moment of sport. This is not the first time this has happened. While I’m not particularly interested in watching track and field events, except for about 10 days every four years, I couldn’t help feeling cheated when I saw Marion Jones confess to being a doper. Did I want to believe it when I saw her on the medal stand? No, and I remember questioning the validity of the evidence against her when she called the accusations against her “a kangaroo court.” Well, gee. Guess she was lying. Guess the court was on the right track. (!) I guess the testers got it wrong when her B samples didn’t confirm her positive A. I guess she was really a doper that played the cat and mouse game very well, and got away with it for a long time. One wonders if she would have confessed, and if the truth would have been known if the BALCO investigation had never occurred. Mrs. Jones says she’s sorry, and her tears seem genuine. But how much of that is sadness that she was caught, and the jig was finally up? Imagine how thrilled her relay teammates are at giving back their medals, their prize money, and the joy that must be felt in the Nike boardroom over her sponsorship.
I didn’t want to believe it when Alexandre Vinokourov turned up with someone else’s blood in his body during the 2007 Tour. Knowing the unreliability of the LNDD testing done on Floyd, I wondered if they’d again screwed the pooch. But science is science. When presented with the facts of Floyd’s case, when you see the actual data and lack of adherence to the procedures, you get a hinkey feeling something just ain’t right. Not so with Vino. When you see homologous blood doping, you can look through a microscope and actually see the dope. A witness can nearly say “I saw the cells from someone else’s blood.” Not, “we just use our experience, and can sniff out a doper because the curves seem to be reasonable” as in Floyd’s case.
I watched Michael Rassmussen get kicked out of the Tour because he lied to his team about his whereabouts while training. He was wearing the mallot jaune at the time – leading the race, and had it sewn up. I was cheated again, after watching him survive everything Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer had to throw at him in the Pyrenees. Have to say I was never a big Rasmussen fan. Don’t know why – he just seemed too damned skinny to be a tour champ. Wish I could have been a fan of his, but I wasn’t. Still, jerking him out of the race just before the finish…sucked. Was he a doper? It appears he broke the rules. Well, Levi broke the rules too, and it cost him 10 seconds of penalty time, purportedly for hanging onto the medical car too long. They called him a cheater, and added the difference between second and third place in time.
I love watching pro bike races. It is a great spectacle. As the promoters like to point out, it is the only sport that doesn’t take place in a stadium or fixed venue. It happens on the roads, out in the beautiful countryside. It looks great on TV. I can’t wait to watch one in HDTV. But what will really make me cheer is the day that CAS gives us back what was taken from us in 2006 – Floyd’s great stage 17 comeback in the tour. When I see the tapes of it, I laugh at Liggett and Sherwin’s commentary of “this is a stage win that will be talked about for years to come.” They had no idea how true that was going to be. At the finish, I punch the air with Floyd – I do that on my own bike when I have a great ride myself. And I wait for the day I read when the CAS gives it all back to us.
What will that day be like? The decision likely won’t be until March or April of 2008. A bare few months before the 2008 Tour. But the consequences will be staggering. What will become of the yellow jersey the ASO has awarded to Oscar Pierero? The Tour officials have unequivocally declared that Floyd will never be considered the 2006 champion. And Floyd might not want to get too combative about that. He already has pointed out he knows he won the tour. About all that would be at stake would be the prize money awarded. Sure, $900k might come in handy, but I wouldn’t hold my breath over the ASO ever paying that to Floyd. There is still a troublesome pending civil proceeding in France involving the matter that has essentially been stayed while the USADA/CAS process works itself out. When Floyd prevails against an obviously corrupt system based at a French lab, how will the legal system react to protect its own national interest and reputation?
When I read the headline (most likely at Trust But Verify) vindicating Floyd, I will celebrate a great moment of sport, just as if I saw a winner cross a finish line, and cheer a great champion. Then the realities of what has become of the champion will relegate my enthusiasm to the backwater footnote of history. Will other athletes be afforded greater protections because of the good fight? Will we see cleaner sport as the anti-doping movement gets the message, and stops sloppy work, and gets more proficient at catching the cheaters? After all, didn’t Marion Jones “get away with it” because of the same sloppy work?
I just want to see Floyd on the road again, kicking everyone’s ass.