By Philip Hersh, Chicago Tribune –
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency formally announced Friday morning it had issued sanctions that strip Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and 2000 Olympic bronze medal and ban him for life from all sports governed by federations that are signatories to the World Anti-Doping Code.
Although Armstrong said in a Thursday statement he had decided not to fight the charges that led to those sanctions, his attorneys have written USADA to threaten further legal action. The attorneys assert, as Armstrong did, that only the international cycling federation (known by its French acronym UCI) has authority in the case.
In a Friday statement, the UCI said it expects USADA to provide a “reasoned decision explaining the action taken,” as mandated by the World Anti-Doping Code in cases where an athlete declines the opportunity for a full hearing.
It will fall to the UCI; the Tour’s governing body, Amaury Sport Organization; and the International Olympic Committee to implement sanctions against Armstrong.
By choosing not to have a hearing in a procedure Armstrong has called a “witch hunt,” the cyclist did several things:
— Prevented damaging testimony against him from being aired in public. Such testimony could have led to both criminal charges against him and suits for financial damages from companies that would claim he had taken sponsorship and bonus money from them under fraudulent circumstances. Two sponsors, Nike and Anheuser-Busch, have said they are sticking with Armstrong.
— Spared other cyclists from having to provide that testimony, which also could have implicated them in doping and made those who had been Armstrong teammates seem like turncoats. USADA said it had more than a dozen witnesses who agreed to provide evidence against Armstrong.
— Enabled him to stand behind the argument he never had failed a doping test, which is both meaningless and not true. He tested positive for a banned corticosteroid at the 1999 Tour de France but escaped sanction by providing a therapeutic use exemption that reportedly was backdated.
In its statement, USADA said Armstrong was being sanctioned for use, possession, trafficking and administration of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions, corticosteroids, testosterone and masking agents.
Such charges can be brought without a positive doping test.
The UCI has contended it should have had jurisdiction in the matter. It may yet make that argument to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the court of last resort in these instances. Such an appeal, even on narrow jurisdictional grounds, could open the Pandora’s Box of the Armstrong sins USADA has identified.
Rejecting a suit by Armstrong, a federal judge ruled Monday that USADA had the authority to handle the case.
Reaction to Armstrong’s decision, particularly as reflected in public comments on media web sites, predictably was mixed.
Armstrong acolytes agreed with his choice to stop wasting time, energy and money on a process he characterized as an unfair fight. Others, including World Anti-Doping Agency President John Fahey, found his plea of essentially nolo contendere to be tantamount to an admission of doping.
The legacy of Armstrong’s Tour victories is complicated if they are stripped from him.
Given how many other cyclists, such as Armstrong runner-ups Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, have been found guilty of doping or implicated in it since the first of Armstrong’s seven straight victories in 1999, some will argue the titles should be vacated rather than reassigned.