July 25, 2010: Alberto Contador of Spain flashes three fingers for his third Tour de France victory.
July 25, 2010: Alberto Contador of Spain flashes three fingers for his third Tour de France victory. Christophe Ena/AP
The battle against doping in sport continues to evolve. This week, however, appears to be a case of one step forward... two steps back. Or at the very least, sideways.
Tuesday, as Mark reported, the Spanish Cycling Federation cleared of wrong-doing the country's bicycle racing hero Alberto Contador. During last year's Tour de France, which he won, Contador tested positive for tiny traces of a banned substance called Clenbuterol. The Federation ultimately proposed he should be banned for a year, not the normal two year ban. They bought his defense that he ingested the Clenbuterol in some contaminated beef.
But the law of strict liability says he's still responsible for what's in his system. So one year. But then Tuesday, the Federation, in the words of a U.S. anti-doping official, did a flip-flop: No punishment; Alberto can ride again. The decision followed some heavy lobbying by Spanish government officials, including Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero who tweeted:
"There are no legal grounds for sanctioning Contador."
Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said the Federation's flip-flop after apparent political pressure raises serious questions about whether a national hero was being protected.
The World Anti-Doping Agency still may appeal the decision.
For more confusion, we turn to Turkey, where, on Wednesday, sports and anti-doping officials uttered a collective "oops" in the case of transcendent American basketball star Diana Taurasi. She's best known for starring at the University of Connecticut, in the WNBA and on the U.S. Olympic team. But it was in Turkey, where she was playing for the hoops club Fenerbahce, that Taurasi reportedly tested positive in December for the banned stimulant modafinil. Her club terminated her contract; the Turkish Basketball Federation provisionally suspended her. That same federation that ended the ban Wednesday because the lab retracted the positive drug test result.
Such a retraction rarely happens, if ever — especially after a laboratory finds both an athlete's A and backup B sample positive. But the lab reportedly retracted its own finding after evaluating Taurasi's defense, which included passing a lie-detector test.
We've yet to hear the full report about what happened. But Taurasi's lawyer says it's no mystery. The lab messed up, he says, and released a false positive. The lab, based in Ankara, was put on three-month suspension in 2009 by the World Anti-Doping Agency. WADA reinstated the lab but said in an e-mail that it will conduct an independent review of the Taurasi case.
And the battle against doping continues. One hopes this week illustrates that in the effort to "get 'em," all involved need to get it right.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent.