Another one bites the dust. That is the realisation sinking in at WADA (Worldwide Anti-Doping Agency) today upon digesting the news that key evidence, in what would almost certainly have been a landmark case in the fight against drugs in sport, is to be destroyed.
Following on from Melosport’s Drugs in Sport article, the trial of Dr Fuentes reached an unwelcome climax in Madrid yesterday as Judge Julia Santamaria ordered the destruction of 211 blood bags, which were discovered as part of the Operation Puerto raids commencing in 2006. The blood belonged to 35 different athletes but were encrypted to conceal their identities. From day one WADA’s main objective entailed gaining permission from Spanish courts to full access of the blood bags (including deciphering the codes protecting the athletes’ identities). Fuentes, who made his name in cycling, has also been implicated in other mainstream Spanish sports such as tennis and football.
His seemingly light punishment of a one-year suspended sentence is unsurprising, since Spanish laws effectively allowed doping practices during the time in question (doping laws have tightened since then). He was charged though for damaging public health and was banned from working as a doctor for four years.
However, Judge Santamaria’s bizarre blood bag instruction has huge ramifications. In erasing the evidence, it is not unreasonable to conclude that this is one of the most barefaced cover-ups in sporting history. An improbable opportunity arose to exploit the cheaters and in turn, send a global message that dopers will be caught. Instead, by ostensibly dismissing the evidence, the judge has shamelessly protected her country’s sports stars.
WADA’s director general, David Howman, commented, “The decision to order the destruction of all the blood bags is particularly disappointing and unsatisfactory for WADA, and the whole anti-doping community. Access to this evidence motivated WADA’s involvement in this case.”
AEA, Spain’s anti-doping agency, who have campaigned from the beginning of the case to decipher the blood bags, stated they would appeal against the legal order to have the evidence destroyed. In the meantime, the blood bags will remain in storage, held in Barcelona.
Britain’s No 1 tennis player Andy Murray was unequivocal with his thoughts tweeting, “operacion puerto case is beyond a joke . . . biggest cover up in sports history? why would court order blood bags to be destroyed? #coverup”.
In Spain, initial murmurs have grown vociferous in that the blood bags conceal the identities of some of the biggest names in Spanish sport. Combining this with yesterday’s curious court ruling, it would be extremely difficult to argue that cheating in professional sports is not an epidemic.