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Editorial: Why even have drug tests if they don’t matter?

Published 10:37am Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Did seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong cheat by taking performance enhancing drugs?

We cannot declaratively say one way or another.

But we can say this pretty clearly: The process by which the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency determines whether Armstrong cheated sure is unfair.

The public still hasn’t viewed the full evidence against Armstrong, and it may never get to, but the public has been able to learn there is much, much suspicious activity in USADA’s system:

• Despite a statute of limitations of eight years, allegations against Armstrong date back 17 years. USADA has treated Armstrong differently than other athletes.

• Armstrong has never failed a drug test. He was tested in and out of competition. Why have a testing system in place if it means nothing? Does this ruling make a mockery of all drug testing? The real issue in USADA vs. Armstrong is personalities, not science. Armstrong and USADA head Travis Tygart hate each other. The removal of all science is not how all athletes under USADA scrutiny are treated.

• Supposedly, people in the cycling world shared with USADA that Armstrong doped; however, the agency’s process allows leniency for cheaters who rat out others. It’s hard to say whether the rats were just giving USADA what it wants, rather than the truth. Armstrong goes so far as to accuse USADA of bullying non-cheaters into saying accusations out of fear of being investigated, too. Someday, hopefully, a good author can clear all of this up in a book. Until then, the USADA’s justice system looks seriously messy.

• A federal judge who dismissed Armstrong’s case against USADA nevertheless pointed out constitutional concerns about the agency’s charging documents. The judge, Sam Sparks of Austin, Texas, also suggested that the international agency for cycling has jurisdiction in the case, rather than one federal agency in a single nation. He was astonished that USADA proceeded with its action to sanction Armstrong without attempting to resolve the matter with cycling organizations.

• Though Judge Sparks didn’t want the federal courts to become referees for sports disagreements, he pretty much agreed with Armstrong’s assessment of Tygart conducting a “witch hunt.” The judge wrote: “There are troubling aspects of this case, not least of which is USADA’ s apparent single-minded determination to force Armstrong to arbitrate the charges against him, in direct conflict with UCI’s equally evident desire not to proceed against him.” (UCI is the International Cycling Union.)

We may never know whether Lance Armstrong cheated, but what is more evident from the reports available is that the agency that is calling the cancer-fighting cyclist a cheater is itself bending the rules. We can’t blame the yellow jersey winner for waving the white flag. Why fight an unfair contest?

Of note, though both Armstrong and USADA have taken hits in the court of public opinion, Armstrong appears to be faring better, as donations to his Livestrong organization have soared in the wake of USADA’s decision.

Good. Cancer is the true enemy, and it is best for Armstrong to put his efforts there.