When Spanish police raided Eufemiano Fuentes’s residence in May 2006 finding doping products and bags of blood, the sport of professional cycling was once again turned on its head
The ramifications were felt far and wide as Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani and many other names that had been at the top of the sport in the last decade were implicated in the Madrid-based Doctor’s doping network.
Fuentes has since become synonymous with cycling’s ‘dark arts’, as much a by-word for scandal as Festina and Lance Armstrong; but there have often been whispers about the other clients who Dr. Fuentes dealt with. Of the 186 blood bags seized from his clinic in Madrid, how many belonged to athletes from other sports?
Fuentes has stated himself in an interview with a Spanish newspaper that only 30% of his clients were cyclists, so why has cycling been the only sport which has handed out bans to those involved with Fuentes and the police raids that were codenamed Operacion Puerto?
The answer is a tough one to determine. It’s believed that somewhere there lies a mythical list of Fuentes clients which includes footballers and tennis stars. Cyclist Jesus Manzano – the whistleblower who kicked off Operacion Puerto, in much the same way Floyd Landis did with Lance Armstrong – has told Channel 4 News that prominent footballers visited Fuentes.
It is reported that in 2007 FIFA president Sepp Blatter requested to see the documents from Puerto, but no investigation has ever taken place in football or any other sport.
Now, this week Eufemiano Fuentes stands trial for endangering public health. Many had hoped this would be a day when Spanish authorities could strike a blow for clean sport and the extent of Fuentes’s shadowy network of clients would be laid out for all to see. It seems that the Spanish authorities had other ideas though.
In the run up to the hearing, it was announced that the much-anticipated trial would focus only on cycling. This prompted David Howman, the head of the World Anti-Doping Authority to complain to the Daily Telegraph that:
“We have been banging our heads against a brick wall to get access to the evidence that was gathered. It is not only frustrating and disappointing but it also means that many athletes who might be dirty have been allowed to compete.”
At the trial itself today Fuentes again repeated the claim that he treated footballers, tennis players, athletes and boxers. Despite these allegations being made in a 3-hour cross examination the defendant was not asked to elaborate upon these claims.
If Fuentes is accused of public health offences, rather than specifically doping (which Spanish legislation didn’t cover in 2006), then it seems bizarre to only focus on one third of his clients. In turn, it seems that claims from the defendant and the main whistleblower in the case have been investigated when they relate to cycling but ignored when it comes to other sports. If you were of a cynical disposition you may say it was beginning to look like a cover-up. But why would this be?
Some have suggested that, with Madrid bidding for the 2020 Summer Olympics, the last thing Spanish authorities want is for a doping scandal to explode in their faces ahead of the decision in September. The trial also allows Spain to present itself as tough on doping, even if this image does not hold up when you scratch the surface.
Other more shadowy allegations, aired by former FA head Lord Triesman in a Parliamentary select committee hearing in May 2011, involve a doping ring and some “fairly senior people in Spain”.
Could it be that cycling is an easy target? It is far simpler to prosecute Fuentes and focus on cycling – a sport already mired in doping scandals – than seek to open up new scandals in sports which have the perception (fair or otherwise) of being clean.
It may be that cycling has disproportionately more dopers than any other sport, but it is also a sport that conducts far more doping tests than others. Sports journalist and author Daniel Friebe pointed out on Twitter that whilst cycling had taken 4613 out-of-competition blood tests on athletes in 2011, in tennis the number was only 21.
Eufemiano Fuentes’s trial is expected to continue for the next month at least, with witnesses including Tyler Hamilton and Alberto Contador. Whether anyone from any sport except cycling is feeling the heat in the coming weeks remains to be seen.