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.
Former head of the FA Lord Triesman appeared before a parliamentary select committee today, convened to discuss broadly the subject of governance in football but more specifically Triesman’s role in the England 2018 World Cup bid.
During the questioning Triesman made four serious accusations about members of FIFA’s executive committee, based around the familiar story of bribes and how they influence excom member’s votes when it comes to deciding who hosts the World Cup.
Rightly, this caused a lot of excitement amongst the press but one other piece of information Triesman revealed seems to have gone wholly unreported (or so it seems after a quick Google news search) except for on Channel 4 News here in the UK.
When asked about a recording sold to a newspaper on which he discusses accusations of Spanish and Russian officials seeking to bribe referees (and which subsequently lost him his job as chairman of the FA and chief of the 2018 bid) Triesman goes into more detail about where he got the information from. The video of the hearing is on the select committee’s website but, as I’ve not seen it reported anywhere else, it’s probably worth putting up the transcript so as to avoid any inaccuracies:
Triesman: I’d been approached by a Spanish investigative journalist who wanted to put to me a number of things which he wanted to know I’d either heard about or believed might be happening here. He was writing what I assumed would be a pretty substantive story which covered manipulation of referees and also covered questions of avoiding the doping regulations in Spanish sport. As I understood it he had access to the tape of a discussion which a Spanish investigating magistrate had managed to get hold of in which some of these things appear to have been discussed between fairly senior people in Spain. I didn’t put it in my list because even a good and serious journalist coming along with a story of that kind might very well not be accurate, might be a rumour. I wasn’t really prepared and I said it was among the more fanciful things I’d heard.
Channel 4 News lead their report of Triesman’s testimony with this information (strange, seeing as doping is only actually mentioned once), coupled with footage of police investigators removing blood bags from fridges, presumably during the raid of a doping lab.
I wrote a while back about how questions about doping in Spanish football had never really been answered, particularly after the anecdotal evidence that came out of Operation Puerto from both Dr. Fuentes himself and cyclist Jesus Manzano (all that’s in the “Il Drogati” article linked in the first sentence too, just it’d look stupid if I linked to it again!). Add to this a story I found recently that claimed French newspaper Le Monde (who made the Lance Armstrong doping allegations in 2005) obtained documents that suggested Fuentes was working with players from Barcelona and Real Madrid. The claims were subsequently retracted after Barca and Real threatened legal action.
Similar rumblings came to the fore again recently when FC Barcelona were forced to defend themselves against doping allegations made by Spanish radio station Cadena Cope who reported that some of Barca’s physicians were less than reputable (I can’t read Spanish so was relying on the Google Chrome translation, maybe the accusation sounds stronger in its original language). They were possibly referring to Dr. Ramon Segura who is a club physician and who was previously Pep Guardiola’s doctor when he tested positive for nandrolone whilst playing for Brescia in 2001, and was also involved in the positive test given by Frank de Doer. It’s obviously worth pointing out that Guardiola was later cleared of doping by the Italian Olympic Committee in 2009.
So, obviously my ears pricked up when Triesman mentioned a tape that may or may not feature “fairly senior people in Spain” discussing how to avoid doping regulations. We know from cycling it’s actually pretty easy to avoid doping regulations if you have a good doctor; it’s messy, involves blood transfusions and masking agents, but it can be done and is seemingly almost second nature to those well-verse in the dark arts of doping.
My impression from Channel 4 News’s report tonight suggested that they had seen/heard the tapes Triesman referred to as well and (this is the speculative bit) the parliamentary privilege that allowed Triesman to mention what might otherwise be libellous remarks meant that Channel 4 News could report some of what they knew.
That’s only an educated guess, I wish 4 on demand put Channel 4 News on their service so I could watch the report again but, annoyingly, I can’t. Certainly the impression I got was that this tape had been seen by them.
Will anything more come of this? Quite possibly not. A glimmer of hope may come from Italy where a local magistrate has carried out a seemingly large-scale doping raid on the back of the work done by the federal investigation in America headed up by Jeff Novitsky. It sometimes seems, though, that it is left to police and local authorities to carry out the anti-doping work that should be done by sport’s governing bodies.
It’s interesting how these same accusations keep coming up again and again. It could well be that they’re just rumours designed to discredit what is undeniably a footballing nation at the zenith of its abilities right now, not to mention Spain’s success in other sports. But they always seem to lead back to the same question of whether or not Spain – and football in general – is doing enough to make absolutely sure that doping doesn’t take place. I hope it is, but I have my doubts.