The Landis Hearing

Over the past two weeks, I have found myself glued to the coverage of Floyd Landis’s doping hearing at Trust But Verify. The folks at TBV have been amazing, posting testimony transcripts and offering informed commentary. When do those guys sleep?

I have been reserving judgment until both sides presented their entire cases, and yesterday the arguments concluded. I will admit being skeptical of the initial doping results, because a few things just haven’t added up since the results first became public. Early on, I did find myself a bit persuaded by the USADA’s evidence; but, whatever evidence the prosecution had was destroyed by Landis’s expert witnesses and his lawyers cross-examinations of prosecution witnesses. I can’t say that Landis did or didn’t dope, but neither can the USADA. The French lab LNDD responsible for testing Landis’s samples handled the testing so poorly that there is no way we will ever know what was in those samples. The technicians in charge of testing were poorly trained, knowledgeable of the identity of the subject being tested, conducted the analysis improperly on potentially faulty equipment, while relying on 20-year-old software running on a computer with a 486 processor. Basically, they knew just enough to do a lot of damage. And once the damage was done, the higher ups had a result they wanted: a Tour de France winner and an American. How convenient. I’m not a conspiracy theory guy, but I think a combination of bungling and eagerness to convict played a role in this.

The hearing was basically a farce, and now it is obvious why Landis wanted it public. The USADA is not an independent authority seeking truth. While its mission of catching drug-cheats is laudable, the system is biased against the accused athlete. Arbitrators are not independent parties. Testing of B-samples was done by the same lab that tested the A-samples, with the testers fully aware of the implications of contradicting previous findings. Tests were re-run without documenting past results, enabling testers to run tests until the desired result was achieved. Heck, the technicians were unaware that a “save” feature existed in their software indicating the shoddiness of the standard operating procedure of a testing facility that can destroy an athlete’s career. Landis was also denied much access to the data that “convicted’ him.

In the end, I’m not sure whether Landis will be cleared. Just from reading TBV, I get the feeling that the odds are stacked against him. Even if he is cleared, the decision will be appealed and the trial must happen all over again. By the time this is all over, a two-year de facto expulsion of cycling will have occurred. The fruits of endorsement deals will be gone. And who knows if Landis will still be on top of his game. Furthermore, most of the public is unaware of how badly the case was handled. The anti-doping authorities will have their way, and Landis may be the next person to ask where he can go to get his reputation back.

One thing is clear is that the WADA is broken. I agree with nearly all of the suggestions made by EnvironmentalChemistry.com.

The only solution I see to this problem is for taxpayers to stand up and demand that Congress cut off funding to USADA unless real reforms are put in place. These reforms must include:

* American standards of justice including innocent until proven guilty and due process.
* Testing laboratories must not confirm their own adverse findings. If one testing lab finds sample “A” to be positive then a DIFFERENT testing lab would be required to test sample “B”, with two labs be randomly chosen for the “B” sample test. One lab would get dummy control samples and the real sample while the other lab only got dummy samples. No lab would know who the other testing labs are and no one would know who was testing the real sample until after testing was completed. None of the three labs in question could know who the other testing labs were and none of the labs (or at least “B” sample labs) should know for which sport the samples are from. The athletes could still have representatives present for “B” samples, but they would have to keep the athlete and sport anonymous (transporting athletes representatives to the testing location would be at WADA expense).
* Research and enforcement arms of the anti-doping efforts must be separated. All government grants would have to go to testing labs and scientists through a channel completely independent of WADA and anti-doping enforcement agencies (e.g. USADA) with the existing agencies only paying for the actual testing they have preformed. This must be done to eliminate conflicts of interest.
* All testing procedures and testing methods must be validated via a true scientific peer review processes.
* All substances on the banded substance list must have been proven via true scientific peer review to either be a performance enhancing substances or masking agents.
* Illicit leaking of test results to the press must be criminalized.
* Doping by athletes must be criminalized with all prosecution going through the criminal justice system. [I disagree with this.]
* Athletes and their legal teams must be allowed full and normal rights of discover for criminal cases including deposing lab testing officials prior to their case.
* Athletes must be allowed to employ individuals from testing labs not directly involved with testing their samples as expert witnesses.

Yes this would add greater costs to the prosecution of drug cheats, but the criminalization of drug cheating would create a significant disincentive to cheat and having multiple labs conduct testing using much tighter rules of testing would virtually assure no false positives eliminating the cloud of doubt that currently hangs over the system. These ideas are also intended to reduce the potential of leaks as much as possible, and to limit the sphere of suspects if they do happen as well as eliminate the possibility fingering an innocent athlete.

Falsely accusing and or convicting an athlete is immoral, because destroys an innocent person’s career, reputation and life. Whatever the changes are that get adopted they must ensure that innocent people do not get accused let alone convicted.

I would like to add that convicting innocent athletes reduces the deterrent effect of the system. If your going to be busted for doping, you might as well dope.

4 Responses “The Landis Hearing”

  1. strbuk says:

    >>When do those guys sleep?

  2. Jason says:

    I’m also not in favor of criminalizing doping. Athletes who dope will pay the price down the road for this with their health. Suspensions and fines are enough to deal with this. We already have problems in some places in the US in not having enough space for REAL criminals – killers, rapists, child molesters, etc. We don’t need to be adding new sorts of criminals. What happens if they criminalize cheating? Will we start imprisoning 16 year old high school football players who use steroids to bulk up to make the team?

  3. Charlie says:

    Did anyone know that Barry Bonds is about to break Hank Aaron’s HR record? Nope, not even Hank Aaron will attend any of his games because of all the speculation of apparent steriod use. How can we determine what is a real feat of human accomplishment and what is not? Look at Mark McGwire he was praised as a “Golden God” and now because of speculated steroid use there’s a asterick. All great sports accomplishments are being accompanied by a lot of astericks!

  4. strbuk says:

    >>When do those guys sleep?

    Sleep? who needs sleep?

    In regards to the criminalizing of drug doping the reason for this was to find a way to get it out of the current arbitration process and into a proper legal framework. I’d be perfectly with it not being criminalized as long as there were proper checks and balances and the athlete otherwise has the normal protections afforded under the criminal justice system, which includes complete rights of discovery and deposing prosecution witnesses. Athletes must also be able to call on other WADA certified labs to act as expert witnesses for them. The vowel of silence between labs must stop. It is what allowed LNDD to be run so poorly.

    Everyone must be able to trust that the system is fair and that innocent athletes will not be accused or punished.