Contador’s Victory Tarnished Because of “Likely” Guilt - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Contador’s Victory Tarnished Because of “Likely” Guilt

Contador’s Victory Tarnished Because of “Likely” Guilt

The Sports Blawg with the Fordham Sports Law Forum

Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador’s victory in the 2010 Tour de France has been tainted by accusations of doping when Contador’s post-race blood tests revealed traces of a prohibited substance, Clenbuterol, weeks after his victory.  After a long wait, the Court of Arbitration for Sports (“CAS”) stripped Contador of his victory.  There has been a great deal of criticism of the World Anti-Doping Association (“WADA”) and the CAS’s 18 month long consideration of Contador’s case.

The CAS, which oversaw Contador’s proceeding, is an independent institution that provides arbitration and mediation services in sports-related disputes.  The CAS has developed procedural rules adapted to the specific needs of the sports industry.  It administers awards with the same binding authority as ordinary courts.  However, the CAS differs from traditional U.S. courts in one major way.  Ordinarily, an athlete is innocent until proven guilty, but, when “a forbidden substance is found in [his] body,” he is guilty until proven innocent.

Contador at a press conference in 2010.

A presumption of guilt has caused many to criticize the CAS, especially Contador, who has vowed to challenge his doping verdict.  His appeal could succeed because the conviction was based on shaky evidence; only a small amount of Clenbuterol was found in his system.  Contador claimed he must have ingested the prohibited substance when he ate a veal chop.  This may sound ridiculous, but farmers have illicitly used the chemical to beef up their meat products.  In the end, the court said the traces found in Contador’s blood test were “most likely” from a contaminated supplement he illegally procured.  His guilt was “likely,” not “definite.”  This result is the direct consequence of placing a presumption of guilt on the athlete and is the crux of many of the criticisms lodged against the CAS.

Contador does have the ability to appeal the verdict, but only on procedural grounds.  If Contador appeals, he will present his case before the Swiss Supreme Court, per CAS rules.  In the meantime, Contador will have to deal with a 3.3 million dollar fine that accounts for all of his winnings earned during his 2-year suspension from cycling, which is up in August.

Tour de France winner Alberto Contador of Spain, with rival Lance Armstrong, celebrated on the podium in 2009

The Spanish Cycling federation first proposed sanctioning Contador with a 1-year suspension, which he immediately appealed.  Then, quite abruptly, Spain dropped Contador’s charges.  This didn’t stop WADA and UCI from picking up the case.  After all, Spain has a history of doping scandals and UCI may have suspected that some undue political factors had played a role in the charges being dropped.

Under the same set of facts, one legal system exonerated Contador and another enforced harsh penalties.  Contador’s supporters claim the CAS only convicted him on these facts to make an example out of him.  But, if the CAS is trying to make an example out of Contador, what type of example does this set?

The Fordham Sports Law Forum is dedicated to bringing interesting issues in sports law to the Fordham legal community. Each week, in conjunction with the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal, members of the Fordham Sports Law Forum write posts about current sports law issues and events.

Ryan Lifland

Ryan Lifland is a first year student at Fordham University School of Law. He is originally from Torrington, CT and graduated from Clemson University, magna cum laude, in 2011. During his undergraduate years Ryan was a member of the men’s varsity swimming team at Union College, and the men’s rugby team at Clemson University. In the summer of 2012, Ryan will be studying in Beijing, China and interning for the Honorable Stuart M. Bernstein, the former chief and current Bankruptcy Judge of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.