Color me confused, because I can’t figure something out. The other day, I noticed a big story about how Ivan Basso will start his season in Argentina this year. Okay, I’m fine with that and see that he actually marked his return last year when he rode the Japan Cup.
The whole thing triggers two questions, though. First you people keep reporting that he had a two-year suspension, but wasn’t his hearing in 2007? If so, why are you calling it a two-year suspension? Did he get time off for good behavior?
Second, his riding in a Liquigas kit makes me wonder about the UCI’s “double your penalty” rule when it comes to riding on ProTour teams. When Tyler Hamilton was suspended for homologous blood doping, it seemed that everyone was pointing out that he wouldn’t be eligible to ride in the big leagues for four years because the ProTour imposes an additional penalty for riders suspended for doping. Now Basso’s back and there’s nary a mention of this rule.
An American cycling fan in Ulan Bator, Mongolia
First, don’t worry about being confused. We all are. Both are valid questions, but both have relatively straightforward answers.
As for Basso’s two-year suspension, he did not get time off for good behavior. He did, however, get credit for time served, kind of like the way a criminal defendant might get the time he spends in pre-trial detention applied to his final sentence. The odd thing in the Basso case is that there was something of an interruption in some of that time.
Let’s start with a quick summary of the circumstances that led to his suspension. Recall that 2006 started out as a very good year for Ivan Basso. Upon the retirement of Lance Armstrong, Basso was touted as the favorite to win the Tour de France and he showed his promise by winning the Giro d’Italia. All was set for an epic battle to Paris between Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso. Yeah, I know, it all seems so long ago.
Anyway, as you know, all was going according to plan until something known as Opera?ion Puerto reared its head on the eve of the Tour that year. Within hours of being implicated in the Spanish doping investigation, both Basso and Ullrich were out of the Tour and both were soon suspended from their teams, Ullrich from T-Mobile and Basso from CSC. Ullrich ultimately retired, while continuing to profess his innocence, despite the fact that after a long-running, multi-jurisdictional battle, investigators finally conducted a DNA test that directly linked the German to blood seized in raids of the offices of the doctor at the center of the Puerto case.
Basso, too, said he was innocent, but was eventually fired by CSC. Then, in a strange twist, he was hired by Johan Bruyneel for the Discovery squad. Basso even raced here in the U.S. during the 2007 Tour of California. Meanwhile, investigators were still insisting that Basso submit to the same DNA test that snared Ullrich, but the Italian fended off those demands until April of that year. He ultimately left Discovery on April 30. By May 7 he confessed to investigators from the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) that they would find that some of the seized blood was his own, admitting that he had planned to dope with his own blood during the Tour and that he had stored bags of it with the good doctor in anticipation of that. Basso further insisted that he had never actually re-injected that blood.
CONI had recommended a 21-month suspension, but the Italian Cycling Federation slapped him with a full two-year ban, then credited him for the time he spent on suspension from CSC, before joining Discovery. The result was that his suspension expired last fall, thus allowing him to take on the Japan Cup.
What about the double-suspension rule?
As his suspension was nearing its end, Basso signed a deal with Liquigas, which brings us to your second question.
The UCI’s anti-doping regulations, drafted in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code, simply recommend a two-year suspension for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second. Individual governing bodies have some latitude in applying those, but the UCI has the right to appeal any penalty it deems to be too light. The rider also has the right to appeal any penalty he sees as too strict. Recall, for example, the controversy surrounding the Kazakh cycling federation’s decision to suspend Alexandre Vinokourov for just a year after finding him guilty of homologous blood doping. But in Basso’s case, no such controversy occurred. Both sides seemed content with the outcome.
So how does Basso, after serving a two-year suspension, now find himself riding for a ProTour team? The confusion lies in the fact that the double-penalty policy to which you are referring is not a UCI rule. Nor is it a double-penalty rule.
The “rule” is actually part of the “Code of Conduct for UCI ProTour” teams, signed in December 2004 by teams that had joined the Association of ProTour Teams (ICPT). The three-page document is largely a declaration of the association’s commitment to fight doping. The provision in question is outlined in Section 12 of that agreement:
XII. For a period of four years after the judgment, not to contract in the team any person who has been found guilty of a fact constituting an intentional violation of the UCI anti-doping regulations.
For the purposes of the present document, the following shall not be considered as intentional violations:
a. offenses for which the person is found guilty under article 262 of the UCI anti-doping regulations (specific substances);
b. offenses for which article 264 or 265 of the UCI anti-doping regulations have been applied (absence of fault or negligence or of significant fault or negligence) ;
c. offenses for which article 266 of the UCI anti-doping regulations has been applied, except where the person is found guilty of an offense relating to article 15.6.2 (possession by supporting staff), 15.7 (trafficking) or 15.8 (administration to a rider). (The references to the numbering of articles of the anti-doping regulations relate to the version in force in 2005);
d. any other offense for which the party involved produces plausible evidence before the president of the License Commission that it was unintentional.The present rule shall apply to any disciplinary findings on or after 1 January 2005. The following shall not be taken into account:
? an appeal ruling where an initial ruling was made before 1 January 2005;If you read the rule, it’s pretty clear: Anyone suspended for doping will not be hired on a ProTour team for four years after being judged guilty of a doping offense.
? a disciplinary ruling where a legal judgment has been made before 1 January 2005;
? a legal judgement where there has been a disciplinary ruling before 1 January 2005.
The problem is that the ICPT is merely an association, a trade group; a club, if you will. Membership is not mandatory. The Code of Conduct is voluntary. You don’t need to be part of the ICPT to have a ProTour license, nor do you necessarily have to comply with anything other than the UCI rules, including the Code of Conduct. Indeed, you might recall that the ICPT voted to eject Discovery after Bruyneel signed Basso, but that didn’t end Discovery’s ProTour status.
As a result, the rule serves only as an agreement among member teams not to hire suspended riders for four years. Anyone else with cash and a contract can do so as soon as a suspension expires.
As the UCI’s Alain Rumpf, the manager of the ProTour, told us: “The additional suspension is defined in the Code of Conduct, and nowhere else. It is therefore a commitment made by the signatories, and not a UCI rule.”
So, fast forward to the summer of 2008. To most observers, the ProTour was coming apart at the seams anyway. It’s since been saved by the ASO/UCI peace accord, but the series’ value was seriously in doubt last year.
Liquigas was, of course, a member of the ICPT. More importantly, though, it was — and remains — an Italian cycling team. Faced with the prospect of a ProTour of declining value and the possibility of hiring a rider who remains something of a national hero, Liquigas offered Basso a deal and publicly announced that if the ICPT had a problem with that, the team would leave the ranks of the organization.
The team also said it would no longer recognize the Code of Conduct, especially that pesky Section 12.
So Liquigas holds a ProTour license, but is no longer a member of the ICPT. It remains to be seen if other teams will put more stock in the public relations value of the Code of Conduct, or if the possibility of hiring a still-salable ex-doper may outweigh it. We predict that if one or two more teams reach the same conclusion as did Liquigas, the ICPT and the Code will unravel like a two-dollar sweater.
We’re kind of hoping that doesn’t happen.