Many hoped the “get Lance Armstrong” movement had finally died last February when the FDA abandoned its protracted investigation into the legendary cyclist’s alleged “doping.” The embarrassing absence of evidence that Armstrong had engaged in any proscribed activity, plus pressure from lawmakers demanding to know what the investigation had to do with the FDA’s core mission, forced its monomaniacal chief investigator to drop it. But this was not good enough for some of Armstrong’s antagonists. Travis Tygart, the CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), issued a Captain Ahab-like vow: “Our investigation… is continuing, and we look forward to obtaining the information developed during the federal investigation.”
Last Friday, Tygart gleefully announced that his agency had brought down its quarry. It would strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and permanently ban him from competitive cycling. Earlier in the week, Armstrong had decided not to participate in arbitration with Tygart’s agency because it was an obviously rigged process: “If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and — once and for all — put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance. But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair.” Based on his refusal to cooperate with its inquisition, USADA immediately rendered its verdict that Armstrong was a doper and a cheat.
If you’re not familiar with USADA, its website describes the agency as follows: “The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency… is the national anti-doping organization for the Olympic movement in the United States. The U.S. Congress recognized USADA as ‘the official anti-doping agency for Olympic, Pan American and Paralympic sport in the United States.'” It also claims to be a “non-governmental agency,” but it will probably not come as a surprise that it is funded in part by your tax dollars. You will also note, by the way, that USADA’s description of its mission ends with the words “in the United States.” As this suggests, it isn’t immediately obvious that the agency’s jurisdiction gives it the authority to revoke titles awarded in a European bicycle race.
This is a distinction that was not lost on the International Cycling Union (UCI), the governing body for international sports cycling and the entity that administered doping tests while Armstrong competed. Knowing that he never failed any of these tests, UCI has indicated that it is not prepared to merely rubberstamp USADA’s precipitous action: “Article 8.3 of the WADC [World Anti-Doping Code] states that where no hearing occurs the Anti-Doping Organisation with results management responsibility shall submit to the parties concerned (Mr. Armstrong, WADA and UCI) a reasoned decision explaining the action taken. Until such time as USADA delivers this decision the UCI has no further comment to make.”
UCI had previously expressed concerns about the fairness of the USADA investigation. In July, its President wrote, “UCI does not feel comfortable… in terms of due process and even in terms of ethics that are pushed through by pleading the rules of the UCI.” USADA’s Tygart, responded to this concern by accusing UCI of participating in a vast conspiracy to prevent the truth about Armstrong from seeing daylight: “UCI and the participants in the conspiracy who cheated sport with dangerous performance enhancing drugs to win have a strong incentive to cover up what transpired.… The participants in the conspiracy have lashed out in the press, gone to Congress and filed a lawsuit to avoid a public display of the evidence.”
These hysterical statements, in addition to suggesting that Tygart is a power-mad paranoiac, beg the following question: What new evidence does USADA possess that was unavailable to the FDA? Well, as it happens, the answer to that question remains a mystery. Tygart has declined to provide Armstrong’s attorneys with the evidence he claims to have gathered against their client: “[They] haven’t been allowed to see the evidence against him, including witness names and any expert analysis.” Moreover, many of the allegations involve races that occurred so long ago that they fall outside of USADA’s eight-year statute of limitations. Tygart, however, says that these time limits don’t apply to Armstrong because he continues “to deny drug use.”
Tygart is obviously so anxious to bring Armstrong down that he refuses to adhere to universally accepted rules of due process or even to abide by the guidelines established by his own agency. This is why Armstrong finally threw up his hands and refused to continue with the charade. And, as if to confirm USADA’s determination to find Armstrong guilty regardless of the evidence, Tygart responded thus: “The evidence against Lance Armstrong arose from disclosures made to USADA by more than a dozen witnesses.… Mr. Armstrong was invited to meet with USADA and be truthful about his time on the USPS team but he refused.” In other words, Tygart was perfectly willing to give Armstrong a fair trial before hanging him.
Although Tygart declines to provide the names of his witnesses, the only people who could be in a position to know would be former teammates and a few of the countless cyclists Armstrong defeated in the Tour de France as well as hundreds of other races. Moreover, unlike Armstrong, some of these teammates and competitors have failed drug tests and lost their titles. Several, like the disgraced Floyd Landis, have nursed grudges against Armstrong for years. These people are, to put it bluntly, the losers. And, as Tracee Hamilton succinctly phrases it in the Washington Post, “People lie. Blood and urine usually don’t.” Lance Armstrong has been tested for drugs more than any other athlete in history, and he has never failed a test — not once.
As Hamilton goes on to ask, “What is the point of drug testing?” If Armstrong’s perfect record of passing such tests can be ignored simply because some monomaniac at the FDA or a paranoiac from USADA can find a few people to testify against him, who is safe from vindictive losers?