A member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has said he expects there to be a legal battle between Tour de France champion Chris Froome and race organisers ASO regarding the Team Sky rider’s participation in this year’s 105th edition of the race.
Speaking to Cyclingtips.com, CAS member Jack Anderson, who is Professor of Sports Law at the University of Melbourne, also said that he believes it would be “very difficult” for Froome to escape a ban following his adverse analytical finding (AAF) for twice the permitted level of the anti-asthma drug salbutamol at last year’s Vuelta.
Despite repeated calls for Froome to voluntarily suspend himself, he has continued to race as he is permitted to do under the rules since salbutamol is a specified substance rather than a banned one, so no provisional suspension applies.
Earlier this week, five-time Tour de France champion Bernard Hinault pulled no punches as he tore into Froome for continuing to race while he seeks to provide an explanation for the AAF. "It’s a real scandal,” he said. “This has to stop.”
UCI president David Lappartient, meanwhile, has said he believes there is now less than 50 per cent chance of the case being resolved ahead of the Tour de France starting on 7 July.
In winning the Giro d’Italia at the weekend, Froome joins Hinault and Eddy Merckx in holding all three Grand Tour titles at the same time, and in July could equal the record they hold jointly with Jacques Anquetil and Miguel Indurain of five Tour de France victories.
While Hinault no longer works with ASO, a report in the Gazzetta dello Sport this week suggests that ASO may seek to prevent Froome from participating in this year’s race, citing a rule that allows them to do so to protect the Tour de France’s image.
And if that happens, Anderson expects lawyers to get involved. He cited the case of Tom Boonen, whom ASO tried to exclude from the 2009 edition after he tested positive for cocaine.
“It was out of competition and it was not a technical violation of cycling’s anti-doping code at the time,” he explained.
“The race organisers feared that if they allowed him in, it would tarnish the Tour’s reputation so they made moves to stop that.
“This then went through an internal French sports arbitration process and eventually ended up in the French courts, which allowed him to compete.
“So there is precedent there. ASO have lost in previous times and this will be the argument that Froome will make.”
Anderson believes that if ASO did try and exclude Froome from the race, his argument would be that he had not been convicted of an anti-doping rule violation and would also be likely to use the Boonen case as a precedent.
But he added that while Froome’s case would be built on legal principles – “he hasn’t been convicted of anything, he’s entitled to due process, and while that process is ongoing he’s entitled to ride” – ASO could nevertheless exclude him from the race on ethical grounds.
In support of that, he cited the case of Russian athletes ahead of this year’s Winter Olympics who, while cleared of anti-doping charges after appealing to CAS, were told by the International Olympic Committee that they could not compete at Pyeongchang.
Anderson said: “The Court of Arbitration for Sport was invoked again a second time and the Court of Arbitration for Sport said ‘Yes, there is a difference between being eligible’ — and Froome is eligible — ‘and the organisers right to invite’.
“Now the key point is: what are the criteria about your invitation? Are you just going to invoke something that says ‘Oh, we’re protecting the reputation of the race’? What exactly is the basis for that? Will that basis be applied consistently and into the future?
“Given what Froome has done in the Giro, he now holds all three tours consecutively, he’s going for a fifth Tour — this is historic proportions,” he added. “Will the ASO say ‘no’? It’s going to end up with the lawyers in either event, I think.”
Regarding the issue of whether he believes Froome will be banned once the salbutamol case has been decided, he said: “Based on the precedent you would imagine yes, that that would be the case. It’s very difficult to make the argument they’re making. But I have to say: they’re absolutely entitled to make it and they will give significant resources to it.
He added that if Froome were suspended, he would “definitely” lose his Vuelta title, given that was the race he returned AAV on, and that because he chose not to suspend himself, he might also lose the bronze medal he won in the time trial at September’s UCI Road World Championships as well as his Giro d’Italia victory.
“Whether the UCI independent arbitrator would do this is a matter for him,” he added.
Like Lappartient, Anderson doesn’t expect the case to be resolved ahead of the Tour de France, not least because of the prospect of any decision being appealed to CAS.
With eight months having passed since Froome was told of the AAF, and more than six since it became public, it does not seem as though there will be a resolution any time soon.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.