Spain’s new Sports Minister has told the country’s parliament that it needs to take immediate action to bring legislation regarding drugs cheats into line World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines to give Madrid’s bid to stage the 2020 Olympic Games a chance of succeeding.
Jose Ignacio Wert confirmed that the Partido Popular government, which came to power in November following a general election in which the ruling PSOE suffered a crushing defeat, had already been in contact with WADA.
"It is essential that the impact of this law on Spanish judicial procedure is minutely examined as well as the implications it has regarding fundamental rights," explained Wert, according to a report on Yahoo! Eurosport.
He went on to say that the government planned to enact the required legislation "as quickly as possible" in order to "reaffirm the commitment to take all necessary steps in the fight against doping."
The previous government had made changes to anti-doping rules in 2009 in response to criticism by the International Olympic Committee giving feedback in relation to Madrid’s failed bid to host the 2016 Olympics, which were awarded to Rio de Janeiro.
However, last October the coutry’s Supreme Court upheld an appeal against those changes by the country’s national cycling federation, the RFEC, which had claimed that there had been insufficient consultation on the issue.
The venue of the 2020 Summer Olympics will be determined next year, with Tokyo, Istanbul, Rome, Baku and Doha also putting themselves forward as candidates.
Spanish action – or lack thereof – in a succession of high-profile doing cases, mostly connected with cycling, have led to repeated calls from both within the country and abroad for the authorities to demonstrate their determination to tackle the problem.
In October 2010 UCI President Pat McQuaid said that Spain, consistently ranked the leading country on the road in recent years, needed to get its house in order.
His appeal came days after news had broken that Tour de France champion Alberto Contador had tested positive for clenbuterol during that race and that two Xacobeo Galicia riders, including Vuelta runner-up Ezequiel Mosquera, had failed doping controls during that race.
At the time, McQuaid said: “The (Spanish) government needs to work with the sport. The government needs first of all to recognize there's a problem and I don't know that they actually recognize there's a problem.Then they need to sit down with the sport and put a lot of measures in place."
In an editorial written in reaction to McQuaid’s comments, Spain’s leading sports daily, Marca, said that the UCI president’s words were “a blow to the heart for a country that owes a large part of its recent joy to the success of its athletes."
However, it agreed that a succession of positive tests among the country’s cyclists meant that action needed to be taken to "banish this curse."
Marca continued: "This does not mean that we can doubt the successes of our athletes. But the truth is that McQuaid's comments contain more truth than we perhaps like to hear.
"We are destroying all the good work that Spanish sport has done for the international image of this country."
Mosquera is currently serving a two-year ban while Contador was acquitted of wrongdoing by the Spanish national federation, the RFEC, a decision that is of course the subject of an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which is due to rule on the case next week.
Former world number one Alejandro Valverde returned last month from a two-year ban imposed by CAS for his links to the Operacion Puerto doping case, despite the RFEC having itself taken no action whatsoever against the rider.
Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of the blood doping ring broken up by Operacion Puerto in May 2006 is himself due to stand trial along with six others on criminal charges relating to the investigation, although that case may not be heard until next year.
Other cases in Spain in recent years have involved athletes from outside cycling – 2009 world steeplechase champion Marta Domínguez was cleared of doping charges last year – and Fuentes has always insisted that his clients included stars from sports including football and tennis, besides cyclists.
It remains to be seen whether he will name names once the case goes to trial.
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.