Spain’s minister for education, culture and sport says that the two-year ban given to Alberto Contador by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last week makes it imperative for the country to be seen to be tackling doping. Jose Ignacio Wert made his comments as a row erupted with neighbours France over sketches in a satirical puppet show that portrayed leading Spanish sportsmen as dopers, and also coincided with Madrid submitting its bid for the 2020 Olympics.
ESPN reported Mr Wert, speaking on Tuesday at the Forum de la Nueva Sociedad in Madrid, as saying that the country needed "to gain credibility" from international governing bodies.
The same day, officials from Madrid formally submitted their 2020 bid to the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne – the same city where, in November, the CAS had held its appeal hearing into the Contador case brought by the UCI and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) following the Spaniard’s acquittal last year by the Spanish national federation, the RFEC, on charges relating to his positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France.
In 2010, another high-profile Spanish cyclist, Alejandro Valverde, had received a two-year ban from the CAS after Italian anti-doping authorities discovered that his DNA matched that of blood contained in a bag seized by Spanish police in Operation Puerto in 2006. The RFEC itself had never opened disciplinary proceedings against the former world number one, who returned from his ban last month.
"We have a problem with doping and that's why we have every intention of making sure Spain's anti-doping law conforms with WADA's anti-doping code," said Mr Wert, who added that stricter measures to tackle drugs cheats needed to be implemented in line with “institutional aid” being granted to Madrid for its 2020 Summer Olympics bid, as well as a proposed bid from Barcelona for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Last year, French former tennis player Yannick Noah, writing in Le Monde, likened the performance of Spain’s athletes in a number of sports including football and cycling to the country having discovered some sort of ‘magic potion’ similar to that which enabled the cartoon character Asterix and his sidekick Obelix to take on the Roman army single-handedly.
His comments, also aimed at tennis star Rafael Nadal, provoked outrage on the other side of the Pyrenees, as have two sketches in recent days in a satirical puppet show, Les Guignols, on French TV’s Canal+ which suggested, without much subtlety, that his performance, and that of other Spanish athletes, was receiving an artificial boost.
In the second sketch, which besides Nadal also features puppets of Contador, NBA star Pau Gasol and footballer Iker Casillas, the mud-slinging extended to comparing the version of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre with the copy thought to have been painted by one of his pupils that was discovered recently at the Prado in Madrid.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said of the French criticisms that “The best response is just to ignore them.”
Nadal himself said earlier this week: "I'm more motivated than ever to clean up Spain's image. Spanish sport is characterised by sacrifice, humility and spirit of overcoming adversity that all athletes have.
"You can't accuse someone of something you have no proof of, even if it's humorous. France is obsessed with us," he added.
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.