A judge in Austin, Texas has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Lance Armstrong to have the disciplinary proceedings brought against him by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) halted. Armstrong had argued that USADA, which has charged him, among others, with being part of what it has described as “a massive doping conspiracy,” had infringed his constitutional right to due process.
Although he ruled against Armstrong, the judge also aimed some stinging criticism at USADA and the two cycling governing bodies involved - USA Cycling and the UCI - highlighting some "troubling aspects" of the case, including USADA's motives in pursuing the cyclist, and a lack of co-operation between that body, USA Cycling and the UCI.
In a written decision, District Judge Sam Sparks said that the civil courts "should not interfere with an amateur sports organization's disciplinary procedures unless the organization shows wanton disregard for its rules, to the immediate and irreparable harm of a plaintiff, where the plaintiff has no other available remedy."
Armstrong has the right to appeal today’s decision, although with USADA having maintained its record of never having had its jurisdiction successfully challenged through the courts, there may be little mileage now in pursuing such a course of action.
Should he choose not to do so, he must now meet a USADA deadline of 23 August – this Thursday –to confirm whether he wishes to accept sanctions proposed by USADA, potentially including a lifetime ban from competitive sport and being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, or take the case to arbitration which is the alternative course of action within the process initiated by the anti-doping body.
“We are reviewing the Court's lengthy opinion and considering Mr. Armstrong's options at this point," said Tim Herman, one of his attorneys.
Today’s decision may be a setback for Armstrong, but it certainly wasn’t a ringing endorsement of USADA’s handling of the issue, either, and Judge Sparks was also critical of a lack of co-operation between the agency and the UCI, which insisted that it alone should determine whether anti-doping rules have been infringed in the case, a stance backed by USA Cycling.
“There are troubling aspects of this case,” maintained Judge Sparks, “not least of which is USADA's apparent single-minded determination to force Armstrong to arbitrate the charges against him, in direct conflict with UCI's equally evident desire not to proceed against him."
The judge issued USADA with a stern warning that it needed to ensure that Armstrong was given adequate notice of any arbitration decision to afford him sufficient time to prepare his defence. In the event it did not, "and it is brought to this Court's attention in an appropriate manner, USADA is unlikely to appreciate the result," Judge Sparks warned.
Referring to the argument between USADA on the one hand and the UCI and USA Cycling on the other, he wrote: "As mystifying as USADA's election to proceed at this date and in this manner may be, it is equally perplexing that these three national and international bodies are apparently unable to work together to accomplish their shared goal - the regulation and promotion of cycling.
“However, if these bodies wish to damage the image of their sport through bitter infighting, they will have to do so without the involvement of the United States courts."
While declining to rule in favour of Armstrong, the judge also expressed serious reservations about the motivations behind USADA’s pursuit of the seven time Tour de France winner.
"Among the Court's concerns is the fact that USADA has targeted Armstrong for prosecution many years after his alleged doping violations occurred, and intends to consolidate his case with those of several other alleged offenders, including - incredibly - several over whom USA Cycling and USOC apparently have no authority whatsoever,” he wrote.
“Further, if Armstrong's allegations are true, and USADA is promising lesser sanctions against other allegedly offending riders in exchange for their testimony against Armstrong, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that USADA is motivated more by politics and a desire for media attention than faithful adherence to its obligations to USOC."
Armstrong’s legal team highlighted the implied criticism of USADA, with Herman saying: "Judge Sparks' opinion confirms what we have said all along. Among other things, the Court confirmed that 'USADA's conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives.' "
In a statement, USADA’s chief executive, Travis Tygart, said: “We are pleased that the federal court in Austin, Texas has dismissed Lance Armstrong’s lawsuit and upheld the established rules which provide Congressionally-mandated due process for all athletes.
“The rules in place have protected the rights of athletes for over a decade in every case USADA has adjudicated and we look forward to a timely, public arbitration hearing in this case, should Mr. Armstrong choose, where the evidence can be presented, witness testimony will be given under oath and subject to cross examination, and an independent panel of arbitrators will determine the outcome of the case.”
The UCI acknowledged the court’s decision and pointed out that it was not itself directly involved in the proceedings.
“The US Court was not convinced under US law that Lance Armstrong’s rights of defence would not be respected in the arbitration procedure sought by USADA and in which an appeal to CAS is possible,” the UCI said in a statement. “The Court was confident enough that a procedure before neutral and independent arbitrators would provide sufficient guarantees and had to decide on Lance Armstrong’s objections.
“The UCI was not a party to the US proceedings,” it added. “Based upon the information that was known to it – UCI did not receive a copy of USADA’s file – UCI took the position that it had jurisdiction for results management and proposed that a third neutral and independent body should decide, based upon the evidence in USADA’s file, whether Lance Armstrong had a case to answer or not.”
Its statement concluded: “The UCI notes that according to the US Court an arbitration proceedings [sic] should meet its concerns.”
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.