The lower chamber of Spain’s parliament has voted in a new anti-doping law with a tougher stance on drugs cheats aimed at bolstering Madrid’s bid for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games as the country seeks to limit the damage from the recent Operacion Puerto trial and prove it is determined to combat doping.
In a full session of the lower house, 298 members voted in favour of the ‘Law for protection of the health of athletes and fight against doping in sporting activity,” with three voting against and 26 abstentions, the latter from Catalan and Basque parties that did not believe it reflected their regions’ autonomy in sporting issues.
The law will take effect in 20 days’ time and will make Spain fully compliant with the requirements of the World Anti Doping Authority (WADA), according to a report on Yahoo! Sports. It provides for increased fines for those involved in supplying doping products and also raises the possibility of life bans in some circumstances, among other things.
Under the new law, Spain’s current national anti-doping agency, the AEA, will be dissolved and replaced by an independent agency, the Agencia Española de Protección de la Salud en el Deporte (Spanish Agency for the Protection of Health in Sport), which will have more authority than its predecessor.
New powers will include the ability to conduct random testing of athletes around the clock, including between the hours of 11pm and 6am when no controls are carried out under the current system.
"It strengthens the Madrid 2020 bid," said Spain’s sports minister, Miguel Cardenal, of the new law.
"Doping is no longer on the agenda as a concern for Madrid's candidacy [for 2020].
“It is a determined step forward for Spain in the fight against those who do not respect the purity of sport.
"This law is the final link and the end of a process of adaptation to WADA," he added.
The new law is also aimed at proving that Spain is tough on drugs cheats, although some outside the country will take some convincing of that.
Suspicions have been publicly aired in France in particular that the neighbouring country’s recent success across a range of sports may be due to some artificial assistance.
Former tennis player Yannick Noah drew parallels with the magic potion that enabled Asterix to take on Roman legions single-handed, while a satirical TV show lampooned tennis star Rafael Nadal, among others.
The judge in the Puerto case attracted international criticism from bodies such as the World Anti-Doping Agency when she ordered evidence seized as part of the investigation, including more than 200 blood bags, to be destroyed rather than passed on to anti-doping authorities for further analysis.
Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of that case, has always insisted that cyclists only made up a minority of his clients and that he also treated footballers and boxers, among others, but there has apparently been a marked reluctance on the part of the authorities to explore that avenue further.
Support from high-profile figures, including the then prime minister, for Alberto Contador – absolved of doping by the Spanish national cycling federation, but banned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – hasn’t helped the perception in some quarters that Spain is soft on doping.
Nor did the situation with Alejandro Valverde, the only Spanish cyclist banned for ties to Operacion Puerto, although proceedings were never opened against him in his home country.
Instead, it was the Italian Olympic committee, CONI, that banned him from competing there, with the UCI and WADA successfully appealing to CAS to have that ban extended worldwide.
Antonio Roman, of Spain’s ruling Popular Party, referring to the new law, commented: "It is something that has been called for internationally, and brings our laws into line with the latest modifications in the world anti-doping code."
He said the absence of such a law “had a negative effect on the Madrid 2016 candidacy and it should not return to happen again with Madrid 2020 or the Barcelona bid for the Winter Games of 2022."
The election of the city that will host the 2020 Olympic Games will be made at the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 7 September this year.
Madrid is vying with just two other cities for the right to host what will be the XXXII Olympiad – Istanbul, whose candidacy is likely to suffer as a result of the current unrest there, and Tokyo, which previously hosted the Olympic Games in 1964.