Organisers of the Tour de France may be faced with a huge dilemma following reports in Spain that 2010 winner Alberto Contador’s hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), set for early June, may now be delayed until after July’s race. CAS has subsequently confirmed that the hearing has been postponed, although it has not yet given a rescheduled date.
The World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) and UCI are both appealing the decision of the Spanish national federation, the RFEC, to exonerate the three-time Tour champion of doping charges brought after he tested positive for clenbuterol on his way to winning the 2010 edition. Contador, then with Astana, has since moved to Saxo Bank-SunGard.
According to the Spanish sports daily AS, the CAS hearing, fixed for 6-8 June, has now been postponed until July or even September following a request by Contador and his lawyers, citing Luis Sanz, the RFEC’s legal advisor..
That would mean that Contador, who looks set to be crowned 2011 Giro d’Italia champion in Milan on Sunday, would be free to defend his Tour de France title with the case against him still unresolved, a nightmare scenario for race organisers ASO.
AS reports that Efraim Barak, president of the three-man panel that will decide the case, will confirm the new dates for the hearing next Monday.
"In a statement published this afternoon, CAS said: "Following the agreement between the Appellants [UCI and WADA] and the Respondents [Contador], the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has accepted to postpone the hearing in this matter in order to give to all parties concerned reasonable time to prepare for such hearing and to guarantee the participation in person of witnesses and experts. Accordingly, the CAS Panel has decided to cancel the hearing initially scheduled for 6-7-8 June 2011."
The statement continued: "New hearing dates will be fixed as soon as possible."
Ever since news broke last Autumn that Contador had failed a doping control on the second rest day of last year’s Tour, which he was leading at the time, ASO has pressed for the case to be concluded ahead of this year’s race, to avoid the prospect of the defending champion taking to the start line with legal proceedings still hanging over him.
The RFEC appeared set to ban Contador for a year – a decision that the cyclist himself would presumably have appealed – before making the surprising decision to clear him of any wrongdoing following his assertion that the positive test resulted from him having eaten a contaminated steak.
There have been suspicions, however, raised among others by the UCI itself, that political influence played a part in the RFEC’s decision after public statements in support of Contador by the Spanish prime minister and leader of the opposition, among others.
The announcement by CAS earlier this month that the case was to be heard in early June would have been welcomed by ASO.
Now, however, the Tour organisers could potentially seek to exclude Contador from this year’s race, although that tactic could itself result in further legal arguments with the cyclist looking to have any such decision overturned.
This afternoon's statemen from CAS means that it is highly unlikely that the matter will have been settled in advance of the race starting on the Passage du Gois on 2 July, now less than six weeks away.
We strange few, we strange happy few
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