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Cycling: Puerto doping trial reaches climax

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Operation Puerto doping trial involving Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and four co-accused is set to conclude on Tuesday with the judge ruling on whether the five were guilty of endangering public health.

Fuentes is on trial with his sister and fellow doctor Yolanda as well as Manolo Saiz, Vicente Belda and Ignacio Labarta who held various positions in the Liberty Seguros and Kelme cycling teams.

The latter three are accused of facilitating Fuentes' involvement with riders in their teams, whilst it is claimed that Eufemiano and Yolanda Fuentes performed blood transfusions and stored and transported blood bags in a manner that represented a health risk to those undergoing the treatment.

However, it is not only Fuentes and his accomplices that have been scrutinised over the course of the 10-week long trial. The wider image of how Spanish sport deals with doping has also come under the spotlight.

From the first day of the trial Judge Julia Patricia Santamaria did not require Fuentes to provide a comprehensive list of the sportsmen and women he worked with, something which frustrated the many foreign journalists waiting to see which stellar names from other sports would be implicated.

However, the problem Santamaria has had throughout is balancing the contrasting elements between the trial many wanted to see and that which was actually brought before her.

Fuentes and his co-accused are not on trial for any type of doping offence as when they were arrested in 2006, doping was not a crime in Spain.

That lack of legislation allied to the haul of some 200 blood bags seized from properties belonging to him has led to an outside view that the Spanish authorities are a soft touch when it comes to doping.

In light of the trial and Madrid's bid for the 2020 Olympics, a new law has been drafted by the Spanish government which will bring Spanish law into line with the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) code on doping.

The weight of evidence in the trial also does not bode well for all five, who face up to two years in prison should they be found guilty.

Former cyclists Jesus Manzano and Tyler Hamilton both gave evidence saying they fell ill while riding after receiving treatments from Fuentes.

Hamilton also claimed that another former cyclist, Alberto Leon, performed a transfusion on him with a blood bag handed down by Fuentes despite having no medical training whatsoever.

However, even tough sentences for all those involved should they be found guilty are unlikely to curry favour outside of Spain unless Santamaria also allows the blood bags confiscated and preserved since 2006 to be handed to WADA so that those treated by Fuentes outside the world of cycling can be identified.

Such a process could leave a few prestigious reputations sullied, but would be a necessary evil if Spanish sport is to have a transparent future when it comes to doping.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130401/cycling-puerto-doping-trial-reaches-climax