Operation Puerto and Doping in Spain
After seven years Operation Puerto comes to a conclusion - but at what cost?
Was it really a surprise to anyone? No, I’m not talking about the Bradley Wiggins/Chris Froome “who will be the team leader at the Tour de France” squabble. I’m referring to Operation Puerto.
After seven years of winding its way through the Spanish courts, there was a ruling in the Operation Puerto case. Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes was found guilty of endangering public health and given a one-year suspended jail sentence. He was also barred from sports medicine for four years and ordered to pay a $6,000 fine. However, here’s the real kicker - the judge in the case has ordered that the over 200 blood bags seized by the Spanish police must be destroyed! But before we go on, let’s bring everyone up to speed.
For those who may have forgotten (And I can’t blame you if you had - we’ve had so many juicy cycling scandals these past years it’s hard to keep track!) Operation Puerto was a Spanish police operation against Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and his network of associates. Doctor Fuentes was accused by Spanish police of providing an organized blood doping program for cyclists as well as numerous professional athletes in other sports such as tennis, soccer, and track and field. Let’s be clear - cycling isn’t the only sport with a performance enhancing drug problem - it’s just the most visible due to the recent Lance Armstrong confession.
What’s blood doping versus your ordinary pill popping or injecting type of doping? Blood doping is removing blood from a patient, turbo charging it with more red blood cells, which help carry oxygen and improve endurance and aerobic capacity. This all sounds very illegal doesn’t it? Well, it depends on where you live.
Spain’s first anti-doping law wasn’t on the books until 2006. Up until then Spain, though part of the European Union, didn’t have a hard and fast law on doping. In Spain athletic doping is considered an endangering public health issue - not a cheating-at-sports issue. So as long as it was done by a doctor it was okay.
This is not to say that Spanish riders were doped to the gills and got away with it. There was anti-drug enforcement being carried out that resulted in Spanish riders getting popped - case in point Alberto Contador. However, the Spanish government wasn’t enforcing the anti-doping - case in point the Spanish Prime Minister defending Alberto Contador .
It wasn’t until March of this year that Spain approved of an anti-doping bill that aligns with the World Anti-Doping Agency standards. In cycling terms - Spain wasn’t just off the back when it came to doping enforcement, Spain dropped out at the first feed zone and said “Screw it!” tossing the bike into a ditch Bjarne Riis style.
So why the big interest by Spain to “Just Say No” to doping? In a word: Olympics.
Spain is bidding on the 2020 Olympics and they can’t appear to be soft on doping if they hope to win the nomination. This new anti-doping bill is expected to become law this summer.