I'll preface this by admitting to the reader that I am not an expert in cycling, doping, or legal matters as they relate to sport. I'm not even a particularly big cycling fan. But I do need to make some observations.
Landis, accused of doping during his victorious 2006 Tour de France campaign, has been appealing the decision that banned him from racing for two years and stripped him of his 2006 title. Yesterday, he was dealt a big blow as the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld that decision and denied Landis' appeal.
However, there is a substantial problem with the CAS' ruling.
In it's decision, the Panel found that the laboroatory that tested Landis' blood for evidence of doping did indeed use "less than ideal laboratory practices", but claimed that said practices were insufficient to support an appeal.
In the U.S. legal system, we have an important principle known as reasonable doubt. We use it as a measuring stick, a threshold that must be overcome to find someone guilty of an offense- guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We take this principle for granted because it is something guaranteed to each citizen.
In Landis' case, this principle was violated.
The CAS' finding clearly indicates a level of doubt- the damning evidence in the case is the test results indicating doping, yet even the CAS admits that the examining lab did not handle that evidence in an ideal way. I am not a chemist. But I do know that chemistry is not an almost science. A sample cannot be almost uncontaminated. A sample cannot be almost not mishandled. If the lab did not take the proper steps in testing Landis' blood, then it failed to do its job correctly.
The CAS stated that while there may have been improprieties, they did not rise to the level of "lies, fraud, forgery or cover-ups" as alleged by Landis. Ok. But how about mistakes that may have impacted the results of a positive blood test? Ideal laboratory practices are put in place to ensure that these tests are performed in a standardized, scientifically accurate way. They are not recommendations- they are requirements. They are required because anything less would cast doubt on the validity of the results. As a researcher, I know the burden involved with maintaining valid results, and in that effort, the lab failed. In light of that failure, the CAS' decision to deny Landis' appeal is a bad one.
I don't know if he doped or not. The only ones who know for sure are Landis and whoever may or may not have been present when he did it. If he did it. But I find it odd that a man would put himself through nearly two years of legal battles, raise millions of dollars from private sources, go deeply into debt, and put such an unbelievable strain on himself, his family, and his friends unless he truly felt that an injustice had been done.
One could argue that it's equally unlikely that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency would have continued prosecution had they not had solid evidence of wrong-doing. But support for that argument fizzles in the face of the reasonable doubt generated by the lab's failures and acknowledged by the CAS itself.
In an American court, this doubt would probably be sufficient to win an appeal and reinstate Landis. But the CAS ran roughshod, basically saying yes, your accuser screwed up...but we're going to find you guilty anyway. As I said, I don't know if he's guilty. But personally, I doubt whether or not the evidence is accurate. And if I'm going to strip a man of his reputation, livelihood, and greatest achievement, I had damn well better be certain.
In my opinion, the CAS failed. I hope the Swiss Federal Courts have a higher standard.