Last week after Lance Armstrong announced that he would race in Australia's Tour Down Under as his first competitive race of his comeback to the sport, an obscure rule was brought up by his detractors that would disqualify him from starting the event.
The rule in question would seem to require an athlete coming out of retitirement to be registred in the sports out of competition dope testing program for six months before they return to racing. The thing is, Lance didn't register until August 1st, which would make him eligible about two weeks too late for the January 18th start of the race.
As to be expected the anti-Lance crowd says that a rule is a rule, and that an exception shouldn't be made for Armstrong. Cycling Weekly said:
Common sense dictates that the rules should be observed. If that prompts the Tour Down Under's organisers to delay the race, then that is their prerogative, but the rule should not be bent to suit one individual.
Armstrong is not bigger than the sport. It may be 'good for business' for Armstrong to make his comeback at the Tour Down Under, but it is not good for the sport if a rule has to be broken in the process.
Anti-doping legislation relies on being applied equally to every athlete
I think Armstrong should be allowed to race, and this is why:
First, let's look at how the rule is written. Cycling Weekly says "apply the rule as written now and in the future". First I don't think many people have actually read the rule. Here are the rules that relate to the wherabouts testing pool:
Registered Testing Pool
74. The Anti-Doping Commission shall identify a UCI Out-of-Competition Registered Testing Pool of those Riders who are required to provide up-to-date whereabouts information to the UCI.
Comment: only the Riders included in the Registered Testing Pool are required to provide where-abouts information; however any Rider may be tested Out-of-competition at any time and at any place, even if he is serving a period of Ineligibility.
75. The Anti-Doping Commission shall define the criteria for Riders to be included in the Registered
Testing Pool and may also include Riders individually. The Anti-Doping Commission may revise the Registered Testing Poolfrom time to time as appropriate.
76. A Rider continues to be included in the Registered Testing Pooland to be required to provide up-to-date whereabouts information to the UCI until he has been informed by the Anti-Doping Commission
that he has been removed from the Registered Testing Pool. Riders that serve a period of Ineligibility continue to be included in the Registered Testing Pooland to be required to provide whereabouts information.
77. A Rider who has given notice of retirement from cycling to the UCI may not resume competing at international level unless he notifies the UCI at least 6 (six) months in advance before he expects to return to international competition and is available for unannounced Out-of-Competition Testing, at any time during the period before actual return to competition.
Notice of retirement is effective only when the Rider has returned his license to his National
Federation for that purpose.
So in rule #77 it says the rider may not resume competing at an "international level". What exactly does this mean? Lance just raced in a UCI sanctioned cyclocross race last week. Is any UCI sanctioned event an "international competition". Lance says UCI president Pat McQaid told him that this rule only applies to Olympics and World Championships. Those are international competitions (riders racing for their nation competing agaistother nations). Rule #77 also says the time is 6 months before they "expect" to return. I think originally the plan was to return at the Tour of California, so this would seem like it it the case for Armstrong.
Rule #75 says "the Anti-Doping Commission may revise the Registered Testing Pool from time to time as appropriate." So it seems like the commission has the ability to make appropriate rulings about the testing pool, which would make it seem like there is some flexibility to these rules.
It is not like Lance is being tested everyday for six months. He has already been tested by out of competition testers. Two weeks is not going to make a difference.
Lance is not asking for an exception. It is the race organizers that want him at their race. Cycling is not like the NBA or NFL. The UCI doesn't have the name level of authority. The organizers of the Tour Down Under did the UCI a fovor by running their event as a ProTour level race. The UCI has had a lot of problems getting race organizers and teams to get on board their ProTour league. The Tour Down Under could simply change the status of thier event to run it under the a different governing body like the Tour de France did last year if they want to push the issue.
To those that say rules are rules, it is pretty rare for cyclists to come out of retirement after years away from the sport, so this rule really hasn't been tested. The one similar case is when Mario Cipollini came back to race the Tour of California last season this rule was not applied to him, and in fact, the UCI fast tracked his paperwork through at the request of the race organizers so he could be there. If you want consistentcy in the application of the rule, then Lance should be allowed to ride!
No official ruling has been announced yet by the UCI, but Australian officials have said they have talked to the UCI and feel good about the outcome.