USADA can save the victory dance: we ain't hardly done with Alberto Salazar

USADA can save the victory dance: we ain't hardly done with Alberto Salazar

DOHA, Qatar — It is a fundamental precept that everyone is entitled to due process, and as the mater of the United States Anti-Doping Agency versus Alberto Salazar makes plain, perhaps no one in the history of anti-doping litigation has ever exercised the process due him as did Alberto Salazar, tagged late Monday with a four-year ban. 

The Salazar matter may come to redefine high-stakes sports-related arbitration as we know it. It sets a new bar for combativeness and litigiousness.  

Now, meantime, we shall see whether — in the court of public opinion — all those athletes who over the years saw themselves in Salazar’s orbit will now be afforded the same fundamental fairness.

The preliminary verdict would suggest that having been anywhere near Salazar — much less been one of his disciples, like the Olympic champion Mo Farah or the silver medalist Galen Rupp — is going to make for a tough go. 

Very tough.

Less rhetoric. More rational, calm process. For everyone's sake

Less rhetoric. More rational, calm process. For everyone's sake

In Russian doping saga news: the 50-kilometer cross-country skier Alexander Legkov gets to keep his Sochi 2014 gold medal and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency almost certainly will not be declared non-compliant after World Anti-Doping Agency investigators finally retrieved computer data from the Moscow lab.

When the history of this Russian saga is wrapped, it really ought to be weighed against the sage counsel of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the U.S. Supreme Court justice, who in her 2016 autobiography wrote, “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance anyone’s ability to persuade.”

There has been so much — entirely too much — rhetoric in, around, enveloping this Russian saga, a great deal of it from people who know, or ought to know, the value of process but who have turned time and again to inflammatory bombast, pomposity and hyperbole in seeking to advance politically charged positions.

Not to mention just yelling at each other. Or someone.

As the Legkov case and the retrieval of the lab data prove, process — way more than rhetoric — matters.

Process often isn’t fun, or sexy, or thrilling, particularly in our world now, when it can seem so much more entertaining, or cavalier, or satisfying to the echo chamber to zip off a blasting tweet.

But process matters, and a lot. It matters to work through it. Heads-up: that’s what this column is about.

WADA reinstates Russia: the time is now for solution

WADA reinstates Russia: the time is now for solution

For all the noise in some quarters of the press and from some athletes’ groups, the World Anti-Doping Agency on Thursday did the right thing and reinstated Russia. 

Yes, the right thing.

This drama has been going on long enough. At some point there needs to be closure. That time is now. 

Of course, the Olympics are rooted in a set of ideals. But the Olympic movement operates in the real world. The real world is about more than just morality. It’s also about all the things that make our world go around, especially where sport and and government intersect, a myriad of interests that include politics, diplomacy, business and hard cash, and to pretend otherwise is silly.

Dumb and counter-productive: criminalizing doping in international sports

Dumb and counter-productive: criminalizing doping in international sports

Congress does some really dumb stuff. And we are purportedly awash in, to use the term of the moment, fake news.

That said, It’s almost hard to know which is more irresponsible, the dumb proposal introduced Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives that aims to criminalize doping in international sports, or news accounts of the bill, particularly in the New York Times.

This bill isn’t anything resembling sound public policy. It’s political revenge porn. 

The odds of it becoming law, meanwhile, are slim, and any attempt at fair and balanced reporting ought to have started there. 

Along with a host of other reasonable observations grounded in, you know, fact. Or reasonable conclusion. 

Shades of meaning, and a path forward

Shades of meaning, and a path forward

It’s a familiar refrain that in long-lasting marriages the husband wakes up every morning and, first thing, says to his loving bride: I’m sorry. For what? Anything. Everything. Whatever.

In American public life, meanwhile, there is a familiar — more, expected if not demanded — ritual of contrition that must be performed as a condition of potential redemption. First and foremost: there must be an apology. Those two words — I’m sorry — must be said in earnest and, similarly, meant for real. 

This brings us to international relations, in this context sports politics, in particular the sporting authorities who operate in the Olympic space, almost all of whom are connected to their governments in some or significant fashion. Such diplomacy rarely comes packaged in a simple declarative as straightforward as, I’m sorry. Diplomacy relies on semantics, on nuance, on shades of meaning.

These things make the International Olympic Committee go around. They make the World Anti-Doping Agency work, too. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.  

In that spirit, a recent letter sent by senior Russian authorities to WADA president Craig Reedie — with copies to IOC president Thomas Bach and International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons — offers everyone a way forward in a multilayered dispute that has been going on now for years. To pretend otherwise is, similarly, to ignore reality.

Lance Armstrong settles, and wins big

Lance Armstrong settles, and wins big

What a joke.

“No one is above the law,” Chad A. Readler, the acting assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s civil division, said Thursday in a statement that went out as the federal government settled its case with Lance Armstrong for $5 million.

“A competitor who intentionally uses illegal PEDs not only deceives competitors and fans, but also sponsors, who help make sporting competitions possible. This settlement demonstrates that those who cheat the government will be held accountable.”

No, it doesn’t. It shows just the opposite, and — though many of you think the the U.S. government is some big, bad beast that is intent on cleaning up the world of sports — this marks yet another episode where the feds are revealed to be, in a word, losers. 

The big winner here? Lance Armstrong. 

Waiting for CAS, and the crucible of cross-examination

Waiting for CAS, and the crucible of cross-examination

In his under-appreciated gem of a 1982 song, “Highway Patrolman,” Bruce Springsteen offers this memorable line: “Man turns his back on his family, he just ain’t no good.”

It’s worth considering these words anew as we wait for the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport to release its “reasoned decision” in the cases of 28 Russians cleared of doping at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, because that tribunal is the first to get to weigh fully the cross-examination of star witness Grigory Rodchenkov.

Rodchenkov is also one of the stars of Icarus, recently awarded an Academy Award. And the star of much of what has been reported for more than two years now in the New York Times about the Russians.

IOC assembly as taxi confidential

IOC assembly as taxi confidential

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Pretty much every culture has a saying that goes something like this: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. 

There’s a corollary that goes like this, courtesy of the late and very excellent American comedian George Carlin: let’s not have a double standard — one standard will do just fine.

So it was especially rich to listen to the International Olympic Committee, at its 132nd session, its annual congress, carry on at length Tuesday over the Russian doping saga, in particular the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision last week to clear 28 Russians of doping at the Sochi 2014 Games and free 11 other Russians of life bans. 

The outrage! The frustration! The rancor! The conflict! And it was all on television, or Twitter, or Periscope, for everyone. Such theater!

Frosty in PyeongChang

Frosty in PyeongChang

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Ryan Bailey is an American sprinter. 

He won a silver medal in the 4x100 relay at the London 2012 Summer Games. But he had to give it back because of teammate Tyson Gay’s doping conviction. Like many sprinters, Bailey then gave bobsled a go. Last January, Bailey tested positive himself for a stimulant in a case involving a dietary supplement called Weapon X. Based on a "light degree of fault,” a three-member American Arbitration Assn. panel gave him a mere six months off.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency appealed to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. In December, in a decision little noticed except in track and field and bobsled circles, in the arcane world of sports lawyering and of course in Ryan Bailey’s entourage, CAS slapped Bailey with two years — a signal to one and all not in the United States that anti-doping jurisprudence in the United States might well be considered, well, weak.

What in the world does this have to do with the CAS decision last Thursday to clear 28 Russians of doping at the Sochi 2014 Olympics? The prospect of an appeal from that decision to the Swiss Federal Tribunal? Tensions between the World Anti-Doping Agency, CAS and the International Olympic Committee? 

Pretty much nothing, and at the same time — it's a riff on everything.


So you're telling me there's a chance?

So you're telling me there's a chance?

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Do you escalate a fight if by so doing you run the very real risk of losing a much-bigger battle?

Metaphorically speaking, this is the dilemma confronting the International Olympic Committee in the wake of a Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling earlier this week that cleared 28 Russians of doping allegations at the Sochi 2014 Games and released 11 others from life bans. The 28 are eligible for PyeongChang; the other 11, no.

That ruling immediately presented the IOC with two separate but related decision trees. A dazzling number of complexities are at issue. Let’s cut through the clutter:

1. Is the IOC under any obligation to invite the 28 to the 2018 Winter Games?

2. Should the IOC appeal the CAS ruling to the Swiss Federal Tribunal?