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Drug trial damages Spanish sport

Al Jazeera's Lee Wellings looks at why punishment of Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes may not be satisfactory for sport.
Last modified: 30 Apr 2013 19:50
[AFP]

Think of Spanish sport and immediately the two jewels in the crown come to mind. Barcelona and Real Madrid. Successful and glamorous though suddenly under threat from the emerging German clubs.

But something more significant than football results - yes even the Champions League results - concluded in Spain on the day Real Madrid tried to overturn the Dortmund deficit.

The trial of Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes in Madrid.

This was a chance for Spain to send out a message that their sport is finally being cleaned up. Remember doping wasn't against the law back in 2006 when the Operacion Puerto raid exposed the doping secrets of a Madrid lab. It was a chance emphatically not taken.

Fuentes was found guilty but NOT sent to jail.

He was on trial for 'endangering public health'. This is a technicality, the only way the Spanish authorities could seek justice within the constraints of the law. 'Endangering public health' is not what the Fuentes case is really about.

Overwhelmingly, the reaction in Spain has been one of disappointment at the verdict - a suspended one-year sentence. And more importantly, information from 200 notorious bags of blood - coded but unnamed - from Operacion Puerto will not be released.

Anyone who doped WILL be getting away with it. And that poses a problem for this country's reputation that should not be underestimated in the year Madrid bid again for an Olympic Games.

This is about a man and his team accused of systematic doping.

"From at least 2002, he had been practising blood extractions, generally of 450mg each, sometimes with two bags of the same amount, to certain sports athletes, especially cyclists, for retransfusion later on, with the exclusive aim of artificially improving their physical performance," the judgement said.

The aim, according to the judgement, was to increase the red blood cell count. Fuentes also supplied cyclists with banned substances, including EPO, testosterone, insulin, and hormones.

Fuentes has claimed big unnamed clients have been working with him. A threat to bring people down with him? If and when he talks it could be a long night for some familiar names in football, tennis, athletics and other sports - NOT just cycling.

Over 50 cyclists were implicated in his work. Among the cyclists who admitted using Fuentes' services was the Olympic-medal winner Tyler Hamilton, who told of meetings with Fuentes in hotel rooms and of feeling sick after retransfusions.

And the damning thing is that this is no longer shocking. Cycling is now so damaged the good people of 'Change Cycling Now' have demanded a revolution, the only way the sport can try and wheel itself away from two decades and more of shame. With cycling, what matters now is dealing with the present.

But other sports have hidden in the shadows. Less testing, more scope for 'confusion' about products. Only doping rumours being attached to superstars in the world of Twitter and social media are making a mark - the evidence is not there if the bags of blood remain unnamed.

It's not just Spanish sports stars who are rumoured to be involved - Dr Fuentes had a wider reach, now finally taken away from him in the form of a four-year ban from medical practice in sports. But unquestionably it is Spain where the damage has been done to reputations and the faith of the public in the legal system.

Some Spanish media warn not to believe everything that is being written about the potential for athletes in the country to dope.

Freelance journalist and broadcaster Joaquin Soler feels the issue will not affect Spanish football. He doesn't mean there has been conclusively no doping, he just means that this scandal won't affect football players in Spain, because this is an 'endless argument that has been used abroad to discredit football players in Spain' (especially, in France). He also thinks that the exhaustive medical check-ups show that football is the healthiest sport in Spain.

But whose names would have been on those bags of blood from Operacion Puerto? Who's on Dr Fuentes list? Which very public figures will have had their 'health endangered' in Spain and beyond? Imagine if everyone had moved on from the Lance Armstrong case without going back and demanding the truth.

This cannot be 'case closed.'

Trying to get to the bottom of this murky situation is Spain's anti-doping Chief Ana Munoz, a lawyer who is determined not to be thrown off the track by people suspected of having something to hide.

Those with fingers being pointed at them include Spanish politicians - the conspiracy theory being they wanted Fuentes to help cover up doping and help Spain to success in a range of sports.

Another widely peddled theory in Spain is that the full truth will not emerge while the city of Madrid has an Olympics to bid for. This could play into the hands of Tokyo and Istanbul but it should not prevent justice, is the feeling of the public.

What is indisputable is that Spain have a record of success in a range of sports it can be proud of. 

And that talent, skill and ambition are a big part of the success.

But has doping played a part too? The people of Spain deserve to know and it's becoming clear, to their credit, that people in Spain want to know - even if there's something or someone that will taint the magnificent achievements of their sporting stars.