Spaniard free to race for now, but global ban still one possible outcome
With the hearing in Lausanne now concluded, the Court of Arbitration for Sport has this evening confirmed that a final decision in the Alejandro Valverde hearing will not be given until sometime in March.
The three-day appeal was initiated by Valverde’s legal team, which was seeking to overturn the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI)'s decision to ban him for two years from racing in Italy. It had sanctioned him as it believed he had links to the Operación Puerto doping affair.
A statement issued by CAS this evening gave no indications as to what should be expected. It commented simply on efforts made to increase the penalty that Valverde could face if he is unsuccessful in his appeal.
"The Panel considered that the requests filed by UCI and WADA to suspend Alejandro Valverde world-wide for a period of two years could not be entertained by the CAS given that they were outside the scope of the present arbitration procedure (regarding [the] validity or not of the suspension of Valverde on Italian soil)."
This has led to confusion, with some media headlines reporting that CAS has effectively ruled out any global ban for Valverde. However, the use of the phrase "present arbitration procedure" and CAS’ own underlining of ‘on Italian soil’ makes it clear that the court is speaking about this hearing only.
Valverde is also set to face another CAS appeal in March, which is an action taken by the UCI and WADA against the Spanish cycling federation for not sanctioning the rider. If CAS rules in favour of the two bodies, the rider could be forced to take a long break from the sport.
Could an upheld Italian ban be converted?
However, that aside, it appears that the UCI’s own rules can allow for the expansion of a national ban. According to the Spanish newspaper AS, if CAS upholds the Italian suspension, the UCI will seek to convert this to a worldwide sanction via article 366.1 of its anti-doping code. This states as follows:
"Recognition of decisions by other organizations:
"366. 1. Subject to the right to appeal provided in chapter XI, the Testing, therapeutic use exemptions and hearing results or other final adjudications of any Signatory to the Code which are consistent with the Code and are within the Signatory’s authority, shall be recognized and respected by the UCI and the National Federations."
Cyclingnews spoke to UCI President Pat McQuaid today to determine if this was indeed the case. However the Irishman said that neither he nor the UCI would not comment at this moment in time, pointing out that statements made in the press earlier this week by some of the parties involved in the appeal – taken to mean CONI and Valverde's legal representatives – had met with criticism from the president of the CAS panel.
"Until the UCI is ready and able to talk, I won't be saying anything," McQuaid stated.
Final day of hearing
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, today’s last day of the appeal heard evidence from an unidentified witness who explained that during the investigation into Ivan Basso's link to Operación Puerto, more than 6,000 pages of records were passed to the prosecutor concerned.
Crucially, papers seized from Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes during his arrest included a handwritten note with the name of Valverde on it. The rider had insisted yesterday that he never worked with Fuentes, and that the only link was that he happened to be the brother of the former Kelme doctor Yolanda Fuentes.
La Gazzetta also suggests that the CAS panel, chaired by Roman Subiotto and also featuring Ulrich Haas and Ruggero Stincardini, has dismissed the objections of Valverde’s legal team to "alleged irregularities" in the movement of the blood bags. The newspaper states that the panel concluded that the presence of blood is itself evidence of doping.
Verification of this point and further explanation will have to wait until the final ruling, which CAS said will appear in March.
In the meantime, Valverde is free to race on and will contest the Tour Down Under in Australia next week.