Spanish sports minister Jaime Lissavetzky believes "there are a number of doubts and questions" over Alejandro Valverde's suspension from racing in Italy by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) and has questioned the fairness of the decision.
CONI imposed the two-year sanction on Valverde in response to his alleged involvement in the Operación Puerto affair and the fact that samples taken from him after stage 14 of last year's Tour de France matched one of those found in the clinic of disgraced Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) has not yet decided whether to extend the sanction to all competition, although Lissavetzky is unsure of whether it will be extensible or not. Additionally, the French sports minister has declared that the current Spanish national champion is not welcome at this year's Tour de France.
According to news agency Europa Press Lissavetzky said in an interview to Spanish national radio, "there are a number of doubts and questions" regarding whether the Italian authorities have overstepped their line of responsibility, calling into question the justice of the sanction. He added that the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is the one true barometer of Valverde's innocence in the matter.
Spanish authorities have long defended Valverde's role in any possible association with Fuentes, and Lissavetzky maintained this stance, declaring that Valverde was not included in the list submitted by the Spanish judge who oversaw the associated Operación Puerto proceedings in court, adding that the Spanish rider was never a part of Operación Puerto "from a judicial point of view".
When Spanish sports authorities requested that all relevant files on those cyclists implicated in Operación Puerto be opened, the judge at the centre of Spanish investigations refused, citing that the case was for alleged crimes against public health and not sporting fraud.
Subsequently, CONI's decision to suspend Valverde from racing in Italy for a period of two years caused friction between those in the Spanish judicial system who presided over the case and the Italian authorities. Despite causing massive upheaval in the short-term however, Lissavetzky believes that over time Operación Puerto will be viewed as a positive outcome for the sport and a "clear message" in the fight against doping.
He called for "prevention", "control" and "tightening" in sanctions meted out to athletes in an attempt to dissuade potential cheats whilst simultaneously preventing unfair decision, emphasising that the fight against doping is worthwhile to "preserve the health of athletes, whether professional or not. It's a problem that affects society, not just top-level sport," he explained.
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