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Earlier this month, the United States Anti-Doping Agency informed Lance Armstrong that it intends to bring formal doping charges against him. Charged with policing drug use in sports, the USADA’s move could cost the former cycling champion all seven of his Tour de France titles. Armstrong maintains that he “never doped,” but the charges have already had serious effects: a ban from his current avocation, Ironman triathlons, and a potential revocation of performance bonuses. Regardless of the outcome of the current investigation, persistent doping charges have taken a heavy toll on the former champion’s legacy.
The USADA’s investigation is currently before the agency’s review board, which could evaluate the doping case against Armstrong as soon as this week. The board is considering evidence related to allegations that Armstrong doped and that he and several officials on his former teams were part of a doping conspiracy in the late 1990s and early to mid-2000s. Should the review board decide there is enough evidence against Armstrong, it will recommend that the USADA formally charge Armstrong with a doping violation. Although the USADA charges are not criminal in nature, the agency does have the power to revoke past titles and ban athletes from future competition. The ban could range anywhere from four years to life. Armstrong could also lose all of his record-breaking seven Tour de France titles and be forced to return his prize winnings, an amount in the millions. Procedurally, if Armstrong is charged by the USADA, he could accept a sanction or request a public arbitration hearing before the agency. If he loses, he can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, an international arbitration body. The USADA has said that, if it brings charges, Armstrong could expect a hearing to be held by November, but these cases can sometimes take months or even years.
Not surprisingly, Lance is fighting back. On Friday, Armstrong’s attorney submitted the retired cyclist’s response to the USADA’s review board. The scathing response criticized the agency’s investigative tactics and alleged lack of evidence and witness disclosure.
The case raises interesting questions about administrative overreach and what due process is afforded in an administrative proceeding. Notably, the USADA’s charges follow closely on the heels of a failed federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office, the charges of which were dropped in February. Is the government overreacting to coming up empty handed earlier this year, or do these new charges represent the finish line for a wildly successful (but now questionable) cycling career?
– Niels Melius
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