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As many people know by now, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has decided not to fight the USADA’s doping charges against him through the agency’s arbitration process, thus allowing the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to impose sanctions for the alleged violations. This will likely mean that Armstrong will be stripped of his wins, and the USADA will impose a lifetime ban on future cycling races, even though Armstrong still maintains his innocence in using performance-enhancing drugs.
With this pronouncement, two interesting legal questions have surfaced (and one has been resolved). First, Armstrong had sued the USADA in response to the claims made against him, seeking a permanent injunction by asserting that the agency lacked the jurisdiction to make such claims, and that in doing so it had violated his constitutional due process rights. Recently a federal judge in the Fifth Circuit dismissed the suit, allowing the agency to go forward with its claims, even though “the deficiency of USADA’s charging document is of serious constitutional concern.” The court found that the arbitration rules the agency follows comport with the rules established by the American Arbitration Association, which provide enough legal structure to sufficiently constitute “due process.” The court then stated that, even if it did have jurisdiction over Armstrong’s remaining claims, his issues were best left to be resolved by the “well-established system of international arbitration,” rather than determined by one United States court, to avoid making judges “referees” in a sporting dispute guided by its own organizational procedures.
However, this does not answer the second legal question now being considered, which is whether the USADA even has the jurisdictional capability to impose a lifetime cycling ban against Armstrong. Armstrong stated that “USADA cannot assert control of a professional international sport and attempt to strip my seven Tour de France titles.” This is likely based on the fact that International Cycling Union (UCI) is claiming that it, and not the USADA, has the jurisdiction to sanction Armstrong. These two governing bodies may have to appear before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, in order to determine which agency can appropriately handle the Armstrong case. The UCI issued a statement asserting that it will wait for the USADA to issue a “reasoned decision” in accordance with Rule 8.3 of the World Anti-Doping Code. The case raises interesting questions concerning conflicting international regulatory regimes, and if the UCI challenges the USADA’s jurisdiction, we will have to wait and see who ultimately has the authority in these types of cases to impose sanctions for sporting violations.
– Katharine Skinner
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