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Lawmaker says push for review of doping agency not about Armstrong

September 09, 2012|By Lance Pugmire
  • State Sen. Michael Rubio stretches during a late session last month in Sacramento.
State Sen. Michael Rubio stretches during a late session last month in Sacramento. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

A California state senator who’s asking U.S. Sens. Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to mount a review of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency says, "This isn’t about Lance Armstrong."

Sen. Michael Rubio (D-East Bakersfield) and 22 other state senators signed a letter delivered to Feinstein and Boxer on Tuesday asking them to request that the Office of National Drug Control Policy conduct a “comprehensive review” of the agency that stripped champion cyclist and cancer survivor Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles.

“USADA’s new, self-imposed rules do not provide athletes appropriate due process rights which all other Americans enjoy,” Rubio’s letter said.

Rubio is a cyclist himself whose Twitter account avatar is adorned with one of Armstrong’s bright yellow Livestrong wristbands.

Rubio said he decided to push for the USADA review after reading a Los Angeles Times story last month that pointed out the process by which USADA can discipline athletes who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs or -- like Armstrong -- are accused by others of engaging in a widespread doping operation.

“I passed the story on to others in the members’ lounge, and it started a conversation after we had just recognized a number of Olympians on the Senate floor -- California produces the largest number of Olympians in the U.S.,” Rubio said of the bipartisan mixture of signatures on the letter.

“We asked each other: What do we think of proposing this letter asking about this quasi-judicial process that has protections against the individual rights that others enjoy in our own court system?” Rubio said.

“It was clear from reading that story that once you sign up to compete and strive to represent the U.S. in the Olympics , you don’t have the same rights as most citizens do. We felt it warranted review.”

A federal judge in Texas weighed Armstrong’s own legal challenge to the USADA’s ability to ban athletes from competition and strip their awards. The judge permitted the case to proceed, and with that ruling Armstrong last month gave up his fight against the USADA.

Friday, the International Cycling Union announced it would not stop the USADA from punishing Armstrong.

Rubio said he had not read the federal judge’s ruling.

“This isn’t about Lance Armstrong, just that it ought to be those who have the power to make changes to these rules -- the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Senate -- should review this,” Rubio said.

“We want to clean up sports to the point there’s no doping, but preserve the fundamental rights of citizens,” Rubio said. “This issue boils down to whether amateur athletes should enjoy those fundamental rights. This process can be made better, regardless of where you stand on the Lance Armstrong case.”

USADA Chief Executive Travis Tygart said he’s confident any review would find the scrutiny his agency applies to athletes to ensure clean competition is appropriate.

As of Friday, Rubio said he hadn’t received a response from Feinstein or Boxer.

The way the Armstrong case was handled deserves “sunshine on it,” said Rubio, who added that he is unaware of any of the state senators receiving any political contributions from Armstrong or his foundations.

Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation gave $1.5 million to a California ballot measure in June that aimed to raise the state tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1. The proposal was defeated.

Armstrong enjoyed a prior legal victory in California when the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles decided in February to stop gathering testimony before a grand jury that was hearing evidence about possible federal crimes connected to a doping conspiracy.

Armstrong has long denied he used performance-enhancing methods to win the Tour, pointing to hundreds of clean drug tests as proof.

“There should be more debate and hearings about this, and what could come from it is a better process modeled after the same due process we enjoy as Americans,” Rubio said.

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