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California lawmakers demand investigation of U.S. Anti-Doping Agency

September 10, 2012|By Michael Hiltzik
  • Cyclist Lance Armstrong, shortly after USADA declared him a doper.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong, shortly after USADA declared him a doper. (Graham Hughes/AP )

State Sen. Michael Rubio (D-East Bakersfield) and 22 of his legislative colleagues are demanding a congressional investigation of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

USADA is the quasi-governmental body known for stripping American athletes of their right to compete based on doping charges that it doesn't have to prove in a court of law. USADA's most recent target was Lance Armstrong.

The legislators' demand, in a letter last week to U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, is a response to my column about USADA's Armstrong ruling, which declared him a doper and purportedly stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles. (USADA almost certainly doesn't have authority over the Tour de France.) 

As the column observed, athletes charged by USADA don't have anything resembling the due process rights afforded anyone facing charges in a U.S. court. USADA works through arbitration--but it makes the rules and manipulates the process so that athletes face daunting obstacles in trying to defend themselves.

Armstrong, who has consistently tested clean throughout his career, faced testimony from cycling teammates that they witnessed him doping. But his opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses or even learn what they'd been offered in return for testifying would have been limited by USADA's procedures. He announced last month that he wouldn't fight the agency under those conditions.

For a particularly grisly accounting of how USADA hammered an innocent athlete, take a look at this paper on its pursuit of sprinter LaTasha Jenkins, one of only three athletes to win a case against the agency in this rigged game. Warning: If you care about justice, it will turn your stomach.

Rubio told my colleague Lance Pugmire that he decided to ask for the investigation after reading my column. "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," he said. "We felt it warranted review." 

That's especially so given that USADA gets almost all of its budget from Congress--last year, nearly $9 million. Is that money being spent on a kangaroo court? It's time for Congress to take a look.


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Athletes' unbeatable foe

Are doping appeals futile?

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