Thursday 22 March 2018

Spanish court orders release of doping inquiry blood bags

Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, pictured arriving at a court house in Madrid earlier this year (AP)
Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, pictured arriving at a court house in Madrid earlier this year (AP)

A Spanish court has ruled that blood bags which hold key evidence in one of Spain's worst doping scandals should be handed over to authorities for investigation.

The Madrid Provincial Court said bags containing blood samples and plasma should be handed over to the Spanish Cycling Federation, the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Cycling Union and Italy's Olympic Committee.

The announcement came 10 years after Operation Puerto revealed a doping network involving some of the world's top cyclists when police seized coded blood bags from the Madrid clinic of sports doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.

The decision backed an appeal by lawyers for prosecuting parties against a 2013 court ruling that the bags should be destroyed for privacy reasons.

The court also absolved Fuentes and a former cycling team director, who were given suspended sentences in the 2013 trial for endangering public health.

The court said on Tuesday that the blood samples could not be considered medication.

More than 50 cyclists were originally linked to the case.

Among those eventually suspended were former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich, Spanish Vuelta champion Alejandro Valverde and Ivan Basso, who later confirmed that his blood was among the frozen samples found.

Fuentes said during a 2013 trial that he also worked with athletes from other sports, but the judge back then said he did not have to name anyone who was not implicated in the cycling case.

Speculation has been rife that the release of the bags, which were being kept at a lab in Barcelona, could stir up another scandal if the identities of new athletes are revealed.

The 2013 order to destroy the blood outraged the sports community. Spain's anti-doping agency, the International Cycling Union and the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) were among the bodies who appealed.

Spanish athletes and officials also complained that the lack of closure on the case has further damaged the country's image in the fight against doping.

"Operation Puerto caused horror to our sport and to the image of the country," Spanish Olympic committee chief Alejandro Blanco said recently.

"We've been dealing with this for 10 years, and it feels like it could be another 20."

Wada this year declared Spain "non-compliant" with its global code because it failed to make required law changes on doping.

The country was not able to form a government following elections last year, so parliament has not been able to update the country's anti-doping legislation to match the revised Wada regulations.

Wada followed this up by suspending the accreditation of the Madrid drug-testing lab this month.

Spain faces fresh elections on June 26, but the signs are that a new government may not be formed for several months.

Press Association

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