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Doping-WADA hopeful Spanish trial will reap wider reward

By Iain Rogers

MADRID (Reuters) - The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is optimistic the high-profile trial starting on Monday of a Spanish doctor accused of masterminding a doping ring in cycling will finally lead to evidence of wrongdoing in other sports being made available.

Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes and his fellow defendants will appear in a Madrid court almost seven years after police seized anabolic steroids, transfusion equipment and blood bags as part of a probe code-named "Operation Puerto".

The blood bags were linked to a host of professional cyclists including German Jan Ullrich and Italian Ivan Basso, who were both excluded from the 2006 Tour de France.

Basso, a double Giro d'Italia champion, is due to give evidence next month along with Alberto Contador, the Spaniard stripped of one of his three Tour titles after testing positive for a banned substance.

WADA, who are taking an active part in the trial, were informed that some bags seized contained the blood of athletes from other sports but requests for access to the evidence were repeatedly denied by the Spanish authorities.

WADA president John Fahey spoke in December 2009 of the agency's frustration after a Spanish court ruled that releasing evidence might infringe the rights of those implicated in the investigation.

Media reports have suggested some of the bags seized contained blood from soccer and tennis players.

"For the last seven years WADA has been encouraging the Spanish authorities to make all the evidence from Operation Puerto available so that the correct process can get underway to ascertain who was involved and what the proper outcomes should be in terms of anti-doping," WADA said in a statement emailed to Reuters on Wednesday.

"The only information that has been shared by the Spanish authorities to date involves athletes from cycling," the statement added.

"Furthermore, WADA has filed several requests to the investigating magistrate within the framework of the proceedings requesting access to the evidence.

"This is why WADA is a party to the hearing that starts in Madrid on Monday.

"WADA is unable to confirm at this stage whether or not the anti-doping authorities will be given access to the evidence collected during Operation Puerto, but we remain hopeful that this will be forthcoming."

As Spain's current anti-doping legislation was not in force in 2006 when the police raids took place, Fuentes and his fellow accused, including his sister Yolanda, are being tried for violating public health regulations and the prosecutor has asked for prison sentences of two years.

With Madrid competing with Istanbul and Tokyo for the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games, the Spanish government hopes the trial will help dispel the impression that the Iberian nation has been soft on doping, particularly in cycling.

Due to end in mid March, proceedings will be closely followed by local and international media and will put cycling's problems with illegal drug use back in the spotlight only days after American cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted doping on each of his seven Tour de France victories.

Spanish police said on Wednesday they had detained four people in the south east of the country, including an unnamed former professional cyclist, and seized 300,000 doses of various illegal doping products and a quantity of laboratory equipment.

The group were involved in the preparation and distribution of the products, police said.

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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