WADA scratching it’s head about skeletons in the closet

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The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is yet to close the book on the performance-enhancing drug ring foiled by Operación Puerto ten years ago.

Operación Puerto – the code-name for the Spanish police operation that took down the network created by Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes – started in 2006 but is still relevant today.

In 2013, Fuentes had the chance to identify all the athletes involved in the network, but was reminded by the judge that he was under no obligation to do so. Later, several high-profile cyclists were named, but many were removed from the case as there was not enough evidence at the time. 

Interestingly, evidence was found that the drug-ring went beyond cycling, implicating track athletes and tennis players, but this could not be corroborated in court.  

The doctor was originally sentenced to one year in prison but months later the verdict was overruled and Fuentes was cleared.

However, the blood bags central to the case – all 211 of them believed to belong to 36 athletes – were bizarrely ordered to be destroyed by the court. In 2016, an appeal by WADA was successful in preventing their destruction.

Reports reveal that the bags have been tested in Switzerland and WADA has the results, but is unsure what to do them, giving indication as to how damaging the information might be.

Crucially, given the long period over which the saga has played out, the statute of limitations for sporting sanctions under WADA expired in 2014. In short, any athlete implicated cannot be punished. 

Former WADA director general, David Howman, explains further.

"It is not an easy process," the Kiwi told Spanish news outlet AS.

"Operation Puerto has caused WADA and clean athletes a lot of frustration. Unfortunately, we continue without a clear outcome for 100% of its scope, and we also continue to debate with the lawyers about the list of those involved.

"So many people all over the world want to know the name of those involved. However, there are legal problems to deal with. Now it is too late, since the statute of limitations has expired, there is no possibility of punishment and it requires study and caution."

Moving forward, Howman is unsure what would transpire should the gritty details be made public, which could very well be damning news for the sporting world.

"We will see how it is resolved," he continued.

"Operation Puerto needs to be closed, to know what there was inside it, to avoid it happening again in the future. It is evident that this saga of more than a decade is not going to produce an ideal outcome, but it is not in my hands. I respect the decisions of the judges, of WADA, and of the involved parties, although it is difficult to accept them."

WADA could very well be holding the proverbial gun that would shatter the reputation of sporting greats around the world, but they are understandably afraid to pull the trigger.