• What the Deuce

Guilt by association unfair on Nadal

Michael Beattie
May 7, 2013


That's how Andy Murray signed off his reaction to the trial of Eufemiano Fuentes, the Spanish sports doctor handed a suspended one-year jail term and banned from practising medicine for four years for providing performance-enhancing blood transfusions for professional cyclists.

Fuentes' sentence - if you're in any doubt over the paucity of his conviction on the charge of endangering public health, the £3,940 fine should seal the deal - effectively marks the end of Operacion Puerto. The 2006 police raids seized steroids, growth hormone and blood bags from his Madrid clinic with the power to expose an extensive doping ring that, in the good doctor's own words, went far beyond the realm of cycling addressed in the trial.

How extensive? We may never know. Judge Julia Patricia Santamaria ordered that the 211 blood bags, believed to implicate around 35 athletes, must be destroyed rather than passed on to anti-doping authorities in the interests of privacy. That decision is subject to appeal, and WADA and the Spanish anti-doping authorities soon made their feelings clear on the subject.

Whether or not the ruling is overturned, the question remains: if the bags are to be destroyed, what was the point of Operacion Puerto in the first place?

If the Fuentes trial was a bellwether for Spanish attitudes towards doping, the verdict made for grim reading

At the time of the Puerto raids, doping was not illegal in Spain - this explains the nature of the charges pressed against Fuentes. But in the same way that Al Capone ended up in Alcatraz for tax evasion, context superseded the detail in Madrid. Whether by fate or design the trial became a bellwether for Spanish attitudes towards doping; in a country intent on hosting the Olympics in 2020, the verdict made for grim reading.

Only cyclists were called to give evidence in Madrid, including Tyler Hamilton, the former team-mate of Lance Armstrong and confessed Fuentes client. But while the investigation based on the testimony of whistle-blowing Spanish cyclist Jesus Manzano was not restricted to a single nation, it was restricted to a single sport. Fuentes himself has long stressed his frustration at the focus on the cyclists involved, and confirmed under oath in January that he had worked with "all types of athletes - footballers, athletes, cyclists, a boxer and tennis players."

Citing doctor-patient confidentiality and threats against his family, Fuentes refused to elaborate on exactly who he had worked with, or what that work entailed. In the context of the trial the information proved immaterial. But now, with the legal process at an end, it beggars belief that such a potential goldmine of doping evidence should be wiped out - which brings us to Murray's reaction.

Andy Murray's #coverup tweet captured the worldwide reaction to plans to destroy the Operacion Puerto evidence © AP

"Operacion Puerto case is beyond a joke... biggest cover up in sports history?" the world No. 3 tweeted, adding: "Why would court order blood bags to be destroyed? #coverup".

The Scot certainly captured the mood: former WADA president Dick Pound deemed the ruling "embarrassing for Spain," while UK Anti-Doping chief executive Andy Parkinson said the news was "massively disappointing, because everything WADA has been about for the last few years is sharing information and making sure the global fight is fought at global level."

This was meant to be Spain's moment, their chance to dispel the notion that the country is soft on performance-enhancing drugs. New anti-doping legislation is currently passing through parliament and expected to be voted in over the summer to bring Spain in line with established international standards. Instead, every successful Spanish athlete - each of their World Cup winners, Olympic champions, Grand Tour cyclists and, of course, top tennis players - is now saddled with suspicion.

Few know more about the stigma Spanish athletes can expect to face than Rafael Nadal. Ever since he burst onto the scene as a muscle-bound teen with a hyper-physical game and serious staying power, the Mallorcan has endured whispers about whether or not he is clean. Just last year he was portrayed as a doper on a French sketch show.

"The most affected are Spanish athletes - I find it unfair to not give the names of the cheats, whether they are Spanish or not"
Rafael Nadal

Not one shred of evidence has been produced against Nadal, but the former world No. 1 can do nothing about the power of suggestion. Modern sport is a landscape forever blighted by Ben Johnson, Lance Armstrong, BALCO and East Germany. Forget innocent until proven guilty - if something seems too good to be true, the mantra dictates, then it usually is.

And now Fuentes has confirmed he worked with tennis players in Spain, the dominant Davis Cup nation of the 2000s. Nadal was the spearhead of that dominance, all power, pace and stamina. But ask the 11-time grand slam champion his view and the answer is simple: for the nation's sake, release the names.

"I am not one to judge others in this case," Nadal told reporters ahead of the Madrid Masters. "A decision was made and the only thing I can give is my opinion. And my opinion is the resolution is not positive for anyone. The only ones who have benefited from this resolution are those who have cheated.

"It seems unfair that in a case as serious and as damaging to sport as this we're talking about Spain," he added. "The most affected are Spanish athletes and Spanish sports. I personally find it unfair to not give the names of the persons who have cheated, whether they are Spanish or not.

"To not give names looks like a big mistake to me. Those who cheated deserve the contempt from all other athletes, who should make them feel ashamed before society."

Like a first-time doper, the Spanish authorities could be in line for another chance. Reports suggest that Fuentes could face trial once again, this time for - would you credit it? - tax evasion. He knows the names on that list, and the sporting world expects a demonstration of Spain's hardened stance on doping.

Representatives from the International Olympic Committee were in Spain during the Fuentes trial, touring potential venues. If the Madrid 2020 bid organisers want to see them return, only one hashtag will do the next time Fuentes hits the headlines.


© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.