Should independent scientists consult with accused athletes?
By Neal Rogers
There’s been a split at the company launched two years ago to provide cycling teams with independent anti-doping programs. The fissure leaves one of the founders working with Rock Racing and the other with Slipstream-Chipotle, BMC and High Road.
Paul Scott and Paul Strauss, both from the Los Angeles area, launched the Agency for Cycling Ethics in 2006. Slipstream-Chipotle, Team High Road and BMC each contracted with ACE to provide athlete monitoring programs the teams hope will prevent scandals and protect their sponsors’ (and the sport’s) interest in presenting a doping-free image.
But this week the two announced their split, apparently due to tension over Scott’s decision to consult with Floyd Landis’ legal team. Scott announced this month that he has formed a new company, Scott Analytics, that is providing anti-doping services to Rock Racing, whose team attorney happens to be Landis’ attorney, Maurice Suh.
The separation sheds light on a philosophical — and legal — fault line dividing the scientists who monitor cyclists. And it raises questions about the new team monitoring programs: Are scientists independent if they are barred by their employer or the World Anti-Doping Agency from advising accused athletes? And are athletes at a disadvantage when they are prevented from hiring the most knowledgeable experts to help them present a defense?
The questions are much more than academic, as Floyd Landis told VeloNews this week.
“I have no choice but to hire somebody, because I don’t know anything about science … But as soon as I hire someone, everyone is saying, ‘Oh, Floyd’s paying him.’ Well, what choice do I have? You’re stuck either way.”
Landis’ appeal of his doping penalty to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) starts next Wednesday in New York City.
Though Scott and Strauss signed confidentiality agreements barring either from speaking about the conditions of the separation, both men have given their opinions, in broad terms, on an independent scientist working for an athlete’s defense.
A conflict of interest?
“Personally I didn’t feel it was right,” said Frankie Andreu, the former pro racer who worked for Rock Racing until he left in January citing differences “with business strategies and the direction the team is headed.” Andreu also worked for ACE as a consultant until January.
“How you could represent anybody in a case and remain unbiased with an agency that is doing testing on athletes?” Andreu asked. “I thought it was inappropriate to cross over that barrier — that was the feelings within ACE throughout 2007 and into the start of 2008, that it was still a big conflict of interest being an expert witness for Floyd and trying to run a company with unbiased testing procedures.”
Strauss declined to comment on any perceived conflict. “I think it’s a legitimate question, but I can’t answer that,” he said.
However last week Strauss wrote on a Bike Radar forum that ACE managers “felt strongly that we will not take any position on any doping litigation cases in order to maintain independence.”
Strauss confirmed he had posted the forum entry, adding, “[Not taking a position] is consistent with our policy.”
”Science is science”
Scott and Landis defend Scott’s role, pointing to a World Anti-Doping Agency rule barring any employee of its 34 accredited laboratories from testifying in defense of an athlete in a doping case.
The rule protects WADA labs from political pressure “that might be exerted on behalf of a high-profile athlete from their own country,” Olivier Rabin, WADA’s medical director said in a December 2006 Los Angeles Times story.
But the rule also puts many of the world’s top scientists out of bounds for accused athletes. Since the labs that ACE works with are unaffiliated with WADA, Scott was free to work with Landis. And, he said, he saw no reason not to.
“My own personal feeling is that science is science,” Scott told VeloNews. “It stands independent, based on the objective analysis of the data and facts at hand. You don’t need to be taking sides to reach such a conclusion. That is where science should come down. You don’t look at who is saying what, you just look at the data and come to your own conclusion.”
Scott added that he’d seen Strauss’s online comments. “You can come to your own conclusion if his statement there (on the forum) is one of neutrality or more consistent with the entirely one-sided position that only anti-doping agencies can be supported, regardless of what the science may indicate.”
Rock Racing, Scott, Landis and Suh
Scott worked with Suh on Landis’ defense, and when Rock Racing decided after the Tour of California to launch an anti-doping program, Suh, the team’s attorney, approached Scott.
Scott said he gave Suh contact information for ACE and the Danish anti-doping expert Rasmus Damsgaard, then, after launching Scott Analytics, “provided (Suh) with that option,” as well.
Suh also represented Astana rider Alex Vinokourov after the Kazakh fell afoul of anti-doping agencies last July. And he was the attorney who filed the anonymous lawsuit against USADA that turned out to be on behalf of Rock Racing’s Kayle Leogrande.
Rock Racing even invited Landis to a team training camp in January, an idea dropped when officials promised to extend Landis’ doping penalty if he accepted.
“I think it’s something of a good-old boys network where everyone is scratching each others’ back,” Andreu said. “How much legitimacy there is to any of it remains to be seen.”
Scott said he understands the concerns. “I would choose to look at it in the best light,” he said. “If something illegitimate is going on, it won’t take long for that to become obvious, and I think you’ll see that is not the case.”