USADA and anonymous witnesses

According to velonation Lance Armstrong’s legal team are apparently attempting to discover the names of witnesses to his and others’ alleged doping, facilitation of doping and conspiracy to cover up after the fact, a step which is being resisted for fear that the witnesses may be intimidated or subject to smear tactics:

A letter sent by Armstrong’s attorney Robert Luskin to USADA this week shows that the Texan and his legal team are pushing for information that they could use in defending against the USADA claims.

They are trying to compel USADA to reveal the names of the witnesses who gave details of what they said were doping actions carried out by Armstrong, Bruyneel and others. “We cannot protect Mr. Armstrong’s rights without knowing who is saying what and what events that allegedly occurred over the course of a decade and a half,” Luskin wrote in the letter. “Even at this preliminary stage, your reliance on secret witnesses making deliberately vague charges is unconscionable.”

“In this case anonymity of the witnesses at the Review Board stage is also important to shield them from the retaliation and attempted witness intimidation that cooperating witnesses have faced in other matters related to the USPS Conspiracy,” it wrote.

Earlier in the letter, it outlined what it said were examples of such behaviour which had been used in the past. It was listed as point six on the list of points that would be made by witnesses should things go to a hearing. This was said to be “the use of fear, intimidation and coercion to attempt to enforce a code of silence (or omerta) by team members and employees to prevent detection of the Conspiracy or the prosecution of co-conspirators for anti-doping rule violations.”

velonation , 2012

I have written three times on this blog about the need for those involved in the practice of doping to be supported in supplying evidence to the authorities. I do not normally recycle my material, but I do think that what I wrote last year is worth revisiting. First, I wrote here in March 2011 about the need to embrace those that are prepared to tell what they know about doping, and the obstacles that stand in their way, taking whistleblowing about academic misconduct as a model:

I hope that Michael Shermer (2010) is right that the balance can shift in favour of telling the truth about doping in cycling. But the cost for those that do is often unbearably high. We should worry that it is only those who can leave cycling behind (e.g., Kimmage) or have been abandoned by it (e.g., Landis) that are prepared to reveal all (see e.g., the nyvelocity transcript, 2011).

Maybe we should welcome those who tell the truth about cycling, whatever their motivation.

Second, I wrote this in May 2011 about Tyler Hamilton’s decision to come clean, both to the authorities and the press about his experiences of doping:

the tipping point from omerta to openness requires the engagement of law, not just sporting regulations, and it is clear that this may end badly for many, Papp included. In the long run though, cycling must engage with the fact that blood doping has fundamentally changed the sport, and needs to be eradicated for its physical and mental health. Some still doubt the honesty or motives of those who testify in front of juries about what they have seen or done in their work as professional sportspeople: what has become clear only recently through the Bonds perjury case is that juries will convict those who have lied in their testimony about doping (and do care about the image sporting heroes present to the world), and that alone may impact positively upon efforts to challenge institutionalised doping in sport.

Lastly, I wrote here in September 2011 about the tendency of some to scapegoat those who testify in anti-doping and criminal cases against those that take, supply or facilitate performance enhancing short cuts:

 The danger here is that if individuals who come forward are pilloried as ‘snitches’, and every time their evidence is used they are attacked for perceived character flaws, this serves as a disincentive to others. I suspect that what actually underpins the criticisms of those like Papp (or Kohl, Landis, Jaksche) is a tacit belief that doping is a personal failing, and they therefore treat those who are caught (especially if they try to help themselves) as scapegoats. What professional cycling and its followers needs to understand is that doping is an institutional problem, and that scapegoating individuals will never solve these institutional problems, especially if it removes the possibility that they can help address the issues at a more systemic level (e.g., exposing practices and supply chains).

I am relieved to say that USADA seem to be making some attempt to support and protect those that come forward to tell their stories. That does not mean the witnesses will not face sanctions in the future (both Joe Papp and Tom Zirbel were sanctioned but received some mitigation in similar circumstances), but it does mean they can have  chance to contribute to the efforts to dismantle the systems that support doping. And that is the defining and distinctive characteristic of the recent USADA letter: this is not about individual acts of doping, but about the ways in which individuals might conspire together to facilitate and cover-up these acts.

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