The Tour de France's decision to admit the controversial rider highlights the discretionary power of world sports organisations like the IOC and ASO
In early July, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced it would not appeal the decision of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) not to assert an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) in the case of British cyclist Chris Froome.
WADA reviewed Froome's explanations, which were supported by expert opinions, and consulted with internal and independent external experts to come to the conclusion that the concentration of Salbutamol found in samples of Froome's urine are within the permissible maximum dose.
Until this point, Froome's career appeared to be in jeopardy. Referring to article 28 of Tour the France rules, which gives it the right to ban a team or any of its members whose presence could damage the image or reputation of the event, Tour de France organiser ASO announced that it was banning Froome to avoid the situation that occurred during the Giro d'Italia competition, which Froome participated in while there was still uncertainty over the AAF and the levels of Salbutamol found in his system. The ASO argued that Froome's participation would harm the image and reputation of the Tour de France.
But after WADA and UCI closed the proceedings against Froome in his favour, ASO announced that it would allow Froome to participate in Tour de France 2018, the 105th staging of the world's premier cycling competition that began on July 7 and extends to July 29.
But is there a precedent for the ASO decision to readmit Froome? In the matter of 28 Russian Athletes implicated for doping during the Sochi Olympic Games, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) overturned the International Olympic Committee (IOC) bans that resulted from an investigation into alleged systematic doping at the Sochi Games. (See CAS decision, 1 February 2018). Despite the CAS ruling, the IOC nevertheless decided not to invite these athletes to the subsequent winter games in PyeongChang, held between 9 and 25 Feburuary 2018.
The IOC based its decision on Article 44 paragraph 3 of the Olympic Charter, which stipulates: "Any entry is subject to acceptance by the IOC, which may, at its discretion, refuse any entry, without indication of grounds. Nobody is entitled as of right to participate in the Olympic Games".
Clearly, the Olympic Charter's article 44 is an open standard where considerations are made on a case by case basis. When asked to review the IOC's ban at the request of the Russian Athletes, CAS stated: "That the individual applicants failed to meet the criteria [to provide evidence of a "clean" history] suggests that there was some evidence that there were suspicions they were implicated in, or protected by, the Russian doping scheme notwithstanding the CAS decisions of 1 February 2018 [in which CAS ruled there was not sufficient evidence to uphold IOC sanctions]".
In its ruling, CAS upheld the IOC's ban, concluding: "It may be that non-sanctioned individual athletes, including the Applicants, are prevented from participating in the Olympic Games simply because they are citizens of a country that has been found to have engaged in a systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules. However, in light of the IOC's overall objective to balance the interests of clean athletes and the fight against doping against the interests of individual Russian athletes, the Panel concludes that any unfairness was a consequential effect of the suspension of the ROC and that the process was neither discriminatory nor unfair (see also CAS 2015/A/4319)."
The cases of Froome and the banned Russian athletes are not outwardly similar. Neither Froome nor Team Sky have a doping history, apart from rumours surrounding the team.
But the two cases are arguably comparable since ASO, like the IOC, decided to invoke its discretionary power to ban an athlete whose presence "would be such as to damage the image or reputation of ASO or the event." CAS reinforced this position in the matter of the banned Russian Olympians when it accepted that there are circumstances justifying the non-eligibility of athletes even without an AAF in place.
ASO exercised this discretionary power when it banned Team Astana and its chief rider Alberto Contador from participating in the 2008 Tour de France. ASO decided at the time that given "the damage caused by this team to the Tour de France and cycling in general" in 2006 as 2007, it had no choice but to prevent Astana from competing in future tours. "The Astana team in effect last year betrayed the confidence of organisers," ASO said in a statement.
In the Astana matter, ASO clearly made use of its power under article 28 to protect the image and reputation of the Tour de France and cycling in general. The ASO decision in the Astana case is in compliance with the CAS ruling over the eligibility of Russian athletes to participate in the 2018 winter games.
But by making an exception for Froome, did ASO break the precedent it had set a decade before? Not necessarily. As mentioned before, both article 44 of the Olympic Charter and article 28 of the Tour de France rules are open standards that require cases to be considered individually. In the Froome matter, ASO did not execute article 28 in the same way that it did in the Astana case, and it made good arguments for its decision, taking into account Human Right principles such as an athlete's right to fair procedure.
One might expect that Froome's current participation in the Tour de France will harm the image and reputation of this cherished event and cycling in general , given the rumours about doping surrounding Froome and Team Sky during the Giro d'Italia (and another Sky rider during earlier competitions ) that is being discussed indepth in live broadcasts, highlights and commentaries during the current Tour de France.
The fact that neither WADA nor UCI has been transparent in regard to the findings of its experts does not help to protect the Tour's reputation and image. These caveats, however, did not appear to play a decisive role in ASO's decision to allow Froom to participate.
Clearly, ASO did not bend to the sentiment of the outside world in this matter, but it may have to at some point in the future to protect the credibility of cycling.