The federal judge considering Lance Armstrong’s request to block the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency from forcing the cyclist into arbitration questioned why it took so long to bring claims about use of performance-enhancing drugs.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin, Texas, said yesterday the agency’s notice to Armstrong about doping violations lacks specific allegations that would allow Armstrong to mount a “meaningful response.” He said five people accused of doping violations along with Armstrong aren’t American or U.S. competitors and questioned lawyers for the agency, whose allegations go back 12 years, why it waited so long.
“I’m not a fisher person, but I do know the smell of bad fish,” Sparks said. “Were you so busy, year after year?”
Bill Bock, an attorney for the USADA, told Sparks the agency “alleged a lot of doping in a very organized fashion over a long period of time.” The USADA doesn’t have any positive drug tests for Armstrong or the other individuals targeted for doping violations, he said.
Armstrong, seeking to protect his seven Tour de France titles, contends the group has no authority to require him to accept arbitration and its proceedings are rigged.
The doping violations Armstrong faces will be clearly set out as the arbitration process the organization uses to resolve doping allegations gets under way, Bock said. Armstrong has no reason to fear there will be any lack of precise evidence, witnesses and allegations against him, he said.
An Aug. 13 deadline for Armstrong to agree to binding arbitration was extended to Aug. 23 to give the judge time to rule on Armstrong’s suit, said Annie Skinner, a USADA spokeswoman.
Sparks gave both sides one week to submit further arguments in writing before he issues his ruling.
Armstrong said he faces “an impossible and unlawful choice: either accept a lifetime ban and the loss of his competitive achievements or endure a rigged process where he would be certain to lose,” according to court papers.
The USADA notified Armstrong in June that he, three doctors and two officials from the cyclist’s former U.S. Postal Service racing team were accused of using and trafficking prohibited drugs, Armstrong said in court filings.
The same month, the USADA said an independent panel of arbitrators would decide the matter.
Armstrong denies using banned substances and said he has never failed a drug test.
The cyclist doesn’t have a contract or agreements with the USADA, the national anti-doping organization for Olympic, Pan American and Paralympic sports in the U.S., his attorneys said in court filings. Armstrong signed a license application with the Union Cycliste International, an international cycling federation, during the years in question in the USADA case, they said.
The federation has exclusive jurisdiction over drug tests, disciplinary actions and other matters covered by the USADA’s claims, Armstrong said in court papers.
“We have obligations to UCI,” Tim Herman, Armstrong’s attorney, told Sparks.
Participating in the USADA arbitration would be a breach of the cyclists’ obligations to UCI, he said.
Referring to USADA’s charging process, Herman said, “The Christians had a better record against the lions than athletes do over there.”
The USADA’s procedures deprive Armstrong of his constitutional rights to confront his accusers, obtain investigative witness statements, and obtain an impartial assessment of laboratory testing procedures, he said.
The USADA argued in court filings that Armstrong agreed to U.S. anti-doping rules, which require arbitration to resolve any disputes. It is seeking to dismiss or postpone Armstrong’s lawsuit, saying the matter must proceed through arbitration before he can ask a court to get involved.
Armstrong, 40, won the Tour de France every year from 1999 to 2005, survived testicular cancer and created Livestrong, the largest athlete-founded charity by donations. In February federal prosecutors in Los Angeles ended a criminal probe involving Armstrong and his professional bicycle racing team without filing charges.
The case is Armstrong v. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, 1:12-cv-00606, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (Austin).