Tuesday 6 April 2010

What's going on with Vania Rossi?

I know I said that this is getting like a gossip column with all the Ricco/Rossi posts lately, but events over the past week mean another post on the subject is unavoidable. However, this time it's not Ricco character flaws I'm interested in, but more the developing story of the Rossi's positive test.

Just to recap, following the Italian Cyclo-Cross Championships on January 10th, the A sample given by Rossi tested positive for CERA. The test was conducted by CONI and approved by WADA as legitimate. Rossi immediately protested her innocence, citing the fact that she is breast feeding her baby as a compelling reason why she wouldn't be doping. Rossi was provisionally suspended from racing on January 29th.

There then followed the pantomime shenanigans of Ricco, leading to him abandoning his partner and baby.

However, this week events have taken another twist. On Friday 26th March CONI posted news on it's website saying "In the B sample analysis for Vania Rossi, conducted in the period from March 29 to April 2, 2010, the minimum levels of CERA required to meet the World Anti-doping Agency's (WADA) criteria have not been found."

Despite this negative, anti-doping investigator Ettore Torre has announced that he will continue to investigate Rossi, with the possibility of an attempted doping charge still open. That could leave her facing up to a two year ban, along with a possible criminal sanction and even disciplinary sanctions by the Italian military, who she was representing on the day she tested positive.

But what does this all mean? To me there are two questions raised by this story.

1) How reliable were the tests?

According to reports the Rome lab is the first to detect CERA in urine, as opposed to the blood tests used to catch Rossi's partner and others. There appears to be a strong likelihood that CERA breaks down in urine very quickly. In this case there was a delay of almost 10 weeks between the tests. According to the head of the Rome lab "there was a significant amount of CERA in the first test, so much so that there were no doubts at all; in the second test, evidently because of the degrading of the urine over time, the amount (of CERA) wasn't within the limits established by WADA."

Given that the ability for the accused rider to conduct independent test on the same sample is a cornerstone of the dope testing process then surely this whole process is flawed? If indeed CERA degrades that quickly then the only options must either be to scrap this test as unreliable, stick to blood testing or design a new procedure which can be fast tracked while still ensuring the integrity of the process.

2) Could Rossi actually be innocent?

When I first wrote about this issue I did raise the question as to whether Rossi might be innocent. As a parent I know first hand how obsessed we can become to ensure nothing exposes our babies to potential harm. That's why I find Rossi's plea that as a breast feeding mother she'd be nuts to dope so compelling. Would a new mother really think it worth the risk so she could do well in the Cross nationals, a race she's won twice before?

Of course, on the other hand, she was living with Ricco at the time. As someone said it's hard to imagine they had different fridges in their house! His reputation as the most cynical and selfish of the pelotons many cheats inevitably casts a very big shadow over her.

However, no matter what we may think of the pair of them, no one will benefit from either a) a flawed testing process that cannot stand up to challenge or b) an injustice done to any rider. After years of struggling with the doping scourge we have to ensure that the possibility of a rider actually being innocent is still taken into consideration. It is a huge challenge to keep testing procedures up to speed with the ingenuity and recklessness of the doper but that can't be done at the expense of natural justice and the risk of destroying a clean rider.

And think of Vania's baby. It's bad enough that he will have to grow up the child of one confirmed doper. But now we run the risk of adding to that burden either the shame of another one or the bitterness of a miscarriage of justice. Poor kid!

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