Best Practices and the Lance Armstrong Investigation

Best Practices and the Lance Armstrong Investigation

How one decade-long inquiry into doping allegations has broken all the rules of investigations

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Lawyers for seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong were back in court this week, seeking an injunction against the US Anti Doping Agency (USADA), the quasi-governmental agency responsible for drug-testing US athletes.

Armstrong filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Austin, Texas, requesting an injunction and restraining order against USADA, which Judge Sam Sparks dismissed within hours. Armstrong has until Saturday to respond to USADA’s charges. If he doesn’t he’ll be subject to sanctions.

It is, hopefully, the final chapter in a drawn-out, highly charged, investigation that has resurfaced time and again, like a bad case of Groundhog Day. This latest incarnation sees the USADA accusing Armstrong and five others with being involved in a “widespread conspiracy”.

After interviewing countless experts about the biggest mistakes made in investigations, it seems to me that the Armstrong investigation is riddled with the very worst of them. Regardless of whether I think he is innocent or guilty, the process itself is guilty of some of the most heinous crimes against ethical and fair investigations.

Be Objective

There is no question that the USADA believes strongly in Armstrong’s guilt. The purpose of their investigation is simply to prove that they are correct in their assumptions. There is no objectivity here; it’s simply a witch-hunt.

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Allegations of a doping conspiracy are not being brought against Armstrong by the CAS, UCI, WADA, the Tour de France, or other competing teams during his period of dominance from 1999 through 2005. No criminal charges were filed against Armstrong despite an 18-month investigation conducted by a law enforcement agency. Only the USADA is chasing this.

“When USADA has information about the existence of a sophisticated, far-reaching doping conspiracy, it is our duty under the established rules to conduct a thorough, fair investigation to uncover the truth,” said USADA CEO Travis Tygart.

A “thorough and fair investigation” does not assume that the accused is guilty and then set out to prove it.

Investigate Immediately

The USADA doesn’t seem to care that this "far-reaching doping conspiracy" stretches back to 1998. Nor does it give any credence to the fact that no physical evidence was ever successfully tied to Armstrong over the 12-year-span of the alleged doping.

Preserve Evidence

Mishandled and mislabeled evidence has plagued this case for years, with various claims over the years of e-mails attesting to Armstrong's guilt and positive drug samples, which have never been proven or tied conclusively to Armstrong.

Draw a Conclusion

Despite countless accusations and investigations, nobody has ever managed to come to a conclusion over Armstrong’s guilt or innocence. The camps are strongly divided.

Personally, I think it is more than likely that he is guilty. But I’m not an investigator on the case, and those who are should be giving him the benefit of the doubt unless and until they can prove through a fair, unbiased and transparent investigation, that he is guilty.

Lance feels that the USADA does not have the jurisdiction to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles a decade after the fact, without affording him full due process as defined in the US Constitution. Whether you believe he is innocent or guilty, you should believe that he has the right to a fair investigation. And if it results in a failure to draw a final conclusion, it’s time to let it go.