Lance Armstrong's legal saga has taken yet another twist, as the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) are now battling over which has authority to investigate and, if warranted, sanction Armstrong.
The International Olympic Committee recognizes the UCI as cycling's international federation. Like USADA, which is a U.S. nongovernmental organization and a creation of the U.S. Olympic Committee, UCI tests and, if necessary, sanctions cyclists for use of prohibited performance-enhancement drugs. While critics of USADA claim it can be over-zealous and procedurally unfair in its pursuit of clean sports, critics of UCI stress that it has the opposite problem: it is arguably too lax and too forgiving of doping, especially among cycling's stars.
UCI claims that USADA lacks the authority to pursue its case against Armstrong, who USADA formally charged in June for doping based on blood samples and witness statements and associates of whom USADA recently banned for life. In UCI's view, it has exclusive jurisdiction over Armstrong at this time and USADA must wait for UCI to take action, if any, against Armstrong. To advance its argument, UCI emphasizes that it has not yet addressed an April 30 e-mail from cyclist Floyd Landis in which Landis claims, among other things, that Armstrong used steroids, blood doping and human growth hormones, and that he received advice from Armstrong on how to most effectively dope.
In a letter obtained by SI.com, USADA dismisses UCI's view of Landis's email, arguing that Landis's declarations are "just a small fragment of the evidence" and that UCI "abdicated any authority" to use the email when it "sue[d] Mr. Landis in Swiss court on account of that email." USADA also insists that it has several sources of authority, including U.S. law, giving USADA exclusive authority to test any U.S. Olympian or any athlete who participates in an Olympic event. USADA also points to USOC national anti-doping policies and UCI's own anti-doping rules and public statements for support.
Both USADA and UCI believe that third-party dispute resolution would help them figure out which is right, but each agency offers very different visions for dispute resolution. While UCI proposes an "independent panel" to address the specific disagreement over Armstrong, USADA calls for a "Truth And Reconciliation Commission to clean up the sport of cycling once and for all." It is possible USADA and UCI could negotiate a compromise, if not on jurisdiction over Armstrong then at least for dispute resolution, but tensions are high and much is on the line for all involved.
UCI is not the first group to advocate on behalf of Armstrong's legal interests. Livestrong, a foundation started by Armstrong, recently began a lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill. In the view of USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart, UCI's jurisdictional attack is another chapter in "a legacy of trying to cover up the truth." Tygart also characterizes UCI as partly motivated by self-interest, since the UCI did not act on blood samples that USADA claims implicate Armstrong. "Obviously," Tygart tells SI.com, "the United States Postal Service Cycling Team Doping Conspiracy happened under the watch of the UCI".
The international debate between USADA and UCI comes as USADA asserts that Armstrong's attorneys missed an important deadline in Armstrong's case before U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Texas, a case in which in Armstrong asserts that USADA is violating his constitutional rights by charging him with doping. USADA wants the lawsuit dismissed on grounds that Armstrong has no legal basis to challenge USADA at this time. In an Aug. 3 filing, USADA claims that Armstrong attorneys failed to respond to USADA's motion to dismiss by a purported deadline of Aug. 2. If accurate, Armstrong's lawsuit could be dismissed and he would likely lose any hope of stopping USADA's case against him. In a separate filing, however, Armstrong's attorneys insist that Tygart agreed to an extension of the deadline to 5 p.m. central time on Aug. 3. Armstrong's attorneys have requested an extension to Monday, noting that Armstrong "has experienced difficulties in obtaining affidavits and other information" because some key persons "are currently attending the Olympic Games."
Assuming Armstrong's legal case continues, it is possible his attorneys will try to use the UCI's arguments against USADA. Specifically, Armstrong's attorneys could maintain that Judge Sparks should suspend USADA's case against their client until USADA and UCI can resolve their jurisdictional differences. The reasoning would be simple: until a court can be sure that USADA has authority to sanction Armstrong, USADA's case against Armstrong is not yet ripe. Given that Judge Sparks swiftly dismissed Armstrong's first attempt at a preliminary injunction, however, it seems unlikely that he would favor this approach.
Bottom-line: the legal deck is still stacked against Armstrong and the UCI's wrangling with USADA will probably not give Armstrong the break he needs.
David Epstein contributed to this story.
Michael McCann is a sports law professor and Sports Law Institute director at Vermont Law School and the distinguished visiting Hall of Fame Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law. He also serves as NBA TV's On-Air Legal Analyst. Follow him on Twitter.