There has been quite a backlash to Judge Julia Santamaria’s ruling in Madrid yesterday that all the evidence in the trial of Spain’s doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes be destroyed.
It would be justified of course if they were already firing up the incinerators, and everything that might have exposed international footballers or others who’d cheated their way to the top, was about to be reduced to a pile of guilty ashes.
But it is not that simple. Her order, while attracting a tsunami of ‘cover up’ headlines, does not actually guarantee that depressing outcome. The dirty secrets of Fuentes’ doping clinic might yet still be revealed.
How so? Central to her judgement was that under Spanish law, as is the case in the UK, any information shared between a doctor and his patient must remain confidential. Think about it, would you like a court to order your discussions with your GP or the treatments he prescribes to be laid bare for all and sundry to paw over? No, probably not.
But Judge Santamaria has left the door fairly wide open for a successful appeal on the grounds that Fuentes didn’t really have any patients - he had clients. Fuentes has talked candidly about his doping programme and it is quite clear that his relationships with international sportsmen were nothing to do with good health and everything to do with artificially boosting performance.
If that relationship can be established in court, you remove an individual’s right to privacy. Then the coded blood bags and supporting documents identifying each and every athlete Fuentes helped to cheat, is up for grabs again.
The head of Spain’s anti-doping agency Ana Munioz will lead this fight. I spoke to her in Madrid, shortly after she’d read the 384 page judgement for the first time. She was disappointed rather than distraught about developments.
A lawyer herself by trade, she has a disarming determination about her. She tells you she will not give up on this case, she will fight to name and shame every Fuentes’ protégée and you tend to believe her.
Despite the fact that she’s working to do that at a time when Spain is bidding for an Olympic Games and there are many powerful people I suspect who would rather the whole Fuentes embarrassment quietly disappeared.
Her legal team has been studying various trial outcomes for some time now, so yesterday will not have come as a complete surprise and their appeal is almost ready to be served. That process could take up to a year and while it is going on, the evidence, every last blood bag of it, will be kept in storage at a secret location in Barcelona.
If that appeal fails, she has another avenue to exploit. Originally Fuentes was charged alongside haematologist Dr. Merino Batres. Batres developed a form of Alzheimer’s, so was not required to face justice. However, if his health improves, he may well be forced to stand trial and while that possibility exists, however unlikely, the evidence can’t be destroyed.
So, the truth is we’re a long way from sports greatest cover up at the moment, I can’t guarantee that we won’t end up there but, whatever you read elsewhere, we’re certainly not there yet!