Ten years ago, the Spanish Guardia Civil raided the Madrid lab of Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes and discovered 211 bags of blood from athletes Fuentes had worked with. Fuentes has faced 10 years of legal trouble, and some athletes he worked with have received bans, but the massive stash of frozen, damning samples has never been fully investigated and tested. For a decade, then, hard data that some of Europe’s best athletes across many sports had been doping was in limbo. Andy Murray called it the “biggest cover up in sports history.” Now, test results and data from Fuentes’ lab might finally see the light of day.
A brief history of Operacion Puerto: In 2004, fringe Spanish cyclist Jesús Manzano opened up to the press about systematic EPO usage and blood doping within his Kelme team. His allegations rocked the Spanish cycling world, and two years later, Spanish Guardia Civil began a formal investigation into his claims, which eventually centered on Fuentes—at the time, Kelme’s team doctor. Fuentes got arrested and was eventually sentenced to a year in prison, and the judge ordered the blood bags destroyed, even after Fuentes offered to give up his client list.
However, Fuentes’ conviction was recently overturned, and the judge who made the ruling also determined that the blood bags, currently being held in Barcelona, can be examined and tested. The 211 bags apparently belong to 35 different athletes (which does not represent his full client base). Of the 35, most belong to cyclists (23), but the other 12 are scattered across a handful of other sports. A fellow inmate of Fuentes’z told the press in 2010 that Fuentes told him he had worked with members of Spain’s 2010 World Cup winning team. Fuentes was also Rafael Nadal’s doctor for during the tennis star’s earlier years.
If the bags are tested, it’s a virtual guarantee that some major stars will be implicated by the rulings (although, thanks to WADA’s 10-year statute of limitations, nobody will be formally banned). Most of the athletes are cyclists—and this has always been framed as a cycling problem—but many of the riders believed to be implicated here have already retired or been disgraced by their connections to doping anyway. (Think Jan Ullrich.) While cycling’s reputation is already in serious doubt, though, soccer hasn’t had a major doping scandal in the recent past. That may change; if Real Madrid and Barcelona’s lawsuit against Le Monde for naming them in connection to Fuentes is any indication, there is some serious fallout potential.
Ironically, Fuentes’s exoneration also means that he is eligible to return to sports medicine work immediately. He has claimed that he doesn’t want his client list out there, but has also said that there could be “major names” yet to be revealed. WADA and the UCI now have discretion over who they name, and as corrupt as those institutions are, they’ve been handed the keys to unlock perhaps the most fascinating doping program of the past decade.