August 6 - A record drugs ban imposed on Alex Rodriguez, baseball's highest paid star, has improved the sport's chance of winning back its place on the Olympic programme, it was claimed today.
Rodriguez was one of 13 Major League Baseball (MLB) players banned and the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) claimed that it shows the sport is taking the problem of doping seriously.
Rodriguez, who signed a 10-year contract worth $275 million (£180 million/€210 million) with the New York Yankees in 2007, was banned for 211 games for "use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone, over the course of multiple years" and "for his attempts to cover up those violations and obstruct a league investigation," according to an MLB statement.
A further 12 MLB players were also punished for their involvement in the doping scandal: Rodriguez's fellow Yankees players Francisco Cervelli and Fernando Martinez, along with Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Antonio Bastardo, Everth Cabrera of the San Diego Padres, New York Mets players Cesar Puello and Jordany Valdespin, Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, Sergio Escalona of the Houston Astros, Jesus Montero from the Seattle Mariners, Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta and free agents Fautino De Los Santo and Jordan Norberto, all of whom accepted 50-game bans without pay.
They are all implicated in the doping ring orchestrated at the now defunct Biogenesis anti-aging clinic in Florida, led by clinic founder Tony Bosch who was sued by the MLB in March, but these players have received more lenient bans than Rodriguez as they are first-time offenders.
The 38-year-old Rodriguez plans to fight his banning order, and as he has not been banned for violating doping regulations before, he is still eligible to compete whilst his appeal goes through, as he did against the Chicago White Sox just hours after he was handed the suspension last night.
He went one for four in his season debut following a lengthy layoff with a hip injury in what turned out to be a devastating 8-1 defeat for the Yankees against a side that had lost their previous ten matches.
"I'm fighting for my life," the man dubbed 'A-Rod' told reporters following the announcement of his ban.
"I have to defend myself - if I don't defend myself no-one else will."
Rodriguez has not failed a drugs test since the overhaul of the anti-doping programme in sport a decade ago, but he did admit to using anabolic steroids back in 2009 over a three-year period between 2001 and 2003 whilst plying his trade with the Texas Rangers.
He went unpunished at the time, but has now earned the longest doping ban in the history of the sport due to his previous admission, which will see him banned until the end of the 2014 season if upheld, and will also mean that 'A-Rod' misses out on around $34 million (£22 million/€25.5 million) in wages over the course of his suspension.
Despite the player refusing to confirm or deny whether he had taken performance enhancing drugs to reporters on this occasion, MLB Players Association executive director Michael Weiner has claimed that the penalty is not befitting of the alleged crime.
"What I think they're doing inappropriate is imposing a penalty that is way too harsh," he said .
"We've never had a 200-plus penalty on a player who may have used drugs.
"Among other things, I think that's way out of line."
MLB Commisssioner Bud Selig did not comment specifically on Rodriguez's case, but spoke of his pride in catching doping cheats in the league, and of the progress made since mandatory tests for performance enhancing drugs were introduced to the League in 2003.
"Major League Baseball has worked diligently with the Players Association for more than a decade to make our Joint Drug Programme the best in all of professional sports," he said.
"I am proud of the comprehensive nature of our efforts – not only with regard to random testing, groundbreaking blood testing for human growth hormone and one of the most significant longitudinal profiling programs in the world, but also our investigative capabilities, which proved vital to the Biogenesis case.
"Upon learning that players were linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, we vigorously pursued evidence that linked those individuals to violations of our Programme.
"We conducted a thorough, aggressive investigation guided by facts so that we could justly enforce our rules."
Widespread doping in the MLB was a major factor in the decision to drop baseball from the Olympics in 2005, but the WBSC clearly see the fact that action has been taken against drug cheats in the league as a step in the right direction, and even as an enhancer to their bid.
"Major League Baseball's leadership and aggressive action against performance enhancing drugs is to be applauded," said the WBSC in a statement earlier today.
"WADA's recent statements commending MLB and calling them a 'valuable partner to WADA in the fight against doping in sport' is a testament to that.
"Very few professional sport leagues in the world have taken such a serious approach to doping.
"Moreover, MLB has worked in partnership with us to adopt anti-doping policies and practices for the World Baseball Classic that are in full compliance with the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Code, including blood testing, which shows the seriousness and strength of their overall commitment.
"We believe these actions, which are in line with the Olympic Movement's united fight against doping in sport, will only serve to strengthen the case for baseball and softball's inclusion on the Olympic programme."
The WBSC bid to get baseball and softball back onto the Olympic programme as of 2020 will learn its fate in just over one months' time at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Buenos Aires on September 8, where it faces opposition from squash and wrestling.
WADA have also praised the MLB for its tough action.
"WADA commends the decision of Major League Baseball (MLB) to seek suspension of an estimated 20 players associated with a performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) scandal involving a Miami-area clinic," said David Howman, WADA chief executive.
"More and more, information and evidence gathered in the investigative process is proving an effective means of uncovering doping in sport.
"MLB has approached this issue in a professional way and the evidence gathered will undoubtedly be pivotal.
"MLB has become a valuable partner to WADA in the fight against doping in sport notably as a contributor to the Agency's protocols for information sharing, and has developed a robust programme over recent seasons that many team sports might usefully replicate."
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