Madrid: Tour de France champion Alberto Contador`s positive drugs test has heaped more shame on Spain as a country celebrating a sporting golden age is being forced to face up to a doping problem that is tarnishing its image.
The recent achievements of tennis world number one Rafa Nadal, Spain`s World Cup-winning national soccer team and Formula One driver Fernando Alonso, among others, have helped lift the nation to the pinnacle of world sport.
But Contador was one of four Spanish cyclists to be suspended in three days, prompting International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid to suggest the government should recognise and tackle a doping problem in cycling.
In an editorial on Sunday responding to McQuaid, Spain`s biggest-selling sports daily Marca said his comments were "a blow to the heart for a country that owes a large part of its recent joy to the success of its athletes".
However, the 20 positive doping cases in Spanish cycling over the past year and a half proved that there was a lot more to do to "banish this curse", Marca wrote.
"This does not mean that we can doubt the successes of our athletes. But the truth is that McQuaid`s comments contain more truth than we perhaps like to hear.
"We are destroying all the good work that Spanish sport has done for the international image of this country."
Spain`s Socialist government argues that a law on doping in sport it passed in late 2006 brought the nation into line with the most advanced countries in the fight against drug cheats and complies with international treaties on sports doping and International Olympic Committee (IOC) regulations.
However, columnist Julian Garcia Candau, writing in daily newspaper La Razon on Sunday, noted that for all the out-of-competition testing and vigilance against doping, Spanish sport was still unable to distance itself from wrongdoing.
"Alongside the great successes, our athletes are sailing in stormy waters," he wrote. "Cycling is shaming us."
Three-times Tour winner Contador returned a positive test for a tiny quantity of the anabolic agent clenbuterol, a result the rider blamed on contaminated meat and said was not due to any effort to illegally enhance his performance.
The government notes that Spain is one of only three countries with two laboratories to control doping. The labs have been internationally accredited for at least 20 years.
"Let it be very clear that we continue to fight doping with all means at our disposal," national Sport Secretary Jaime Lissavetzky said last week after Contador`s positive test came to light.
Lissavetzky was recently re-elected to the World Anti-Doping Agency`s (WADA) executive committee, a body that has expressed frustration in the past with Spain`s judicial authorities.
Requests from WADA, the UCI and the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) for access to evidence from Spain`s highest-profile doping case, known as Operacion Puerto, have been refused by the courts, who argued that material could not be released while the legal process was continuing and doing so might infringe the rights of those implicated in the probe.