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Spaniards fail to see humor in French doping satire

February 10, 2012 |  1:28 pm

REPORTING FROM MADRID -- Not everyone is laughing at a series of satirical French videos that portray Spanish sports stars like Rafael Nadal as puppets who take drugs. Especially not Spaniards, and especially not this week.

On Monday night, Canal Plus France's program "Les Guignols" -- French for “The Puppets" -- aired a skit in which a puppet that looks like tennis legend Nadal urinates into his SUV's fuel tank, then speeds away. The skit concludes with a message reading, "Spanish athletes. They don't win by chance," surrounded by several Spanish sports logos, including that of the tennis federation.

A YouTube video of the skit went viral among Europeans and sports fans. But the video struck a particularly raw nerve here in Spain because of the timing: It hit the airwaves just hours after sports' highest international court slapped Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador with a two-year ban for doping.

The Spanish tennis federation says it plans to sue Canal Plus over the video and for using its logo without permission. "We, as a tennis federation, cannot tolerate such slander and injury toward our athletes,” federation President Jose Luis Escañuela said in a statement Wednesday.

The Spanish minister for education, culture and sport also weighed in, calling the videos "intolerable" and "unsportsmanlike."

Rather than apologize, Canal Plus aired two more videos, including one showing puppet lookalikes of Nadal and other Spanish athletes signing a petition in support of Contador, but writing with syringes instead of pens.

Spaniards find it suspect that it's a French TV station poking fun at their athletes. Contador was a three-time Tour de France winner before he was stripped of his 2010 title because of the doping scandal. His racing ban means he won't be able to compete in this year's Tour de France or at the Olympics in London.

Nadal, who has not been accused of doping, has won the French Open six times since 2005.

"It's not against me but against Spain in general," Nadal told reporters Thursday on the Spanish island of Mallorca. "With less, we've achieved more than they have, we're doing something better. It's not about pills or syringes."

Contador is an icon in Spain, where a number of officials, including former Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, rushed to his defense in recent days.

In an opinion piece published Wednesday in the Spanish sports daily Marca, Zapatero wrote that he shared "with all Spaniards a sense of bewilderment about the ruling and of solidarity with Alberto."

Contador's punishment was handed down by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport after a Spanish court let him off last year. The athlete claims he tested positive for a banned substance, the asthma drug clenbuterol, because of contaminated meat he consumed on a rest day during the 2010 Tour de France. But judges at the CAS ruled that there was insufficient evidence of such contamination.

Contador has said he's considering whether to appeal the CAS ruling.

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 -- Lauren Frayer

Video: A satirical French video from the Canal Plus France's program "Les Guignols" uploaded by YouTube user suscribeteHD.

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