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Spain's fury at French sporting drug slurs

By Gary Morley, CNN
February 10, 2012 -- Updated 1647 GMT (0047 HKT)
Rafael Nadal has accused media of
Rafael Nadal has accused media of "a globalized campaign" against Spanish sports stars.
  • Rafael Nadal angry with French TV program's depiction of Spanish athletes as drug users
  • Spanish government tells ambassador to France to make written protest to French media
  • Puppet comedy program spoofs Nadal, cyclist Alberto Contador and footballer Iker Casillas
  • Nadal accuses media of running a concerted campaign against Spanish athletes

(CNN) -- Is it just harmless fun, or is something seriously wrong developing in sporting relations between Spain and France?

Yannick Noah, the last French tennis player to win the French Open back in 1983, started it last year when he claimed that Spain's recent sporting success could only be due to doping.

His remarks were quickly shot down by Rafael Nadal, the Spaniard who has won the Paris grand slam six times -- a record he shares with Bjorn Borg, and may hold alone this year.

Now Nadal is at the center of another row, sparked by a comedy program on French channel Canal Plus that spoofed the 25-year-old and cycling champion Alberto Contador, who was this week stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title and banned after a long-running doping saga.

The Spanish government is so upset it has told its ambassador to France to send a written protest to French media, including the offending channel.

On this occasion, intolerable limits were crossed and the RFET cannot tolerate the lack of respect and slander toward our athletes
Spanish Tennis Federation president Jose Luis Escanuela

And the Spanish Tennis Federation has responded by threatening a lawsuit.

"The RFET will sue Canal Plus Francia for broadcasting a video which, besides inadmissible and slanderous insinuations, uses the federation's logo. The RFET will also get support from other Spanish sports federation mentioned in that video, so that there is a common judicial action," it said in a statement.

The French show, called "Les Guignols" (the Puppets), features lifelike representations of Nadal, Contador and Spain's World Cup-winning football captain Iker Casillas among others.

They are shown writing in books with syringes, and in one scene the muscular Nadal puppet fills up its car's petrol tank from its own bladder.

"On this occasion, intolerable limits were crossed and the RFET cannot tolerate the lack of respect and slander toward our athletes," Spanish Tennis Federation president Jose Luis Escanuela said.

Nadal, who has never failed a drug test, also expressed his displeasure in interviews with Spanish media, calling it "a globalized campaign from the neighboring country."

"At the end of the day it is humor," Nadal said in quotes reported by national newspaper El Pais. "One day is okay but when, from what I understand, it is done repeatedly then that is not so good because it crosses the line a bit. And it is always with the same focus.

"The institutions in general have to defend us because I don't think it is a campaign against me or a campaign against anyone. It is a campaign against Spain in general, and against Spanish sports.

"I don't think it is only Canal Plus that does it. I think there are other media pushing it along and I think that is something punishable because in Spain sportspeople who are not clean are punished, they don't compete."

Noah's comments were made in the wake of Spain's incredible sporting achievements in recent years.

Nadal was world No. 1 until last year, when he won his 10th grand slam title, having ended Roger Federer's dominance before he too was usurped by Novak Djokovic.

Contador has won the Tour de France three times, though he lost one of those titles after testing positive for a small amount of the banned steroid clenbuterol. He overturned his initial ban, but the International Cycling Union and the World Anti-Doping Agency successfully appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Casillas has led Spain's all-conquering football team to the 2008 European title and the 2010 World Cup crown, while his club Real Madrid's big rivals Barcelona have been similarly dominant.

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