Canadian Cyclist


March 12/15 10:39 am - Cleaning Up Our Sport - Time to Stop Messing Around

Posted by Editor on 03/12/15

By now, pretty much everyone who has an interest in cycling will have at least heard of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report that was released on Monday. [See Daily News: CIRCI Release report on UCI]

The general media has jumped on the statement that as many as 90% of pro men road cyclists could be doping; conveniently leaving out the 20% figure also stated and, what is probably the most accurate assessment: nobody really knows.

The report alternately praises the UCI for having one of the most rigorous anti-doping programs in professional sports, and condemns it for willfully distorting and downplaying the inroads doping has made into the sport.

While CIRC's does investigate allegations against the UCI, what the report doesn't do enough of, in my opinion, is delve into the "causes of the pattern of doping that developed in cycling", nor offer much in the way of proposals as to how to improve things.

In the past - and currently - almost all of the effort goes to testing and catching athletes using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). There is no denying that this is important, but it is primarily an 'in-the-moment' response, and results mainly temporary wringing of hands, an individual penalty and bad publicity for our sport. For many who are considering cheating, the threat of being caught is outweighed by the potential gains.

Cycling needs to go deeper and broader, and go after the individuals and conditions that make doping possible. I'm not so naive as to think we can completely eradicate doping - it is a given that whenever there is an opportunity to gain an advantage in any human endeavour, some individuals will take that route. However, if it becomes more difficult and costly (personally as well as professionally), we can certainly reduce the likelihood that riders will get pushed over the edge into cheating.

To that end, there are a number of actions that doping authorities, sports federations and politicians can undertake:

1. More stringent bans on past offenders. The fact that offenders such as Alexandre Vinokourov, Laurent Jalabert, Gianni Bugno, Bjarne Riis and others are allowed to continue to participate in the sport makes a travesty of efforts to encourage young athletes to ride clean. These riders are honoured and lucratively employed with teams, as television personalities, and within the bike industry. Any young rider can look at them and take away the message that even if you are caught, the benefits are worth the penalty.

The message needs to be clear: if you are caught, then you are out - really out. You are not allowed to be employed by a team, or a sponsor of a team. You are not allowed to work for a host broadcaster, you are not allowed to have a credential of any nature. You. Are. Done. Shunning can be a very powerful incentive, as well as a way to remove potential encouragers of doping.

2. Penalties for support staff. While CIRC stated that the systematic doping programs (such as US Postal, Festina and others) are a thing of the past, they point to riders running their own programs, using scientists, doctors, soigneurs and suppliers of doping products. National anti-doping agencies, the UCI, WADA and other authorities need to start really pursuing these individuals.

This is likely to be more difficult, since federations don't have the same regulatory authority that they do with riders, but there is already movement within some countries to make such activities criminal offenses. It should also be a condition of reduced penalties - name your sources or face heavier sanctions. Once sources are identified, they should also be banned - if an athlete works with them, then it is an automatic admission of guilt and penalties apply.

And it needs to be a REAL ban - no 'I'm only getting training advice', ala Armstrong and company with Dr Michele Ferrari.

3. Restitution. Canada's Genevieve Jeanson (to name one) made a significant amount of money out of cycling. Not only that, she denied other riders the opportunity to attend events such as the Olympics and the world championships when she was selected to those squads. There should be compensation; to individuals, to sponsors and to federations, depending upon the circumstances.

Any rider who signs with a registered team, at any level, receives support - bikes, kit and entry fees at the lower levels, and remuneration at the pro level. In any contract (and there should be mandatory contracts even for domestic level teams) there should be clauses that include requirements for repayment of monies or restitution for lost opportunities by others.

Let's be honest - competing under false pretenses (ie, doping) constitutes fraud, and there should be penalties for that. Further, if it is a first offense and the athlete is allowed to return to the sport after a period of ineligibility, then one of the requirements before they can return should be proof of restitution. Ideally, I would like to see this extend to the non-rider staff that support the doping process.

4. Whistleblowing incentives. I am NOT talking about the deals that George Hincapie, Michael Barry and others received - agreeing to talk to avoid prosecution. I'm talking about true whistleblowers; those rare individuals who come forward without coercion and provide information that results in uncovering illegal activities.

There needs to be better protection for such individuals from retribution within the peloton (as was detailed in the CIRC report: "Christophe Bassons' career was effectively ended when he spoke out against doping in the peloton at the 1999 Tour."), and there needs to be incentives to do so - maybe from those restitution monies suggested earlier.

In summary, if the UCI really wants to clean up our sport then they need to start making it more costly for those involved in doping - personally, professionally and financially.


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