We’re featuring another tag-team pair of posts regarding doping and our views on how well sanctions are working … and what might be done to improve the situation. What follows is Robot’s post. You can find my post here.—Padraig
Last night I was finishing Graeme Fife’s excellent Inside the Peloton, published in 2001, when I read the line “We have now, I think, won the battle against EPO…” I chuckled aloud. My wife looked at me askance. So did the dog.
The fact is that EPO, it’s younger cousin CERA, and an array of other doping practices are still alive and well in the pro peloton. Apparently even my dog knows that.
So, what to do about it?
The UCI’s current system of “justice,” provides one set of punishments for “non-negative findings” from anti-doping tests conducted both in and out of competition. The first offense earns a two-year ban from competition, the second a life sentence.
In our discussion, last week, here and here, we mostly agreed that there is a difference between a rider who is caught and then confesses and repents, like David Millar, and a rider who denies everything, simply serves his time and then comes back, a la Alexander Vinokourov. The problem with the UCI’s one-size-fits-all approach to convicted dopers is that it sees no difference between the two, and so offers no incentive for riders to cooperate or formal ways for them to rehabilitate themselves in the eyes of cycling fans. Today’s regime is simply one of punishment, not rehabilitation.
Here in the US, in many states, they punish murderers with the death penalty. As a punishment, there is no stronger sanction allowed under law. And yet, people continue to kill each other at more or less steady rates, year after year, decade after decade. What is apparent is that the punishment is not a deterrent. There is an amoral portion of the populace who just don’t respond to punishment. Padraig makes excellent points about these folks, and their representation in top level sports in his post today.
The way most modern justice systems deal with transgressors is through a sort of remediation process. For example, if you’re caught with a pound of cocaine, you’re charged with a crime. If then, you are willing to say where you got that cocaine from, you may receive an offer of reduced sentence, an acknowledgment that your cooperation will remove more than just that one pound of cocaine from circulation. It’s a way of using a small conviction to gain a larger one.
As Padraig suggests in his post, a sort of amnesty deal, a truth and reconciliation process, would be one way to cull dopers from the pro ranks. Another might be to apply this same principle of remediation to convicted dopers.
My proposal would be to instate an initial three-year ban, but to offer a reduction of up to two years if the rider explains how he or she doped, who provided them with the drugs and which other riders are involved. Failure to cooperate on that level leaves the ban at three years. A subsequent conviction would lead to a lifetime ban that would extend, not just to racing, but also to pro-level coaching and management. A rider who dopes and gets caught, and then dopes again, can reasonably be assumed to fall into that amoral category, that group that simply won’t respond to sanction or rehabilitation.
The point of raising the initial ban to three years is to make the prospect of comeback just that much more tenuous for an athlete who doesn’t wish to cooperate. The ability to mitigate that sanction to as small as one year’s absence from the peloton gives the athlete a real incentive to participate in cleaning up the sport, because it incorporates a strong element of self-interest.
To be sure, there is still some code of silence in the pack. A rider who implicates a teammate is in for a rough ride upon his or her return. By formalizing the process by which this information is drawn from convicts, the peloton‘s embrace of the omerta is loosened. Any one of them would be able to see why a sanctioned rider had cooperated. In a group dominated by that self-serving ethos, self-interest is one motivator that is widely accepted. In other words, it’s one thing to rat out a teammate and still sit on the sideline for two years. It’s quite another to cooperate in order to gain a swifter return to racing. Further, by using each conviction to gain others, the UCI can remove more riders who are involved in doping at one fell swoop, thereby reducing the influence of the doping tolerant riders in the peloton considerably.
The UCI can continue with their punishment only approach, but I believe this is something like the kids’ game Whack-a-Mole. You hit one doper with your hammer, and another pops up, ad infinitum, ad absurdum. If, instead, you cut the dopers out, and their doctors, the managers who participate, and the soigneurs who traffic in these things, then you stand a better chance of ridding the sport of its worst sickness, that thing that erodes public support and interest, that drains away sponsorship dollars, and even the confidence of the most ardent fans.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International