It should be clear to everyone involved at this point, that the disciplinary process for rule-breaking riders is hopelessly slow, convoluted and ineffective. Further, the length of time it has taken for the UCI and Spanish Federation to figure out what to do with Alberto Contador’s doping positive has compounded the damage of the “adverse clinical finding” ten fold. Pro cycling is killing itself slowly, with drugs, indecision and incompetence.
It seems like every other article I read these days concerns either Contador and the Godot-like wait for a verdict on his case OR Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and the grand jury that cogitates in silence on an entire era of alleged pro cycling malfeasance.
This morning it occurred to me that FIFA, the governing body of football (soccer), would never do this to itself. Corrupt though it may be, FIFA lets nothing stand in the way of the game. If football’s biggest star, probably Lionel Messi at the moment, were found to have spiked his corn flakes with banned substances they would have, in conjunction with the Spanish FA, suspended him for some arbitrary length of time and left the chips to fall where they might.
FIFA doesn’t care that much about what’s fair. It allows football fans to seethe in rage, to debate in the most colorful language, to riot in the streets, but eventually to let the games go on. Messi would sit. He might appeal. His appeal would be upheld or denied, and the game would go on, and on, and on, earning and entertaining as it went.
Neither FIFA nor the UCI are governmental organizations. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) hears any extra-organizational cases brought to them, and rules with the force of law.
What the UCI calls “complex,” FIFA calls ordinary. Where cycling dithers, dodge, obfuscates and ponders, FIFA decides.
It is fair to suggest that there is a far bigger doping problem in football than in cycling. It is fair to say that cycling is infinitely more transparent in the way it deals with its athletes. It is fair to say that FIFA is an oligarchy of corrupt old men who pillage their sport’s multi-billion dollar/euro/yuan/shekel revenues for their own fortunes and power. Those things all might be true. Or not.
But what you can’t say is that cycling runs its business more effectively. Someone at the UCI (paging Mr. McQuaid … Mr.McQuaid to the white courtesy telephone) needs to understand that they are as complicit in the sport’s demise as the dopers who steal the headlines. As every official from Paris to Madrid scrambles to avoid accountability for Contador’s ultimate fate, the fiddle music grows louder and Rome continues to burn.
In the 7th century B.C., a law scribe named Draco converted the system of oral law in force in Athens to a set of written laws, famous for their severity. In modern times, “draconian” has a pejorative connotation, but what Draco intended was for the law to be clear and decisive. Setting aside the issue of appropriate punishments for a cyclist’s indiscretions (most minor crimes in the Draconian system were punishable by death), perhaps what the sport needs is a little more draconian application of its rules.
There is a saying that goes something like this, “It is far easier to beg forgiveness, than ask permission.” The UCI needs to act quickly and decisively in all doping-related matters. It can apologize to those it wrongs later.
Alberto Contador may or may not have cheated in order to win bike races. Even when we get a verdict, some will believe and others won’t. All of that is immaterial now. In effect, the reigning Tour de France champion has already served 6 months of a purgatorial sentence. No matter what happens next, the Spaniard has lost, and cycling has, too.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International