UCI President Pat McQuaid dropped a small bombshell on the margins of the Tour de France presentation, saying he was in favour of four year bans for dopers, instead of the two year sanction.
Is it right that a big idea like this was given in a briefing to a huddle of journalists? I suspect he was just deseperate to give the attendent media a bone to chew on because he couldn’t say much about Contador. So let’s chew for a moment.
I don’t think longer bans are much help. Why? Because I suspect the cheats don’t think about the punishment because few seem to get caught. Here’s a simple formula to express my idea:
Deterrent factor = chance of being caught x length of ban
Let’s look at some examples:
- imagine your chances of being busted was 5% and you had a 10 year ban, then the deterrent factor is 5% of 10, a score of 0.5
- imagine your chances of being busted was 50% and you had a 2 year ban, then the deterrent factor is 50% of 2, a score of 1.0
This is obviously very simple but it’s making a point for me, namely that the length of a ban can matter but what will really deter someone is the chance of being caught. Right now few cheats are actually caught by the sporting authorities. Remember that most of the cheats in our sport have been caught by the police, not by urine and blood tests.
Indeed moving to longer bans is a sign of frustration, it’s saying that two years just isn’t a deterrent. But apply the logic of my formula above and a one month ban would deter everyone if you could ensure 100% detection, anything you took would result in your being banned, any trace molecule lingering in your system a month later would be enough to warrant another one month ban.
Now detection is hard but it’s the key to tackling things. The UCI has gone some way to helping, the bio passport is one big step here.
Of course the ban isn’t a deterrent, it’s a punishment to hit the rider who gets caught and to remove them from the sport to ensure those who play by the rules can exercise their trade free from the bad guys. In this aspect I’d support a longer ban for anyone caught in serious and unambiguous doping, for example anyone caught blood doping, with the attendant hardware, could well face a longer ban. Why not?
That said, a long ban would only courage more desperate attempts to drag the UCI and testing agencies into court with lengthy appeals.
But each time a rider is caught people come out and say “we need longer bans” but my point is that the ban isn’t the issue, it’s our ability to detect the cheating that is the real issue. There, that bone took less time to chew that Contador’s steak.