A 4 Year Ban? Do the Maths…

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

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.


Punishment
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.

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{ 5 comments }

Alex Murray October 20, 2010 at 9:49 am

As you say, the likelihood of getting caught is no deterrent at present.

Especially when you look at what Kohl says about being test 200 times, being doped 100 of those and being caught once. So about a 1% likelihood of getting busted.

Was looking at the Vino//UCI CAS paperwork. Vino was on 1.2 million gross salary in 2007.

1% risk for that sort of income? Break it down like that and I can see why there's a degree of economic imperative at work.

Even with a 4 year ban, you've still pulled down a healthy living to cover that period, say 250K.

Risk of detection needs to be much nearer 50% before riders are even going to look at each other and say "not worth it". Once it reaches that level of common view within the peloton things might change.

TheInnerRing October 20, 2010 at 9:56 am

Yes, I'm with you their on the financial calculations too. The "New Cycling Pathways" initiative sets this out quite well, explaining the choices riders are making.

For me it is possible to ride clean but the right social and economic environment is essential, to know that you are supported for your choice of riding clean, not resented because you don't deliver results. Some teams are leading here whilst others are still in the dark ages.

Alex Murray October 20, 2010 at 11:19 am

I really think New Cycling Pathways is potentially one of the most compelling reappraisals of the sport and offers some of the most coherent solutions.

Obviously challenging the existing model so baldly perhaps explains why the UCI were happy for it to be pasted as all about Flooyd turning up.

Anonymous October 20, 2010 at 2:14 pm

McQuaid makes more noise, no more. He is useless.

Anonymous October 20, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Yes, you are right, the detection level is too low, the risk ergo pretty low as well, to force a change of thought.
But still I am for longer bans. You yourself posted here iirc some expert saying that even if they stop doping after they got caught the effects are still there after a two year ban. And I personally think if the ban was 4 years long the willingness to cooperate with the WADA/NADA to reduce sentence would be more appealing. And those institutions accumulating more knowledge about doping in the peloton is imo a good way to improve the likelihood of catching dopers.
Also it is really hard to understand for amateurs why a team change because of a change of job/residence has for example a three months ban while doping gets you between 3 and 24 months ban.
And of course you are right McQuaid just said that because he has nothing to say to the Contador case.

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