Standing up for the Passport

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company

So says Shakespeare’s King Henry V, a declaration that anyone not ready for battle should leave the scene because they are cowards. It’s the first literary reference to a passport too.

It’s been a bad week for the UCI’s pioneering bio passport scheme. We’ve seen the prosecution of Franco Pellizotti rejected by the Italian authorities and in the wake of this others have come forward to dump on the concept. In the wake of this Pietro Caucchioli today said he’s going to appeal his ban. Everything now heads to Switzerland and the Court for Arbitration for Sport based in Lausanne.

Background
If you want to learn about the scheme, Chapter 6 of the New Cycling Pathways “I Wish I Was 21 Now” is required reading. In summary the passport builds a record of various parameters relating to a rider, such as blood values and hormonal levels. It allows the UCI to track changes in these values and look for any anomalies that could be tell tale clues. But here’s the problem, a suspicious change in values is just that, it might set alarm bells ringing but is it proof of doping?

As such the fate of the bio passport relies depends on the burden of proof. But there’s no strict liability, strange variations in data are not grounds themselves for a ban. Rather a panel of experts is convened to see if there’s any other likely explanation and if they think it all points to a doping offence then UCI will seek to ban the rider.

Where’s the battle cry?
Henry V is famous for the rousing speech but sadly we’re not seeing much of a defence of the passport. UCI President Pat McQuaid saidWe’ll win some cases and lose some but when you lose cases you have to examine why and ensure that you learn” which for me is a very defeatist statement. Surely you can’t just accept that in taking a handful of riders to court you will nab a few of them? It’s also a public invitation for any rider caught by the passport to lawyer-up and file an appeal in Switzerland.

With all these criticisms raining down on the bio passport, someone from the UCI and WADA needs to be making a strong case for the passport. Don’t let others hog the airwaves and column inches with their negative messages, get out there and explain why it’s essential.

Anti-doping is foremost about athlete health and the passport is apparently proving to be a controlling element in restricting some of the wilder practices. That’s a good thing. It’s also at the vanguard of anti-doping and if the UCI is the pioneer here, it’s got firm backing from WADA and the IOC as well. Again this is something to be proud of.

Gotcha!

Above all it has caught riders and resulted in bans: it was the curious data generated by the passport that led to careful testing of Danilo Di Luca and Davide Rebellin in order to bust them for CERA.

The passport isn’t perfect and nobody is saying it will clean up sport but it’s a very valuable tool for analysis and evidence gathering.

Anonymous October 27, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Pellizotti lost a year of his cycling career with the UCI well knowing and anticpating they will lose some of the cases. Ok, the passport isn't perfect but isn't it a expensive proposition for those that are not guilty? I hope Pellizotti sues the UCI.

Matt Walsh October 27, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Good stuff. And also the subject of my own post at twisted spoke. The UCI and WADA do need to step up and support the passport or the floogates open and every rider with a decent lawyer will be headed to the CAS expecting to win — and probably will.

Gillis October 28, 2010 at 12:09 am

These things are never perfect the first time out. It took like 5 tries before the NFL was established. And look at the pro-tour, it too is starting over again. The passport is generally a good idea, but it will take time to flush out the problems. Five years from now it may be shadow of its former self, it may not even be called a passport, but hopefully it will work better than it does now. It's only unfortunate that some will get caught in the crossfire as it changes and evolves.

Champs October 28, 2010 at 5:44 am

What I remember of university statistics is that most irregularities in a passport probably aren't significant. Although it isn't enough data for a conviction, the worst offenders would rightfully deserve extra scrutiny for the next twelve months.

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