A call for teams to be punished for doping scandals

Thursday, 10 March 2011

MPCC logo

AG2R La Mondiale, Bretagne-Schuller, Cofidis, Europcar, FDJ, Garmin-Cervélo and Skil-Shimano are the seven teams that belong to a grouping known as the MPCC, the Mouvement pour un Cyclisme Crédible. They are now calling for teams involved in doping scandals to be involved in any punishment.

Normally it is only the rider who is sanctioned but the call here is to include the teams involved. The full proposals have not been set out in detail but the information reported by Le Monde certainly sounds worth exploring:

  • when evaluating a team’s licence, the MPCC wants the UCI to make formal provisions for teams that have had one or more positive tests. The UCI licence already includes “ethical” criteria but these appear vague, establishing exactly what these criteria are could help.
  • to increase the length of a ban for a rider caught using “heavy” doping techniques, such as blood manipulation, from two to four years.
  • to allow a rider to come back but that any ranking points scored in the first two years of their return are not counted in the team’s rankings.
  • The MPCC is also supportive of the “no needles” idea.

I’m finding it hard to disagree with these ideas. When I saw the headlines I feared some sort of collective punishment, a situation where an innocent rider who has not taken so much of a paracetamol tablet could be excluded from races because a team mate decided to risk everything. But that’s not the case, using the UCI licence review turns the issue into a longer term evaluation of the teams rather than a snap ban and I’m a lot more happy with this.

Riccardo Ricco

In search of credibility

Also the exclusion of a rider’s ranking points gained in a comeback seems tailor-made for the Riccardo Riccò situation. It allows a rider to return, to have every right to aim for big races and glorious wins and to allow their teams to enjoy all of this. But it diminishes the incentive return to old ways.

What next?
The MPCC is only a forum for teams to push for cleaner riding. I like the sound of the ideas but they need to be reviewed and drafted into real proposals, which is a more complicated matter.

First more teams need to come on board, namely the AIGCP grouping of teams needs to adopt these ideas and then get the UCI to agree too. With all the debate over race radios confusing fans and the media, a commitment by the AICGP to take up these anti-doping ideas, at least for review with the UCI, would be a smart move to show other issues can be tackled too.

Alex Murray - Chasing Wheels blog March 10, 2011 at 10:17 am

I do find trying to introduce granularity into cheating a bit odd. I don’t see why they are still clinging to this notion of “heavy” and light doping.

Given strict liability and everything we know about how different physiologies respond to different types of doping, it seems bizarre for teams to still be suggesting that some forms of doping are worse than others.

Arguably a well-managed blood transfusion or EPO regime is going to be no less damaging to the rider’s health than testosterone, fat-burning, growth hormone or any of the other possibilities in the spectrum.

I thought that was part of Bassons’ point recently: the riders’ health argument is all well and good but some riders will still look at the options and consider it possible that doping allows them to lead a healthier career relative to what the rest of society does to earn a wage.

Martin W March 10, 2011 at 12:02 pm

The ranking points idea seems a particularly good one; won’t it also function as a sort of extension of the ban, making the disincentive to dope greater? A rider who is pushing (or past) 30 when he comes back from a ban already has enough trouble finding a new team, and now there’s an added disincentive to hire him – will you pay 2 years’ salary for an established rider who will gain you 0 ranking points, or hire 2 young riders for the same money who in 2 years’ time could be contributing ranking wins?

Nick March 10, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I think 0 ranking points is not the right way to go, otherwise you’re going to find past dopers ostracized for the exact reason Martin outlined above.

Which before anyone screams that it serves them right, look at all the highlights those who have returned have provided us (I’m thinking Basso, Vino, Millar, etc).

How about half the amount? Or even an exclusion for the first year of their return from any of the monument races, as a penance.

The Inner Ring March 10, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Alex: I hear you but it’s really an extension of the ban for “red handed” cases where a rider can’t claim contamination or other misfortunes.

Martin W & Nick: yes, teams are part of the process. As I wrote above, I’m not in favour of collective punishment but some way to change the incentives when recruiting an ex-doper are a good way to go. It has to be worth exploring.

Touriste-Routier March 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm

While the teams will be harmed by the lack of points doesn’t this ignore:

a) the rider will still be incented to get the best results possible, as results = prize money, publicity & ultimately, a better contract.
b) teams will be more likely to hire a rider that hasn’t been caught over one that has (which I suppose its the point), but
c) at what point does punishment for offense end? Are we talking about suspension and then parole? At what point is one’s sentence served, and one is free to resume their career?
d) that not all teams have a systematic institutional approach to doping, that it is possible to have 1 or 2 rotten apples spoil the whole bunch, as:
e) the Pro Tour structure requires a very large team (>25 riders) so that they can compete in 2-3 races at a time. Doesn’t this make it extremely difficult for a team to closely monitor all of their riders (all of the time), as they get shifted under different supervision within the team’s management throughout the season?

While I am all for holding teams accountable for their actions, it seems to me that the whole professional structure needs to be reviewed in parallel with anti-doping efforts.

A few years ago there was an agreement between the teams (though not a rule) about riders returning from a doping suspension not being allowed to return to the same tier that they were prior to suspension (a Pro Tour Team wouldn’t sign a convicted rider following his suspension, but a Pro Conti Team could). This agreement was blatantly ignored. I think codifying & having the UCI enforce this makes as much sense as longer bans and eliminating points.

ant1 March 10, 2011 at 3:59 pm

not having any experience in the pro peloton, it’s tough to judge. from what i understand, there was a time when doping was very much a team thing. it seems that’s less the case now, that the dopers are rogue individuals trying to game the system. but that could just be an illusion. overall, i like the idea, although it appears to focus a little too much on the hiring of previously convicted dopers. i’d like to see something along the lines of a punishing a team for having a rider test positive. and more than just some vague ethical criteria thing. maybe something like if a rider gets popped, the team gets docked however many points he earned in the past twelve month for the next two years (rider X gets popped in 2012, he accumulated Y points in the previous 12 months, so the team gets Y points taken away from its total in 2013, and again in 2014). i’m sure there’s plenty of problems with the idea, i’m just thinking out loud.

jules March 15, 2011 at 6:11 am

there are good precedents for this in law. a good way to do it is to make an employer responsible for taking “reasonable steps” to ensure that their employees do the right thing (ride clean, in this instance). this isn’t strict liability – it’s a reduced liability that would impose an active duty on the team to demonstrate what it had done to discourage its riders from doping. it both allows the team to demonstrate that the rider acted in defiance of their efforts, as well as disallowing the “you can’t prove anything” defence – the onus is on the team to show that they were discouraging doping.

The Inner Ring March 15, 2011 at 9:35 am

Jules: a good point. Whilst I fully support you, is there risk here is that teams spend a long time meeting the legal conditions and we get a “check box culture” where teams strive to demonstrate they have met certain conditions? I’m all for the law poking into cycling, too often it doesn’t. But the first thing has to be a cultural, to convince riders and staff that results can be achieved without short cuts.

jules March 15, 2011 at 1:01 pm

achieving cultural change is absolutely the solution. intervening with regulations and penalties is always a band-aid. but from all accounts, riders understand that doping helps get the results they crave and that doesn’t look likely to change in a hurry.

i develop policy for a living and could talk for hours on this. i am fascinated by doping in cycling, as it has such strong links to compliance in areas of law that i work in. really, the UCI’s anti-doping efforts, even if they represent best practice in sport are a long, long way from best practice in compliance theory.

ant1’s idea of making teams (employers) accountable has been done in other industries with consierable success. there are ways around encouraging a bureaucratic “check box culture” – in fact they lend themselves quite handily to pro cycling – but i won’t bore you here..

The Inner Ring March 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Jules: this kind of detail doesn’t bore me! If you have any suggestions and ideas, feel free to email and discuss.

jules March 16, 2011 at 2:20 am

well, i’ll post here if it’s OK. as you alluded to, cultural change is imperative. at present, anti-doping efforts revolve around UCI ‘vampires’ chasing riders around the globe and after races. this fosters an ‘us vs. them’ culture/mentality that has likely only encouraged some riders to see if they can beat the system.

getting the teams involved is important for turning that around – riders trust directeur sportifs more than UCI officials and if the former are working against doping, riders would find it more difficult to justify it to themselves (and i wonder – conceal it too). Garmin-Slipstream and it seems the other MPCC teams are apparently already doing this. others are not – just look at who is managing some of the top teams – how can you claim to be fighting against doping when your directeur sportif has himself admitted to doping (and in one case, did so in a cynical manner that allowed him to retain the trophy he won while on the juice)?

there is no reason why – and i’d see it as just simple common sense – as a small step forward, the UCI could not have a ‘good character’ clause in its accreditation requirements for pro teams, preventing them from hiring staff of ill repute.

this brings me to what i see as one of the major issues with fighting doping in pro cycling – what is known as “regulatory capture”. this is when the regulated entity (riders and teams) have more power than the regulator (UCI). the accusations against BP’s safety record arguably bear similarities – the product (in that case, oil and gas) is of such importance that the regulator is (politically) intimidated against taking proper action against safety breaches.

nowhere does this apply more than in pro cycling. the conduct of some teams can only be described as reprehensible – i was disappointed (if not surprised) that Vaconsoleil hired the unrepentant Ricco, but outraged when the UCI gave them a ProTeam license ahead of Geox (led by the far more reputable Menchov and Sastre).

how is this allowed to happen? i’d suggest that the only feasible explanation is that the UCI do not take fighting against doping seriously. do they suffer from regulatory capture – in which they fear that taking a stronger stance would tear the whole facade down and cause too much damage to the sport (bite the hand that feeds)? or is it that vested interests, who don’t want them to take a tougher stand against doping, have direct influence over how the UCI operates? (i haven’t looked into its constitution and governance, so i don’t know)

in my view, placing more onus on the teams to run a clean operation is a no-brainer. taking Ricco as an example, Vaconsoleil should have been required to demonstrate to the UCI how they were going to manage his transition back into pro cycling, not just say “he’s done his time, you’re free to hire him” – the outcome of that surprised no one. but i guarantee the UCI has considered these options – the real question is: what’s stopping them from adopting them? sadly, i suspect there may well be elements of truth to what conspiracists like Floyd Landis are saying.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: