I’d in favour of the UCI exploring the idea of four year bans. But I’m not sure if it will help clean up the sport that much. Instead, perhaps it just removes some of the cheats from circulation for longer?
Just as lengthening prison sentences doesn’t seem to correlate very well with reducing incidences of crime, a longer ban might not deter many dopers. After all, if the cost of getting caught goes up then all the more reason for the doping rider to employ sophisticated methods, to hire the best “doctors” in a bid to ensure they get away with it. There are tales of suspicious riders circumventing tests by constantly screening their blood to check for banned substances, to control haematological parameters and masking of an EPO misuse. By adjusting the dosages and methods apparently some ensure they can slip under the radar of detection. All this costs more but faced with a lengthy ban, the investment becomes more worthwhile.
Let me call my lawyer
We’ve also seen riders appeal in desperate all-or-nothing bids to clear their name. Even despite overwhelming evidence and a weak case some have not hesitated to call the Court of Arbitration for Sport. A longer ban would encourage more to think about exhausting every possible means to stay in the sport. This is fine, after all justice has to be done. But any moves to a longer ban would need to see the UCI and WADA make provisions for the legal fees and the sheer time spent sitting in Lausanne.
This isn’t to say long bans are wrong, more that they simply up the stakes and incentive a cheat to plan very carefully. But at the margin a longer ban could well make some riders think “I can’t afford this” and it helps.
For me the best advantage is that it simply pushes cheats away from the sport. Anyone caught “red-handed” in some serious cheating where there’s little ambiguity – ie no debate over contaminated foods – doesn’t come back for a while. It might give them the time to take up a new activity. This way the peloton would see fewer comebacks from cheats and the older generation of riders might not be populated with so many question marks.
The real key to preventing and catching the cheats is detection. A rider who knows he is very likely to be caught will not cheat. But the sport is already spending a small fortune on bio passports, regular testing, out of competition tests and more.
Four year bans can help but there’s an element of pleasing the fans and media. By removing riders from the sport for longer we remove painful reminders of their doping activities. But the ongoing anti-doping efforts must continue, especially if the ban length is not a great deterrent.