I was alerted by a reader this morning to the BBC’s two-part look at doping in cycling. The second part features a brief interview with UCI President Pat McQuaid where he mentions the prospect of banning riders involved in doping scandals from working in the sport. Here’s a snapshot:
“I’m not happy there are team managers who have been doping as athletes themselves… …Any cyclist who is involved in a doping infraction in their career cannot come back into management of a team in the future”
This is an idea that McQuaid will present to colleagues at the next Management Committee meeting in June, the UCI’s high-level decision making forum. It would mark a big change. But would it work?
For me this would be a symbolic gesture but useful nonetheless. It’s awkward to see team managers with doping convictions heading up teams. It often takes a network to dope and team staff can be part of this. Old habits die hard.
But let’s take a few doping scandals from the past. The biggest bust was Operation Puerto but the disgraced Liberty Seguros team manager Manolo Saiz never raced. Or look at the Festina scandal where again team manager Bruno Roussel was an outsider who first appeared with new ideas on nutrition and sports science, only to cede to organised doping later.
Plus let’s look around at other team managers. Some might not have been caught but it is clear that several dabbled with performance enhancing substances and methods during their career.
Is it legal?
There’s also the question of whether it’s legal. Once you’ve served a ban you are allowed back as a rider… so can you stop a comeback behind the steering wheel of the team car? But some professions do this, an accountant busted for fraud will never work again but this relies on a strict code of regulation.
Yet in cycling we keep seeing the rules get diluted, for example a rule stopping top teams from signing a doper on the comeback was flouted when Discovery tried to sign Ivan Basso; another rule about suspending a team in the event of three positives in a season went ignored when Lampre saw three of its riders caught in 2008. Given this, it seems hard to imagine the teams collaborating to uphold new rules. If you want new rules, prove you can uphold the existing ones.
And I don’t know if this could be applied retrospectively either, it would be very hard to eject the likes of Bjarne Riis from the sport. He’s built up a team with the current rules in place, it would be very contentious to remove this. The Dane isn’t alone, there are many in positions of authority with a proven track record of cheating at the highest levels.
Fit and proper?
But there’s a common test for officials in many public roles, the so-called “fit and proper” test where candidates have to prove they’re suitable material to take on a position of responsibility. A clean past helps but this test touches on more, such as financial dealings, to ensure the person is suitable for the role.
I’d support the idea but only because it offers a symbolic and moral guide. That said it’s very absolutist, one mistake and you’re gone when I can’t help feeling the sport needs some reconciliation, to welcome those who have the guts to admit they got it very wrong.
It won’t reduce doping much but it will mean outsiders can’t look at the sport and say “how can a sport be clean when big cheats are in charge”. As such it’s a tidy bit of window dressing but it’s all in the detail and we’ll see if McQuaid’s idea can be drafted into a rule and then consistently enforced.
See the full BBC feature online, Cycling Must Dare to Change.