The subject of collective punishment is in the news with Jonathan Vaughters’ old quote about stopping his team being reheated and, less prominent but all the more real, the current suspension of the Androni team and now the possibility of Katusha being banned given Giampaulo Caruso’s EPO sample following Luca Paolini Tour exit.
At first glance it makes sense because if a team has a couple of doping problems in a year then maybe a pause for reflection could do it some good. But the more you think about it, the more it risks hitting innocent riders.
This subject was touched on yesterday’s “shorts” piece but worth exploring further because it has applied to teams before and is in the rulebook for 2015.
In summary the rule says two doping cases on the team in 12 months mean the team us suspended. Interestingly though the highlighted paragraph c) is a strange one because it says if no team member or staff was involved then the suspension can be lifted: invert this and it suggests the suspension exists if a team member was enabling the rider in their doping.
All this has been new for 2015 after the UCI copied the MPCC’s idea of a collective suspension, you might remember Astana and Ag2r La Mondiale having to sit out races because of it.
Now the Androni team is sitting out a suspension following two positives on its team, or rather the A-sample positive of Fabio Taborre… a whole team stopped on the basis of the A-sample. Still, if possible, try to set aside our thoughts on this team, whether signing ex-Ferrari clients and busted passport types like Franco Pellizotti or the CIRC report’s accounts of suspect nutritionists. Whatever this team is doing probably isn’t enough but this piece is more a question of principle… although we’ll return to Androni again below.
Fair? “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is Enemy Action” wrote Ian Fleming in a James Bond novel. It might be a good rule for a paranoid secret agent to treat a series of events as part of a deliberate conspiracy but building a sports punishment system on this principle is debatable. Suspending a whole team on the basis of two positives is a hit to riders who’ve had nothing to do with the doping story. For example to make the point that team mates aren’t together that much it’s common for riders to meet at their annual team presentation or pre-season camp and then go their separate ways all year with different race calendars. To exaggerate to make a point it would mean that had Festina been stopped then so would Christophe Bassons, had Cofidis been caught, David Moncoutié would be halted too.
Instead this suspension policy just looks tough. Jonathan Vaughters’ quote about stopping his team in the event of a positive test probably sounded good at the time but it’s the wrong kind of of action. Nobody likes doping stories but “something must be done” doesn’t mean doing anything. As a comment yesterday suggested, the collective punishment could have perverse incentives as it encourages teams to actively cover up doping if they suspect it, rather than hanging a rider out to dry. A team manager could hint that should a rider wish to cross the line then they’d do better to work with a preferred “doctor” to help professionalise it. In no time we’ve gone from a lone idiot to a conspiracy only the chances of detection might have just fallen.
Much more than the riders, the managers do have a responsibility here. Perhaps the hit could be applied somehow to team management because they’re the ones tasked with running things. But how? It’s here we see the difficulty because if we imagine imposing a fine it’s hard to see this surviving legal challenge in a case where the rider involved a doping case has done it without the complicity of a manager. In each case you end up suspending, banning or fining people or may well have had nothing to do with it.
You could say in a free market riders know of the risk of suspension and should prefer to join a clean team or one with such a reputation so that their careers are not interrupted by cheating colleagues. Over time talent would flow to the safer teams. Only this theory only goes so far, as we’ve seen even teams that don’t have the pantomime villain reputation like Cannondale-Garmin and Ag2r La Mondiale are at risk as much as Astana or Rusvelo that do. More demonstratively this market idea would say sponsorship would dry up for teams and managers with reputation for scandal
ISSUL? It’s here the ISSUL team audit could be a good idea. You’ll remember this is a new audit programme being tested by the UCI on some World Tour teams. It involves checking a team’s internal workings to make sure riders are well supported, for example is there coaching on offer, are riders given objectives and a plan for the season and other things to make give a rider tasks to complete with the team’s backing which will reward them with a bonus, an increase or a contract renewal. Certainly a team that’s not on this programme could be invited to join at their cost, in exchange for the suspension being lifted and a team that’s on the programme could get a more forensic audit.
Androni: the CIRC report mentioned a nutritionist on a team helping with doping and a recent edition of The Cycling Podcast said what everyone thought: it was the Androni team after all. It turns out one rider on the team informed on this “nutritionist” and action was taken to remove her. So this rider took a brave stand to do something and spoke out… and he’s now sitting out a month’s suspension because of Fabio Taborre’s EPO positive.
Teams with two or more doping cases in 12 months can be suspended from racing. You can see the argument in support as it makes team managers work harder to prevent this, it turns the problem of a “lone wolf” testing positive into a general concern for the team’s future. The greater the cost of a doping case, the greater the deterrent. It looks tough too, the UCI takes action that few other sports would dream off and it helps close the gap between the UCI and the MPCC rules.
But a team punishment is just that, it hits a whole squad and is only fair if the squad itself was at fault. When innocent riders get stopped from racing then they’re paying the price for sharing the same jersey as the cretin who decided to use EPO rather than buying into a conspiracy. Missing a month of racing can be very detrimental to a rider’s season, a 30 suspension can cast a much longer shadow. The price to pay? A deterrent? Or just the illusion of looking tough which actually hits the innocent. We’ll see what time brings.