There never seems to be a week go by without yet another suggestion that rider x has doped. From the authorities’ perspective it is clear to see how a “guilty until proved innocent” view of the peloton has taken hold given the severity of the problem at hand and the mountain they are scaling. But from a fans’ perspective the situation is at best disappointing, at worst down right depressing and reason enough for even the most committed follower to doubt the pack. And try explaining it to your friends like so many of us have to in our offices, pubs and meeting places everyday. It strikes me that none of this is helpful in the way that it is currently being played out.
I think I remarked in a previous post that all systems of justice are, at least in theory, based on the notion that anyone accused of wrong doing is innocent until proved guilty. Unfortunately all justice systems come under pressure in practice and the theory can be tested to a point of failure. In his Coventry lecture, Greg LeMond refers to the fact that people have been found guilty and executed in the US on evidence that is more circumstantial than in most cycling doping cases. One positive of the protracted doping cases is the fact that most avenues of guilt and innocence can be explored through extensive evidence gathering.
However, the protracted nature of doping cases is a drawback in allowing a rider to remain innocent. Read autobiographies of riders in the 1970s and 1980s and although a positive test meant a slap on the wrists and a time penalty, justice was meted out swiftly. compare that with today where we are told that the outcome of the Contador case will hopefully be resolved by CAS before this year’s Tour. Whether he did or didn’t, Contador is riding under a continued cloud. Whilst speculation after a case will never be stopped, a more efficient system could provide some greater certainty. This requires some clarity in the evidence required, the responsibility of riders and officials and the process to be followed, all in black and white without room for manoeuvre.
This is far from the case at the moment. With advancements in doping technologies and practices so the fight has been taken in new directions. The biological passport is one such move and a welcome addition when it first arrived. However, most people’s faith in this system seems to have been tested to various limits and it is unclear what is adding to the system but further speculation. The revelation today of the UCI’s leaked list of suspicious riders from last year’s Tour is based in significant part on riders’ values from their bio-passport prior to the event. But rather than the bio-passport being used to target and take action against riders it appears merely to add to speculation and conjecture without any hard evidence. From a lay-persons perspective it is easy to understand what a positive dope test is but can you understand the parameters of guilt coming from the passport? And this latest leak is another grey area in the fight: the UCI deny it is binding, others see it as valuable tool in the fight, and the press/blogs/twitter buzz with more speculation and counter-claim. William Fortheringham’s Twitter suggestion that we compare our own list against the UCIs highlights just how this latest development appears far from scientific. My own view of the list suggests there are some erroneous cases at both ends. If it were a piece of student coursework I’d want to see the evidence on which it is based before marking it as anything but mediocre. It discredits any hard work underpinning it.
Ever since Operacion Puerto it appears that increasingly circumstantial evidence is being used in the fight against doping and this is an approach which will harm rather than strengthen the sport as it strengthens mistrust, as if the professional cycling world didn’t have enough of this already. Add to this the manner in which riders’ liaisons with persons of dubious character is also seen as a mark of the doper and we have lots of conjecture and little hard evidence. For example Franco Pellizotti was convicted following his biological passport data and liaisons with Dr Michele Ferrari. It is now known that Pellizotti trained behind Ferrari’s motorbike with Vincenzo Nibali. Of course Nibali has not been sanctioned but I’m sure the rumours have now got stronger around his own efficacy. No longer is a positive dope test the path to guilt we have now employed bad science and poor choice of friends where the lines are blurred.
So once again its a case of who’s zooming who? The riders running rings around the administrators who are running rings around the riders and us, the viewing public. Instead of greater certainty, the system is akin to a barrel of eels. Once again, I’m not condoning dopers but if the powers that be have any hope of catching them there needs to be much improved clarity of the system not so that riders can evade it but so that the rest of us can understand when the rules have been broken. For a system to be fair the evidence has to be more than circumstantial. Catching the dopers will always be a game of catch-up unless trust is built through improved clarity of the system.
Cycling Weekly has published a response by three of the rider named on the UCI list. Make your up minds up but two make some sense, the other highlights hte issue of evidence: http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/news/latest/525587/popovych-sky-millar-react-to-being-listed-suspicious.html