On Tuesday, Alberto Contador made known what many had assumed: he wasn’t about to appeal through CAS – the Court for Arbitration in Sport – the backdated 2 year suspension he was given for his 2010 Tour de France doping violation (the origins of which are still open to debate). With a return date of 17th August this year it is probably pragmatism which has driven this if not a personal wish to put an end to the torrid affair. But in an interesting footnote his spokesman (aka his brother) had said: “His lawyers are studying other channels such as the possibility of taking it to Tribunal in Strasbourg (the European Court of Human Rights)”. So no sporting basis on which to make an appeal but seemingly some infringement on human rights. The questions here are then: whose human rights and how have they been infringed?
This is not an isolated case in cycling. Andrei Kashekin claimed his human rights were infringed when his he was tracked down to a Turkish beach to give a sample – he said he was on holiday. Franco Pellizotti has suggested the same over his biological passport based infringement. And Alejandro Valverde based his claim of human rights abuses on the fact that the evidence used to convict him were gathered extra-territorially. In all of the cases the evidence showed that based on the procedures to which they had submitted themselves by taking out racing licences and becoming professional cyclists, the riders had cheated. But still there was some infringement of their human rights.
On Monday afternoon, Cardiff Blues announced that they had sacked wayward player Gavin Henson. Henson had been drunk and abusive on a flight from Glasgow to Cardiff at 7am whilst travelling back with the club from a Friday night fixture. In response to his dismissal a number of rugby figures came out and said it was unfair – an over-reaction, a means to cut costs and that the club itself should be held accountable for its actions leading up to the incident. Yet at the end of the day it was Henson who “stupidly carried on drinking on the flight” (his words not mine), it was Henson whose behaviour was unacceptable by his own admission and it is Henson who has to carry the can. For those who might think it was an over reaction this is not Henson’s first such altercation therefore the room for leniency is limited. Henson is a professional rugby player and as such would be expected by his club and the wider public to behave in a professional manner. Paul Rees outlines this rather well.
Both the doping cases and the drunken behaviour of Gavin Henson illustrate breaches of accepted norms of behaviour. In Henson’s case one can assume that Cardiff Blues would have had regulations in respect of the way their players, as employees, are to behave when on Club business. As Henson was flying home with the club when the incident took place that would likely be a clear breach of those rules, just as office workers have found to their peril after incidents at office Christmas parties. As for Contador and his friends, as cyclists they signed up to a set of rules by which the sport is governed, things they can do and things they cannot. By doping they broke those rules. Equally they gave their consent to be tested for doping products and practices using the methods set out by the sport’s governing bodies. They did not claim their rights were infringed when they signed up to their profession. I am still at a loss to understand how it is an infringement now.
There are two salient issues from all of this. First, the professionalism of a growing minority of sportsmen (as they usually are though not exclusively men) appears to be limited to being paid to do a sport. Where professional footballers have led the way, athletes from other sports have decided to follow. It is unfortunate but perhaps just human nature when open to a wide array of temptation. Second, and more worrying, is the way in which the human rights are used and abused. For those who negate their responsibilities by cheating and breaking the rules to claim their rights have been infringed is an insult. It is an insult to those around the world whose human rights have been denied by acts of genocide, rape, torture or slavery through no fault of their own but being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We all have rights in life. We have a right to work. We have a right not to be persecuted. We have a right to choose. Those of us who have the freedom to enjoy them have a responsibility that goes with it. Negating that responsibility is a choice. If you choose to break the rules that is your right but expect the penalty. Life’s not fair but we learn from our mistakes, usually the hard way.