Jonathan wrote a long rant for cyclingnews. And I don’t say this often, but I think you should read it. Unlike his op-ed in the New York Times (“riders are just looking for a level playing field and wouldn’t dope if they didn’t have to”, that sort of stuff) which I didn’t like, this rant is actually clear and quite concise. I really like it and I even agree with most of it:
- Indeed the problem is all of cycling, not Lance, or a team, or a president. It’s (nearly) everybody and everything. Either by their actions or their lack of action.
- While I wouldn’t say it applies to every top athlete, I think there is little doubt that the selection process to get to the pro ranks of any sport favor those who want to win at all costs, and although doping is maybe not their favorite “cost” to win, it is more tempting than to the average human being (you know, the one who was weeded out of the selection process for pro sports when he skipped gym class on the second day). It doesn’t make them any better or worse, other people are tempted by other things (tax evasion, shop lifting, infidelity, whatever).
- It doesn’t mean every athlete would cheat if they had the chance, far from it, but it does mean that relying on everybody respecting a level playing field when doping would “unlevel” it in your favor is naive.
- Funding is a bottleneck in anti-doping and it needn’t be. Vaughters commented before that asking teams to pay more to the UCI – an organization they have issues with – is a non-starter and that this hampered anti-doping efforts. I thought this issue is easily solved (give the money for anti-doping to somebody else) and Vaughters makes the same point here. In fact where I dreamed of 18 million, he shoots for 40. Fine by me.
- This may be the best and strongest current in cycling right now, the push to get a completely independent anti-doping process set up. Independent from the federation, and one would hope independent from the national federations which frustrate an expedient and believable resolution of any doping violation.
- Even better, it’s not really something the teams need to wait on the UCI for. Anti-doping enforcement can be integrated into the employment relationship between team and rider. As long as every team agrees and deals with it uniformly, it can be done in a way that protects the riders too (and doesn’t favor riders of one team over another). It will take some time to implement, as I am not a fan of breaking open existing employment contracts, but we need to have the long view on this problem anyway. There are no quick fixes.
One issue not really resolved in the end is that – whether you like it or not – you have to decide what to do with the people. If everybody is to blame, what do you do? It’s too simple to say “everybody was wrong but we’ll now have independent doping monitoring so it doesn’t matter”. Maybe that works, but it works in the way East-Germany worked. Repression can only survive for so long.
To achieve more permanent change in the mind-set inside the sport, some people will have to leave. You need fresh blood (no pun intended) to tip the balance. A very simplistic bit of logic: If you have 20 teams and 15 want to cheat, the remaining five will lose out. If 15 want to play by the rules, they will be able to pressure the other five. As I’ve said many times, right now cycling claims that “everything has changed”. Everything, except the people. That is not believable or sustainable.
You could achieve this by replacing absolutely everybody. Toss out all bureaucrats, all team management, all riders, sponsors, everybody. Don’t say it can’t be done, that you need the expertise. You don’t, a sport only requires fans. The rest will follow.
Fans are not served by better race tactics or more clever governance, they are served by exciting sports. And the wisdom gathered by those in the sport isn’t necessary to properly entertain fans. Somebody dreamt up boarder-cross on a rainy afternoon and it got into the Olympics in a blink of an eye. Nobody said it couldn’t be done because they lacked experience.
There is a lot of knowledge people have in cycling, so tossing them out would mean the racing would be a lot less sophisticated and probably slower. But no less attractive to those watching, so in the end that knowledge is useless for the survival of the sport. It’s only useful in competition with for example teams run by people with similar knowledge. And that same knowledge is actually what has damaged it mostly in the past.
Now, I am not actually suggesting cycling has to go that far; it’s a solution but not necessary nor desirable. You do however need that shift in the balance, to get 15 out of 20 teams going in the right direction. So some will have to leave and be replaced by people without a history. In-breeding or nepotism are not the solutions.
Note: I speak about teams mostly as an example, the same applies to the other players in the sport.