Announce a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to hiring people with a doping past and you get ridiculed. That’s the position Team Sky’s Dave Brailsford finds himself in. Just think about that for a second.
Don’t think about how easy or difficult it is to implement, on whether it helps or hurts the omerta, or on what ex-dopers have to offer. Just think about the mere notion of trying to only hire people without a doping past and being ridiculed for it? That’s fucked up, I have no other words for it.
Now, I’ve been unkind to Team Sky on some occasions, and I have my doubts about their direction, but let’s face it; NOBODY has any clue how to fix cycling, not Pat McQuaid, not Jonathan Vaughters, not Brailsford, not me and not you.
So in such a situation, it should be applauded that various people try various things and we’ll see what sticks. Just think of cycling as one enormous sociological experiment right now.
Now to the nuts and bolts of the zero-tolerance policy:
- Some are concerned that especially in the support staff, a zero-tolerance policy means there isn’t much choice and the quality of your support staff will suffer. Really? The average level of sports directors – doped or clean – is pretty mediocre. Do we think that Slipstream has good sports directors because they hire ex-dopers? Did we see the now-exposed ex-doping Sky directors make brilliant tactical decisions this year? I don’t think so.
- In fact, one could argue that in most sports, the stars don’t make good coaches whereas the struggling players turn into coaching stars. Well, it’s hard to deny that clean riders have been struggling since the advent of EPO!
- Additionally, so much of a sports director’s job in cycling is organizational rather than strategical/tactical that racing experience and success (including the doping associated with it) is even less important. In fact, I’m not sure why ex-riders qualify for that job at all. I think I’m with Paul Koechli on this one.
- Then the recurring argument of ex-dopers having so much to give to the sport. I don’t get it. Of course they may really love the sport, but more than those clean ones they pushed out? They might really have an insight, but more than the clean rider or the die-hard fan or the journalist or the mechanic? As Arigo Sacchi used to say: You don’t have to have been a good horse to be a good jockey.
- To me (and confirmed by Sean Yates who explained that as a sports director he was just driving a car and not much else), the sports director is not a crucial role, at least not during a race. Do we think that sports directors make a race more exciting? I’m sure very few people would think that’s the case. And since in the end the only point of professional cycling races is to be exciting to fans (so that they watch, see the teams, love the sponsors, buy the products and indirectly pay the riders’ salaries), let’s get rid of the sports director and simply eliminate this issue of whether or not they are a positive influence on riders and whether their past helps or hurts.
However, where Team Sky’s zero-tolerance backfires is in what it is trying to prove. The stated goal was that Team Sky wanted to be a clean team with no reason for doubt. And that they could only erase all doubt if their staff had no doping background.
So following Sky’s own logic, now that some of its people turn out to have a doping background, there is doubt. Their logic, not mine. This doesn’t mean they were dirty, but again, by their own logic, there is now doubt.
In other words, they either now say “hm, we had some ex-doping staff, so now we can’t be sure about our performances in 2012” or they say “we’re still sure about our 2012 performances, so apparently it is very well possible to run a clean team with a staff of ex-dopers, and you don’t need a zero-tolerance policy to ensure a clean team”.
Maybe it is time for everybody to realize the Sky isn’t blue, white or black; it’s grey. Having a 100% clean staff never guaranteed a clean team just like having some ex-dopers on staff never meant a team definitely doped.
Note: Just to be abundantly clear, I have no problem with a zero-tolerance policy, teams should be free to restrict the pool of candidates for various positions as much as they see fit. I just don’t see it as “proof” of being clean.