Should We Just Let the Tour de France Dopers Dope Away?

Now that virtually every cyclist in the Tour de France has been booted for doping, is it time to consider a radical rethinking of the doping issue?

Is it time, perhaps, to come up with a pre-approved list of performance-enhancing agents and procedures, require the riders to accept full responsibility for whatever long-term physical and emotional damage these agents and procedures may produce, and let everyone ride on a relatively even keel without having to ban the leader every third day?

If the cyclists are already doping, why should we worry about their health? If the sport is already so gravely compromised, why should we pretend it hasn’t been?

After all, doping in the Tour is nothing new. According to this MSNBC.com article, it was cycling that introduced the sports world to doping:

[T]he history of modern doping began with the cycling craze of the 1890s and the six-day races that lasted from Monday morning to Saturday night. Extra caffeine, peppermint, cocaine and strychnine were added to the riders’ black coffee. Brandy was added to tea. Cyclists were given nitroglycerine to ease breathing after sprints. This was a dangerous business, since these substances were doled out without medical supervision.

Are there parallels to be made between legalizing narcotics and allowing cyclists to use performance enhancers chosen from an approved list? I wonder what Gary Becker would have to say on the subject.


mvanderdonk

Simpler solution (and somewhat cheaper for everyone). Have two separate classes. Free-for-all and prescribed. Free-for-all don't get tested for drugs, doping, robot replacements or any other enhancement they care to use. The prescribed group keeps the existing limits. Both race at the same time - two winners, two times. Somewhat like large boat races where many different sise and type of boats race together (Sydney to Hobart is one that comes to mind).

kenneth

Over the last few weeks the story of Marco Pantani has come to mind several times, and again here: Marco Pantani, he was a star, perhaps the most exciting rider of his generation, and, along with everyone else at that times, was using various drugs.

I think two points from this are relevant a)Pantani died in 2004 at the end of a spiral that was enabled by the liberal attitude to drugs in le tour - to allow drugs would lead to more like Pantani or the 7 others in this Guardian article (http://sport.guardian.co.uk/cycling/story/0,10482,1149111,00.html) and b)cycling's authorities and fans have accepted cheats as a part of the culture, after Pantani died, a stage (16) was in honour of him. The continental Europeans have ignored test and accepted and celebrated cheats - and this has led, once more to a climate of drugs.

re: Lance Armstrong - he saved the tour, without him and the American money and attention between 1999 and 2005, it probably would have collapsed. The last big scandal ('98) was followed by a short escape when Armstrong reigned. Before him, there was real scandal, after him real scandal - in the middle, we have the one person the French consider a cheat, with no positive tests, no team culture of drugs and no arrests - and they hate him, maybe they deserve the tour to be shunned by the rest of the world.

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egretman

...in the middle, we have the one person the French consider a cheat, with no positive tests, no team culture of drugs and no arrests - and they hate him,

The French don't hate Lance. The self appointed keepers of French culture may hate him and the pulp press may make money by playing up rumours about him, but the French people don't hate him.

Chris S.

I think we are too eager to accept the "doping" label without asking what it actually means and how chemicals or practices are declared inappropriate. Being banned by an anti-doping authority cannot possibly be sufficient to make a chemical or practice "bad".

By accepting the "drugs are bad, mkay..." mantra we can easily forget that athletes consume a plethora of chemicals that enhance performance, ranging from the utterly benign (Gatorade) to the current doping posterboy, EPO.

I am hardly advocating a democratic approach to determining what constitutes "doping", as I think that very few of us have the knowledge to make that determination. However, I do think that we should be aware that the underlying goal of banning certain chemicals and practices is to prevent athletes from taking excessive risks to their lives and health in the pursuit of victory.

To fail to be consciously aware of this goal is to risk failing to view athletic competition from its proper perspective. Far too many athletes (and fans, too) elevate victory in sport above all else. And as several commentors have already pointed out: FloJo (and many others) have died from that attitude.

Chris S.

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Buckley

I'm pretty sure SNL did a skit on this premise in the early 90's... Something like the "All Drug Olympics." I think Dana Carvey was a weightlifter who ended up ripping his own arms off trying to dead lift a huge amount of weight.. Still, he couldn't feel any pain because he was also doped up on tons of painkillers.

Matt

Not sure I buy the paradigm about focusing on whether sports are "merely entertainment" or "something more." The way sports entertain is through competition, and fans are likely to lose interest in competition if the playing field isn't level. Player's incentive to dope is either that it may give them an edge, or that others are doing it, so they will be at a disadvantage if they stay clean. A list of legal doping products would lower those incentive unless it excluded something that would provide a significant edge. In cycling, if EPO, testosterone, and blood doping were made legal, the incentive to use these methods would go up (it would be more likely that your competition took advantage of them, and you'd be at a disadvantage.) But the incentive to use other methods, would go down. That's because the other methods would provide a smaller incremental benefit compared to the risk of being caught. Similar dynamic to legalizing marijuana.

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Scott

Some limited allowable doping would save the sport from its current state of out-of-control hypocrisy. What is wrong with saying:

1. Micro-dosing is ok, so long as you are passing in and out of competition doping controls.

2. No blood transfusions, but we acknowledge we can't catch you if it's your own blood. If you do this, it's at your own risk, sign this waiver.

3. Innocent until proven guity, and Equipe doesn't get the test result before you do. Different labs confirm tests. After one year, all doping samples destroyed.

4. Electronic registery thoughout the season, and must enter minimum number of events throughout the entire cycling season to race in a GT.

5. If caught, two year ban. Pay back prize money, lose final placing in historical record from time of doping offense.

Doesn't sound that different from what we have now, but at least there's not this phoniness.

Maximus

Germany and other countries do not enforce speed limit (it is against the liberty of the individual),some states here do not enforce the use of helmet while on a motorcycle, and so on.Why should the state be the watchdog for such matters.If they wanted to really care about the health and lifes of the citizens, let's fine overeaters.
Why do we have to be concerned wether steroids hurt the athletes? They are adults in the full use of their faculties and free will.
Let's have one league, circuit or tour with drugs and another without, and everybody would be happy.
Maximus

WM Runner

If steroids are made legal for adult athletes, are equally dangerous street drugs then made legal for "responsible" adults as well? The logic doesn't work. Cycling needs to be clean.

wheelnut53

Yeah let them dope it up all they want and I want to see the video. can you imagine what it would look like just how fast can you go on a bike in the mountains with those steep rocky cliffs.

Chris S.

Although I'm hardly an expert on the subject, a former colleague of mine was a competitive powerlifter. He explained that there were to major powerlifting circuits: one focused exclusively on the amount of weight lifted, with no drug testing; the other relied on rigorous testing (periodic testing to maintain membership, testing immediately prior to lifting to compete) to ensure drug-free lifting.

Each circuit had its own adherents and fans.

Might this be a workable model? Establish a "clean" league, and an "anything goes" league?

Chris S.

amit

That's an idea that's been floated many times. The problem is a professional sport needs sponsors to make money.

Fans may like the spectaacle of doped up superhuman athletes, but mainstream sponsors won't want to be a part of it.

That is the case with wrestling (or ultimate fighting), which is why those sports rely on revenue from pay-per-view.

I suppose cycling could go the same route and market itself as a freakshow.

schadenfreude

I think it comes down to the role you believe sport plays in our society. If you view professional sports merely as entertainment, doping will not hurt the sport any more than breast implants have hurt the motion picture industry. But if you view sports as something more and the athletes as role models and you are going around wearing yellow bands with inspirational words on them, then the athletes had better be clean.

wk633

I think an 'accepted list' is ridiculous. What they're doing now is breaking the rules. What makes you think they won't break new rules? The only 'rule' that you could introduce would be 'anything goes'. I'm sure some segment of the population would keep watching, but it would suck for everyone (fans and racers) who want a clean sport.

The really frustrating part for me is that the same scrutiny isn't being applied to other sports. Some IOC members are talking about removing cycling from the Olympics. Wouldn't that be irony if Barry Bonds were in an Olympics without cycling.

Anyone who doesn't think doping is rampant in any sport with money involved is fooling themselves.

clsand99

I was just on ESPN.com & they have a fan poll about doping in cycling. The results expose how impractical public opinion is on this issue. 85% of all respondents (these polls usually generate 100K+ voters) believe that cycling can NEVER be dope free. Then two questions later, 82% (just about all the same people) believe that any cycler caught doping should receive a "lifetime ban"! So basically, public opinion is that we should shut down the sport completely!

discordian

The pressure has to come from within the community. Right now it looks like a culture of "he does it, so I better do it too to stay competetive".

I say ban all current professional cyclists and coaches for life and start from scratch with the up and comers who can be brought into a non-doping culture.

Either that or make doping mandatory.

hcordner

People who think cycling is the only sport with a doping problem have their heads in the proverbial sand. Cycling isn't the only sport with a doping problem; it's just the one whose athletes get caught the most. Because top names are tested and pulled, cycling loses its credibility even while it's trying to clean up its act.

That said, I really don't think an "approved" list is the solution. I agree that it comes down to the role that sports play in society: are they grand metaphors for the human spirit? Or are they simply entertainment? Of course, there is also the problem of, as posters have already stated, what's to stop competitors from crossing that line?

No, the WADA needs to step up its game. Harsher penalties for, not just athletes, but teams and sponsors are needed. The American sports leagues of the NFL, NBA, and MLB are far more guilty of not taking doping seriously than is cycling. Case in point, the NFL hands down a "harsh" FOUR GAME suspension for a first time offender.

We need to break the doping omerta, the culture of acceptance of PED use in professional sports.

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ftelegdy

"85% of all respondents ... believe that cycling can NEVER be dope free. Then two questions later, 82% ... believe that any cycler caught doping should receive a 'lifetime ban'! So basically, public opinion is that we should shut down the sport completely!"

There's a flaw in your logic. A basic logic principle is that just because all of A are B doesn't mean that all of B are A. Or, just because all [riders who are not dope-free] are [riders] doesn't mean that all [riders] are [riders who are not dope-free].

You're equating the idea of "all riders not being dope-free" with the idea of "EVERY rider is using dope."

Let's use an example of how the 80%+ of people could have it right...

Say that currently the sport is 50% riders who dope and there are 1,000 professional riders. That gives us 500 who dope and 500 who don't.

If 400 of the dopers are caught and given a lifetime ban, that leaves us 500 who don't dope and 100 who do. We now have 16.67% of riders who dope out of 600 riders.

If, a year later, 250 riders join the sport and 50 of them dope, that gives us a total of 150 (100 previous + 50 new) who dope and 700 who don't (500 previous + 200 new) for a total of 850 riders. This is a 17.6% doping rate.

If 100 of the dopers are caught and given a lifetime ban, that leaves us 700 who don't dope and 50 who do. We now have 6.67% of riders who dope out of 750 riders.

And so on and so forth. The idea is that lifetime bans would promote a "cleaning up" of the sport, as shown in the example by a decline in the percentage of dopers.

I don't think anyone is foolish enough to think that any sport will ever be dope-free, but handing out lifetime bans would likely go a long way towards limiting how prevalent the problem is.

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egretman

Actually, I'm getting more and more impressed with the testing that the tour does. Makes Lance look even better. Makes baseball look like a bunch of charlatans.

And let's face it, the tour is largely boring without a Lance or doping scandals. So watching the fools keep getting caught is kind of fun.

Bill Basso

Not every rider has tested positive. The set of riders who have tested positive is nowhere near All. Two have during the race and one has tested positive in an out of competition testing before the event started. As a statistician you can see the fallacy of claiming three out of nearly two hundred is "virtually every".

Despite what many sensationalist Headlines and misguided journalists have been saying Tour leader Rassmussen did not test positive. He was not banned. No leader in this year's tour was banned. He was given a warning for not informing the Danish sporting authorities of his where abouts so he could be available for random out of competition testing. He was allowed to continue competing. No sanctions were imposed.

What happened was his team fired him for lying to them when they learned from eyewitnesses he was training in Italy not Mexico as he had claimed.

What is happening in cycling is important. Sport is not sporting if it requires a staff of doping experts to keep you competitive. That is cheating and if it were to be allowed to continue it would be no better than Wrestling, Baseball or American Football.

It is misleading to say doping in sport started with cycling. It has been around as long as there was sport. The ancients doped. Dante mentioned how athletes were tempted to drug abuse and had a place in Hell for them long before the bicycle was invented.

Cycling is the first sport to stand up and seek a solution. Drug testing in sport first started in cycling after the horrible drug related death of world champion Tom Simpson forty years ago.

In Europe, cyclists are being criminally prosecuted for fraud which is what the use of performance enhancing drugs is.

People shouldn't be outraged that some athletes are being found guilty of cheating. People should be outraged that so many sports actually encourage it. And it's not just the Eastern Bloc, or the Chinese, or the Europeans... it is us too. Look at the growth of average size in all US Pro sports. It's not due to obesity.

So please, stop trying to compare cycling to the WWE. It is nowhere in that realm. Instead, demand the same standards that cycling is putting forth to be placed in all sport. How can you take Baseball seriously until Barry Bonds is fired just like Rassmussen was. Bonds should be in jail not chasing Hank's record.

That a #1 team would be willing to fire it's best athlete just for suspicion shows how serious the sport of cycling is.

It's not time to backpedal. It's time to take this problem as seriously as cycling now is because you can be assured there are High School and Junior High coaches all throughout the US who see nothing wrong with shooting up children with veterinary grade pharmaceuticals from mexico and used needles just so they can excel.

Legalize it and kids will be buying "Barry Bonds Brand Stanozol" in the school bookstore. And this is what you are calling for when you want to legalize doping.

It's bad enough to see top baseball players pitch over the counter stimulants that they use to keep their head clear so they can play. This mentality needs to be stopped from the top down. Otherwise, get your toddlers on a program now if you want them to make it through gym class.

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