Busy Days

by Rant on May 29, 2008 · 8 comments

in Doping in Sports, Floyd Landis

It’s been a busy week for the CAS, with something like four cases making the news this week. Not all were related to doping, and news reports of at least one case (Nick D’Arcy) missed part of the story. TBV got it right, however.

In the D’Arcy case, the swimmer is trying to get back onto the Australian Olympic swimming team after the head of the AOC tossed him off the squad, following a drunken altercation between D’Arcy and another swimmer. Long story short, the other swimmer got a pretty rough beating from D’Arcy and D’Arcy was ejected from the swim team.

The CAS, in their ruling, noted that D’Arcy had violated AOC rules, and so the AOC would be justified in removing him from their team. What wasn’t reported so well was that the decision also noted that the head of the AOC didn’t have the power to unilaterally eject D’Arcy from the squad. The entire AOC had to make that call. So the CAS basically sent the case back to the AOC, saying “try again.” If they don’t, the CAS is willing to step in and make the decision.

So, as it stands, D’Arcy won a partial victory. But he’s not off the hook. And given what he’s alleged to have done, he shouldn’t be, either.

Another interesting case involved a Japanese football (soccer) player, who was battling a decision to sanction him over the use a saline/vitamin B1 solution. The CAS ruled that the Japanese football federation couldn’t sanction the player, as the rules under which they were trying to punish him weren’t in effect at the time — and even if they were, the player was still not at fault and hadn’t done anything wrong.

A couple of other cases came and went. And then there’s the Justin Gatlin case, which was heard in New York on the 28th and 29th. Gatlin’s case is interesting in a number of ways, but perhaps most interesting in that the two side are battling for exactly opposite outcomes.

On the Gatlin side, he’s trying to get his ban reduced to two years, so that he may compete at the US Olympic trials at the end of June. On the IAAF side, they’re arguing that he should have a life ban, due to a previous positive test. How to make heads and tails of this?

Back in 2001, Gatlin tested positive for a banned substance at a college track meet. At the time (and perhaps still), he was taking medication for ADHD, and the positive result was because of the ingredients in the medication. Over the course of a year, Gatlin and his representatives worked through the system and ultimately had the ban that had been imposed on him dropped.

At the time, the IAAF warned Gatlin that although his punishment had been lifted, they still considered the result a first offense. Next time, things would be more difficult. And, they are, for both sides.

The next time came during the Kansas Relays in 2006. Gatlin tested positive for testosterone and ultimately lost his appeal. The panel deciding his case determined that the 2006 test result was indeed a second offense. They suspended him from competition for four years, half of the eight-year ban that could have been imposed.

At this point, Gatlin is roughly at the half-way point on the four-year ban. Gatlin wants to compete in Beijing, so he’s trying to convince the CAS that because his first positive was a result of prescription medication he was using, it should be taken off his record.

And, since that first incident in 2001, he’s played a role in the BALCO investigation, going so far as to wear a wire and allow conversations with various BALCO-associated figures to be recorded (think Trevor Graham, whose own story is playing out this week). His legal team is arguing, in essence, for leniency.

On the other side, the IAAF wants Gatlin’s ban extended to eight years, which effectively would be a life ban. As Eurosport reported in March:

“The IAAF’s view is that Justin was publicly informed after he committed the first doping offence that any repetition could lead to a life ban,” IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said.

“We are not prepared to accept a reduction to four years.”

In a press release put out this evening, the CAS says that the Gatlin decision will be announced on June 6th. The written opinion, however, will be released at a later time. If the decision goes Gatlin’s way, he will be free to compete for a spot on the US Olympic team. If not, it will be a while (if ever) before he will be able to compete again.

Sometime in the future — though no indication has been given as to exactly when — the CAS will be issuing it’s decision on Floyd Landis’ appeal. News stories have suggested that the case will be decided in June (and in a few cases suggesting that it might be early June, at that). One source I’ve talked to recently says that may not be the case. My source declined to give any specifics on if a target date has been set for the decision, or when that might be, except to say that early June was not likely to be when the decision will be released.

Time will tell, of course. In the meantime, there’s a whole lot of racing going on. On Saturday, Landis will be taking part in the Mohican 100. With a bit of luck, and six weeks of training since the Cohutta 100, Landis may fare a bit better than he did in Tennessee back in April.

Meanwhile …

Over at the Washington Post is an article about cycling’s current state, with a number of quotes from St. David of Millar. The article, from my first read of it, missed an important part of the doping story — and given the paper’s past, it’s a bit surprising. Back in the Watergate era, the source known as “Deep Throat” told Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to “follow the money.” If we were to follow the money, so to speak, in terms of doping in cycling, where would it lead?

The story of doping in cycling is long. Very long. Back to the 1890s long. But doping isn’t just about cyclists using drugs to win races. There are doctors and others who participate in, organize, and benefit from the results of doped cyclists. It’s all well and good to try to catch the cyclists who are cheating and punish them for doing so, but that only addresses the demand side of the problem.

The supply side is just as big an issue. And while there may be a code of silence among cyclists, we don’t seem to hear nearly as much about sponsors who demand results regardless of how they’re gotten. We don’t hear as much about those who organize the efforts behind the scenes. Most of the time, when a story focuses on doping in cycling, it focuses on the riders who are using (or rumored to be using) performance-enhancing drugs.

Reporter John Ward Anderson writes:

Cycling is being criticized by fans, media members, sponsors and anti-doping advocates for fostering an illegal drug culture and a code of silence to protect it …

Well, yes, that’s true. But some sponsors have been involved — if not directly, then indirectly — in organized doping programs. Sponsors want good publicity, after all, and seeing their athletes winning and having their photographs plastered all over the sports pages is good publicity. The thing is, doping in cycling doesn’t exist just because some cyclists (how many depends on who you ask) choose to dope. That culture of doping, if it exists, has many who are responsible.

“There were lots of warning signs, but they turned a blind eye to it for too many years,” said John Wilcockson, the editor of VeloNews, a cycling magazine and Web site.

“They” presumably is the UCI. But it could be equally said about many others, including some in the media.

“Ten years after the Festina affair, if everyone had wanted to do something about it, the problem would be fixed,” said Christian Prudhomme, the director of the Tour de France.

True again. If everyone wanted to fix the problem, enough resources could have been brought to bear to solve the problem. Race organizers could have done something. Sponsors could have done something. Lots of players could have done something. But most were content to sit on their arses and let the show go on. There was a veneer of fighting the problem, but only a thin veneer.

Yes, the World Anti-Doping Agency was born (in part) out of the ashes of the Festina scandal. And also due to a certain credibility problem the IOC had in 1998 and 1999 over a large number doping scandals, as well as a small dust-up over bribes given to various Olympic officials by cities hoping to win the privilege of hosting the Olympics (can you say Salt Lake City?).

It has not been a perfect solution. The goals are laudable. The organization and implementation of efforts to achieve those goals has fallen short of the mark.

The fact that cycling teams need to run their own programs to discourage doping is a positive step — as long as those programs really are intended to discourage doping. Having spoken with Paul Strauss last fall, I have no doubts about the Agency for Cycling Ethics’ program. And, I have a high degree of confidence in the programs run by Rasmus Damsgaard.

But one has to acknowledge that there may be some teams who will implement such programs not so much to discourage doping as to ensure that no one gets caught. Just like the East Germans did way back when. Their best way of beating the doping labs was having one of their own — and using their own research as a means to determine when certain drugs had to be stopped so that they would clear the athlete’s system by the time of an in-competition drug test.

At least St. David Millar, having been through his own personal purgatory, sees some light at the end of the tunnel:

“I’m very representative of my sport. I cheated, and that’s it,” Millar said. “For the last decade, it’s been affair after affair, story after story, admission after admission, and the fans are finally giving up. But the doping culture is turning into an anti-doping culture, and in five years, we are going to be at the vanguard of anti-doping and ethical sponsorship. It will no longer be — just take our $5 million, put our name here, and we don’t care what happens. We could be an example for all sports.”

Perhaps St. David is right. Perhaps cycling is turning the corner. But if it is, it will take all of those involved in cycling — including sponsors, race organizers, the governing bodies, as well as the cyclists — to turn things around. It’s going to take a complete culture shift within the whole of the sport to make certain that if cycling has changed direction, it’s not heading straight off a cliff.

Post to Twitter

William Schart May 30, 2008 at 7:15 am

If we don’t know the true nature of the problem, we cannot effectively design a program to solve the problem. WADA is largely following the theory that all athletes are guilty dopers who mostly haven’t (yet) been caught while ignoring, by and large, the involvement of others (teams, doctors, etc.) What efforts have been directed against the later have largely come from police/government investigations. Variations in laws causes problems. Remember, the OP affair was dropped by Spain because what was alleged to have gone on was apparently not against Spanish law at the time.

Hard facts about the nature and extent of the doping problem are hard to come by. WADA does not release all information they have; we don’t know, for example, how many A positives are backed up by B sample testing and how many are not. In addition, the nature and extent of the current testing program is insufficient to draw statistically valid conclusions from. So we don’t really know if 90-95% of riders dope (as some hold) or if a lesser percentage dopes. Eddie Merckx has stated he thinks about 25% dope. About 3% to maybe 5% of riders tested are positive, for what its worth.

If teams and sponsors are actively involved in doping, that needs to be addressed. This would be any area that UCI could get involved with. If private doctors are providing drugs and expertise, then the authorities need to get involved and if necessary, countries need to pass laws to ban such activities. Perhaps even drug companies themselves need to be investigated to see if they are deliberately and knowing making more drugs than are needed for legitimate medical use and allowing them to be diverted to illicit purposes.

ludwig May 30, 2008 at 1:01 pm

The practice of omerta is designed to prevent team managers and doctors from being held accountable. That’s really it in a nutshell–if the sponsors, race organizers, and fans tolerate omerta, then you will have doping. In order to change cycling, sponsors need to feel that the consequences of doping outweigh the benefits of victory. For that, you need better tests, a more vigilant media, teams and managers being held accountable, and far less tolerance for doping and omerta.

Right now, the testing is simply not good enough. This is the truth that no one is prepared to admit. Maybe if cycling spent 10 times as much on detection they might get somewhere, but that’s a very expensive proposition.

And I can’t share your optimism that these team-based “anti-doping” programs are the answer, especially of the Damsgaard variety. Seriously, what reason is there to believe that Riis and Bruyneel manage clean teams? I worry that a hypocritical precedent is being set and 5-10 years down the line it will blow up in cycling’s face.

In any case, as long as some riders and teams in the race are cheating and suffering no consequences, the temptation for every one else will be overwhelming.

Rant May 30, 2008 at 1:29 pm

I’m not sure that the code of silence that may exist is really designed to prevent team management and doctors from being held accountable, so much as a desire to protect one’s own self-interest. Someone who rats out those responsible will seriously diminish his/her employment chances down the road. It has the same effect as you’ve noted, though.
I agree on the need for better tests. That is a major shortcoming of the anti-doping system at the moment. But, as you say, developing better testing programs is an expensive proposition.
As far as Bjarne Riis and Johan Bruyneel go, let me ask you this: If David Millar is capable of learning from his mistakes and changing his ways, isn’t it possible that Riis and Bruyneel could, too? I do see the possibility of such programs as being a cover-up, rather than an honest attempt to clean house. It certainly depends on the team’s motivations. And it may take a bit of time to figure out whose motivations are to minimize doping, and whose are to continue the status quo and avoid getting caught.
To take you last statement a bit further, I think there will always be a temptation to cheat. That’s human nature. There are always those who are willing to break the rules in order to win. Building a culture that actively discourages that, and that imposes harsh consequences on those who do cheat will go a long way towards reducing the problem. But I suspect it will never completely go away.
In a nutshell, that’s it, isn’t it? We don’t know just how pervasive the problem is. Figuring out how to attack it is much more complicated when you don’t know the landscape.

William Schart May 30, 2008 at 6:31 pm

The various team-based testing programs are too new to make a valid judgement. I, for one, am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt regarding motivation, until one or more is shown to be motivated more by desire to hide doping than to discourage it. Although at this time I am not sure what would constitute proof of ulterior motives. An anti-doping program could be implemented with the best of intentions but fall short in execution.

Morgan Hunter May 31, 2008 at 11:29 am

ANYTHING – can be used for good or bad. It does not mean that something “should not” be used – because someone will apply it to their own ends. After all – isn’t this exactly the concept behind “cheating?”

Lets face it – the “alphabet soup mix” is not going to get better by itself.

Longitudinal testing – while not perfectly developed – does have the “potential” to be actually based in real science – at the very least – it narrows down the field of cheating to where the scientists actually have something concrete to work with.

After all – what the have the “alphabet soup mix” used as methods for determining who is cheating or who is not? Their rules and methods have little to do with FAIRNESS or JUSTICE – or SCIENCE – but everything to do with “creating” PUBLIC SPECTACLE to “show” that “they are doing their “work” – never mind that their successes costs a lot more then just money!

It would be “naive” to assume that the goal of any effort WILL NOT BE USED by individuals or groups to “cheat” – therefore to “nay say” the longitudinal testing because “it may be applied to cheat” is self defeating and not very logical. Please note – just how the alphabet soup is failing to apply testing – their only real purpose for existing. WADA – “world anti-doping organization” SHOULD BE SOLELY CONCENTRATING ON “TESTING!” Rather then DESTROYING individuals before they have had a chance to defend them selves against any accusation!

The general “impression” of the tifossi was at one time that there was an actual systematic procedure of testing in major races and at other “high probability times” when drug use would be in action.

WHAT HAVE WE FOUND OUT? – It’s a bunch of bull – according to “them” – the COST of testing is prohibitive! – WELL – what the heck is a 30 million dollar budget for? Or am I naive and not realize – that those “lunches” and international conferences cost a lot more and are more important then what the fundamental ground that the alphabet soup supposedly is in existence for?

With the inception and application of longitudinal testing – the only thing we need next to really concern ourselves with is the INTERPRETATION of the data – If the alphabet soup is given the power to “interpret” the results – we may certainly find that their “INTERNATIONAL panels” – will be as fair as their other existing panels, judges and scientists, and as “transparent!”

As Rant points out – “the urge to WIN” will always be a chance for individuals to cheat.

As William points out – “An anti-doping program could be implemented with the best of intentions but fall short in execution.”

How about steering ourselves towards some “common sense” as far as these issues are concerned? Awaiting a “magic bullet” solution seems a bit dim.

William Schart June 1, 2008 at 10:12 am

Whether or not any particular present day team based anti-drug program works, or whether it is a well-intentioned but meaningless effort, or whether it is merely an effort to ensure that team-doped riders are not caught by WADA or ASO; ultimately it will take team based programs to ensure that cycling is clean.

The current testing scheme only tests a small sample of riders, largely geared towards those who are good enough to win a stage or race. Lesser riders, even top 10 riders who do not win a stage stand a good chance of not being tested, except for the odd “random” test or OoC testing. Neither WADA and its affiliates, nor UCI, nor ASO has the financial resources to significantly increase the amount of testing. The theory seems to be that “we’ll nail the odd poor bastard we catch to the wall and hope we deter others.” Unless the small percentage of riders who actually are caught and sanctioned presents a valid picture of the nature of things, such deterrent is not working.

Many teams have been accused of actively running drug programs. Undoubtedly some have; others may be guilty of taking a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. Some teams may have taken a strong stand with vigorous anti-drug policies which were only backed up by the limited WADA testing program. Such a climate will foster a climate of cheating.

If teams take a strong anti-doping stand and back it up with a testing program of their own, the climate will change. More riders will get caught, since more riders will be tested. A team coach will be in a better position to judge if a rider’s improvement is due to training and/or maturation, or if some extra chemical help is likely to be involved. Sure, some teams could use a testing program to make sure their doping program is not detected by the official tests, but who’s to say teams have not already been doing that? If some of the teams that have been accused of devising programs that give their riders significant boosts while remaining undetected are indeed guilty of that, it would take more than just thinking “if we administer such a dosage and stop so long before the race, our riders will have an advantage but will not get caught”, it would take some confirmation that their program was actually undetectable.

Slipstream, Highroad and the like may or may not work immediately. but ultimately teams will need to do this, if only for their own protection.

BSMB June 1, 2008 at 8:33 pm
Rant June 2, 2008 at 5:55 am

Yes, it is a sad commentary. Seems that in some areas, winning means a suspicion that you’re cheating.

Previous post:

Next post: