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July 29/06 3:33 am - More Accountability Needed to Deal with Cheating


Posted by Editor on 07/29/06
 

Editorial

Maybe it is time to take a different tactic in fighting the use of banned substances (and processes such as blood doping). I think that almost everyone would agree that the current race between dopers and anti-doping forces is having limited success at best - new methods and drugs appear constantly, and the continual vicious personal attacks by both accused and accusers is just reinforcing the opinion of the general public that all professional sports are full of cheaters.

Currently, the full weight of sanctions falls on the athlete but, really, it is a system which rewards cheating that needs to be addressed. Yes, some athletes cheat, but they are often encouraged - even forced - into doing so by pressure from their employers. The teams want results, and athletes know that if they do not perform at the demanded level, they can be replaced almost instantly.

Teams really don't want to know what the athletes are doing, and can throw up their arms in horror if and when and athlete gets caught; dumping them and sanctimoniously declaring a "zero tolerance" program. Then, they can start all over again with the next athlete; not overtly suggesting doping, but tacitly, by turning their eyes away and simultaneously demanding higher and higher standards of performance.

Maybe what needs to be done is to make the team management and medical staff face similar sanctions to those that the athletes face. The U.S. federal government enacted Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002 in response to the excesses and criminal acts that resulted in the collapse of Enron and Worldcom (obviously, I'm simplifying). Besides establishing new standards for accounting and auditing firms, it also put the onus on executive officers (such as CEOs and CFOs) to certify the validity and truthfulness of financial statements and reports published by the company. If it is found that such reports do not represent a fair and accurate picture of the company and its operations, then those executive officers are held personally accountable, and subject to criminal and civil actions. (For a more complete outline of Sarbanes-Oxley, a useful article can be found Here)

This offers some interesting possibilities for professional sports. What if team management and medical personal were held responsible for the use of banned substances and processes, as well as the athlete? What if a team director or team doctor were required to certify that they personally track and monitor their athletes' training programs and health, and were subject to fines, dismissal and bans from the sport if an athlete tested positive and it was determined that the team had not made appropriate monitoring efforts?

I believe we would see a sudden surge in the interest and efforts of teams to keep athletes clean. Currently it is in the best interests of the team to plead real or feigned lack of knowledge in the illegal activities of athletes - plausible deniability. With new regulations such as these it becomes in the best interests of the team principals to be very aware of what their athletes are up to, and deal with it. A potential bonus would be that athletes get more support and scientific assistance.

While my interest is cycling, such a system of regulation could apply equally to any sport. If general managers, coaches, trainers and medical personnel were held accountable in, say, hockey or baseball, we would see a drastic increase in the requirement for drug testing programs, I'm quite sure!

I am certainly not suggesting that athletes who are found to use banned substances or processes should get off the hook for their actions, but they are merely the end result of a system that puts enormous pressure to perform on individuals, and then washes its hands of said individual when he or she succumbs to that pressure.

To deal with these problems we need more accountability in the system, so that playing clean becomes primary concern of both the players and the teams. Bigger fines, longer bans, pouring more money into testing and public posturing by organizations such as the UCI and WADA only continues the current ineffectual situation.

Will such a proposed Cycling Accountability Act (for want of a better name) remove cheating from sport? Of course not. Whenever there is competition (and rewards), someone will attempt to gain an advantage. However, such a program would make it in the interests of some of the most influential people in the sport to crack down on cheating, and this has been missing up until now.

Cycling is currently in a unique position to enact such changes. Reeling from both the Puerto affair and the abnormal Testosterone/Epitestosterone result recorded by Tour winner Floyd Landis (which, I hasten to add, is by no means confirmed as a case of cheating), the sport needs to move in a decisive manner to prove that it is willing to deal with cheating. Without such radical and far reaching measures, I fear we are all doomed to ongoing scandals and further blackening of the reputation of our sport and athletes.

 


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