The start of the cycling season and thoughts on doping

For those of you who do not know, I enjoying watching cycling, a sport which seems to receive minimal attention from the United States. What does receive the attention here is the doping scandals, which in cycling are highly publicized. If you ask most people about cycling, they think of the 2006 Tour de France rider Floyd Landis who was stripped of his title due to a doping test. Some may even recall the numerous accusations against him during his 7 Tour de France victories. What a few more may even remember is the Operation Puerto, an investigation in Spain causing several riders and one full team to withdraw from the Tour de France just days before it began in 2006 just for the suspicion of doping (no actual tests are proof other than being a name on a list) or the number of riders who pulled out of the 2007 Tour de France, including Rasmussen who was the leading rider at the time he withdrew.

Now that the 2008 cycling season has begun, I have started thinking about two things. First, how will the sport respond to the highly publicized doping issues it has had over the last few years. Well, some responses have already occurred. First, there are pulled sponsorships from two major teams. First, there will be no T-Mobile team this year. The company decided they no longer wanted their name associated with the sport. Now, they will be known as Team High Road. The other team was not so fortunate. The Discovery Channel decided not to renew their contract. The team could not find a new sponsor, so they disbanded. For those who do not know the significance of this, there are two things. This was the team Lance Armstrong rode for when he won the Tour de France 7 times. Also, this was potentially the strongest cycling team of 2007. My personal opinion, this was the strongest the team has ever been. Since the team could not find a new sponsor, they decided to disband until the sport’s image was cleaned up.

The second thing I have been thinking about is how doping is handled by sports, specifically in the United States. Of course, you say doping in the US and everybody thinks of MLB, players testifying in front of Congress, “tell-all” books coming out, players being named, etc. With Congress getting involved there are a couple of things that bother me. One is why is the US government getting involved in how a sport is being run? I do not understand how they should have any involvement. More importantly, though, it is not good if it has gotten so bad that they feel they must get involved.

Given their involvement, we would have to consider the problem to be pretty serious. It has been several years since this started, so what has been done? Has doping gone down? Well, I still hear about it all of the time in the news, but I do not recall hearing players being suspended. When I searched for MLB doping suspensions, I only came across 2 names, Guillen and Gibbons, both of which were only suspended for 15 days for using HGH.

Now, what about another sport such as football? What is being done there? This I found disturbing when one of the first articles I found was titled Why does the NFL get a free pass on doping?, not the type of headline I was hoping to see. How many players can you name that have been suspended from the NFL due to substance abuse? An interesting read that I found online was NFL & Doping. For a first offense in the NFL, a player will be suspended for 4 games. In any sport governed at the international level, though, a player is out for 2 years for a first offense. This means the NFL is doing nothing more than slapping a player on the wrist. As the mentioned article claims, this “makes cheating the equivalent of an ankle sprain, and not a high ankle sprain, either.” The only other punishment to be dolled out on this is the player will not be allowed to play in the Pro Bowl, a la the Merriman law. (For those of you not familiar with this, the law was just put into effect this season after Shawne Merriman, after being suspended for 4 games, went to the Pro Bowl).

So, do the penalties get any worse? The best I could find on this is an article about Hargrove’s suspension for a full season. Please correct me if I am wrong, and I am just getting this from the article, but it said this is Hargrove’s 3rd violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the second since the beginning of the season, for which he only received 4 weeks. If this is true, then the 2nd offense is another for weeks, and it does not get any more severe until a 3rd. If this was governed at the international level, this 3rd suspension would have never happened because under WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), the organization governing doping for international sports, the 2nd suspension is a life-long ban.

Not only does the NFL have light penalties, though, they do not appear to go after players that aggressively. Personally, I would assume that not only would the organization would test urine but would also test blood. I was apparently wrong. The NFL continues to increase their standards, but in comparison to WADA, they still appear rather weak. Specifically when it comes to HGH (Human Growth Hormones), the best for it is a blood test, which even then does not always determine if a player is doping. Apparently, the NFL will admit the use of HGH is a problem, but since the test is not fool-proof, they just decide to ignore it?

Now, I have only looked at baseball and football. I did not take the time to look into either Hockey or Basketball, two other sports which are predominantly American. The one other thing I have found, though, is the top 10 doping scandals in sports. The one interesting thing I found out from it is only one of the scandals involve doping in the US where WADA is not the governing body. This was the amount of attention and accusations MLB received, and it only ranked at number 8.

Going back to cycling, since that is where I started, the sport may have one of the worst reputations for doping, but the way I look at it is this is because they are the most aggressive about cleaning it up. When doping occurs, it is made very public. This does not mean it is any worse, it just means cycling is demonstrating they are taking the stance. They are letting other riders know that they will not tolerate cheating in the sport. In the end, this will hopefully result in a much cleaner sport.

Has there been any progress so far? One would doubt that with the number of infractions over the last year, but I believe improvements have been made. One of the biggest improvements I have seen occurred with the teams themselves. When looking back on the 2007 Tour de France, a number or riders were pulled from the race as a result of doping. The thing I find amazing here is they were not pulled out by the organization; they were pulled out by their own team.

This is a big step forward. Not only are the teams willing to pull their own riders from events, but many even perform drug tests internally. One team, Team Slipstream, has just broken out onto the international stage. Up until now, they competed primarily in the United States, but with the disbanding of Team Discovery Channel, they have become the leading US based team, even going for a bid into the Tour de France. They have already put up a great showing in the Tour of Qatar with a rider coming in 4th (46 seconds behind 1st) and the team coming in 6th (10 minutes 42 seconds behind 1st) showing they can compete with the big names. This will be one of the teams I will pay attention to as the season goes on. Still, my hat goes off to Tom Boonen for him and his team’s performance (both taking first).

I just hope this is a beginning to a great season for cycling, that much has been cleaned up, and beyond that, that they will serve as an example of a sport that has decided to clean itself up. It will be nice to see a sport that is based on the individual’s performance on their own merit, and not have it tainted with performance enhancing substances. I wish the best of luck to all of the riders.

One Response

  1. Excellent post Tech Support!!!!!

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