We seem to be getting overheated on the subject of doping in cycling. The current debate over Mr razor-sideburn el Pistolero Contador reminds me of that poor old ant nest that the Nest Administrator insisted on locating right in the middle of my driveway. Always getting driven over, ants always swarming to repair and patch. Never ending, always furious. If only they moved the nest a bit to the right or we chose to drive a bit to the left, peace would return. BEND a bit, people!
What’s the fuss all about? Recall that the incriminating dose of Clenbuterol was just 0.000 000 000 05 grams per ml. What’s that as an enhancement for a rider who would still be the world’s best cyclist even if he rode Le Tour on a hybrid shopping bike?
To my mind, what matters when it comes to earning my wrath over illegal doping is a simple question: would he (or she) still have the capacity to win a race without doping of any kind? If the answer is no, and the person doped, that person is unequivocally a cheat. If the answer is yes, then things get a whole lot more complicated.
The first step is to enquire into reasons. Why would anyone who had a serious chance of victory without recourse to chemical enhancements choose to dope anyway? Uncovering that particular story is the real enquiry to be made. Because when we dig into that, we might learn something that could benefit our sport; and reconcile the loyalties of we, the followers of cycle sport who are all feeling somewhat shortchanged right now. Remember that if there were no passionate followers of cycle sport, there would be no cycle sport to follow. There’d still be racing going on, but only at the level of amateur club rides. Pro cycling needs audiences (for the racing and the products its promotors are keen to sell). Pro cycling needs the continued loyalty of its legions of fans.
Just how satisfying is it to the world’s cycle-nuts to be simply told that so-and-so has been caught out with 0.000 000 000 05 grams per ml of Clenbuterol in his blood? No explanation of why. No explanation of how such a miniscule trace could possibly push el Pistolero faster up a hill. No explanations, just a ruling from the top. The bureaucrats have delivered a verdict. From behind closed doors. Like the monster wheels of a mega truck riding over the international ants nest of cycling fans. This does not satisfy. This does not explain.
I don’t want my passions for cycle sport managed like the way the Tax Office manages the delivery of tax return. I don’t want a bunch of chinless bureaucrats interfering in my sport. Surely these last outpost places where passions rule can be one last place where the bureaucrats are unable to interfere. Perhaps that’s actually one of the big attractions of cycle sport in the first place: absence of bureaucrats and their odious managerialist rule. To hell with the Nanny State and with Big Brother Faceless Bureaucrats in charge.
Places where passions matter are places where more collaborative processes for addressing issues are required. By definition, places where passions matter are places where followers SHOULD be involved in the discussions that reconcile how our passions play. So, cycle sport should be one of those rare places where matters that matter should be considered from the bottom up. From the ranks of those with the passion to explore and understand.
Why did or would any rider cheat? Please explain. Tell us why. Let the doping testers do their test, for sure. But let we, the fans, be the judge and jury, and the community through which matters such as these are resolved. Nothing is ever black and white. Mistakes happen. Pressures drive us to be at least temporarily insane. Let’s hear the explanations outside of the specialised language of the law. Let the accused address accusations directly through the language they, and we, rather than the lawyers, most naturally understand. Don’t translate and loose the essence of the argument and the complexities of the situations involved through the emasculation of translation from the language of cycling into the language of law.
If, perchance, Contador (or Lance) did dope, there is much to be learnt through understanding why. In those explanations we might find some things about our sport itself that is in need of repair. Perhaps it’s these things about our sport and the way it’s run that are in greater need of repair than are the misdemeanours of any particular cyclists on trial. How are we supposed to address these more important things when we push the whole matter off to the legal courts? Do the wig wearing bureaucrats on some court bench understand the nuances and the very culture of our sport? Hardly. Not likely. And why would we ever want to consult them on matters such as these? Do I ask the Tax Office for advice on what colour to paint my house?
If Contador cheated, I want to know why. I want to really know why. Deeply, critically, understand why. Not so much IF (which can be resolved with a relatively simple test), but WHY. Because only then, when we understand, can we even begin to formulate a response. Only then can we be best placed to figure out what to do.
Contador’s case is simple relative to the fifteen story ant nest that supports Lance Armstrong. Lance’s nest is a nest nestled right in the middle of an international airport runway. Under there is an Everest of things we need to understand. The more we look, the less and less simple that story will become. As will be the search for prescriptions in relation to what we need to do by way of response.
If we left Lance to the courts, and the courts decided to put him in jail, what would that achieve? Resolving matters such as that through deferring the entire story to the courts would be like expecting us to follow a story after taking away all the pages where that story could otherwise be explained. Instead, all we get is the first page and the last. All the story between the first and the last page has been removed; seconded off into someone’s official files; for the deliberations of those who probably don’t even follow our sport.
So, my call is for a new kind of process through which to resolve issues in our sport. Stop trying to graft the structures of corporate and government onto a sport which should be a refuge from managerialism of that kind. The answer, I believe, is in collaborative deliberation via engagement with the community of cycling. Facilitating such a process should be the real job for the UCI. That’s what the UCI should really be for. The UCI’s role should be about facilitating transparency and understanding, not shifting the story to those who would not otherwise be involved; or worse, to those who would only be involved for the receipt of a fee.