Friday, June 12, 2009

Passing the Buck

I can’t let this one go. The UCI has declared that they can’t complete disciplinary proceedings against Tom Boonen in relation to his second cocaine positive in time for the Tour de France. As a result, they have declared that Boonen is permitted to race the Tour de France.

They can’t complete it in time? What? This isn’t the restoration of a 1968 Camaro or the design of a web site. It’s a disciplinary proceeding. And the relevant facts are known. Hasn’t anyone heard of midnight oil?

No matter what your personal feelings on Boonen’s positive are, this is the wrong message to send. When I was in third grade, we would have called this wishy-washy. Is the UCI uniformly hard on drug use or not? If they don’t really see a problem with recreational drugs out of competition, that’s their choice, but they shouldn’t have made a fuss last time.

Given that most of the world can’t differentiate between performance-enhancing and recreational—which is like not being able to tell the difference between the Space Shuttle and Disneyland—a firm stance against recreational drugs would be understandable for the UCI and WADA. To most folks, drugs are either medicine or illicit. And anything that isn’t medicine isn’t tolerated in lots of places, The Netherlands notwithstanding.

What is so surprising in this is that the UCI didn’t like the Amaury Sport Organization deciding independently which teams and riders could and could not compete in the Tour. And yet, by delaying any action on Boonen, they are in effect forcing ASO’s hand, asking Prudhomme et al, to decide what the race is willing to accept.

Meanwhile, Bernard Kohl is passing the buck as well; he is concocting fictions that would make for a promising Hollywood script. He says he was cooperative from the outset, but CyclingNews reported October 15, 2008 Kohl wanted his B sample tested.

Worse yet, he asserted that the entire Top-10 of the Tour de France general classification must have doped, only to retract the statement and say l’Equipe invented the entire interview. Right. Shaun Palmer did the same thing years ago when Specialized wasn’t thrilled after he told a journalist he did recreational drugs and watched porn. The French rider’s union, CPA, has decided to sue Kohl. As Cedric Vasseur said, "He might think everybody else was doped as well but he has to prove it."

Kohl’s idea of cooperation is suspect. The one thing he has said—retracted or not—that is truly helpful is his insight into how sophisticated dopers would use the information found in positive tests to guide their manipulation of blood and the biological passport.

If Kohl were truly a man of substance, he’d admit his part and wouldn’t try to accuse everyone else of doping as a means of excusing his poor decision.

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.


Hank said...

If Boonen had gotten arrested for drunk driving should the UCI be involved? He was not trying to cheat, he has a substance abuse problem. That is something for his employers and family to work with him on.

What disciplinary action should be taken should not involve anyone but his team and sponsors.

Watts said...

I agree with BKW's view that the message is incorrect regarding Boonen. High visibility ("stars") of any type ultimately have a responsibility of image to the public and their sponsors. Saying they don't want that responsibility doesn't mean it goes away.

The entire process and decision making about doping as well as drugs in general with WADA,UCI, ASO etc is very inconsistent and fails to follow a rigorous process.

Boonen has no business riding the TdF.

Bandobras said...

Gary finishes by saying he has no business riding the tdf.
That is in fact exactly what he does have. And so do the rest. A business. A multimillion dollar business created from simple children's games.
As long as there is large money involved in sports business there will be large problems of cheating and cover up.
Drug related or otherwise.

feedmedia said...

This happens in professional sports all of the time. The UCI is like the commissioner of the NFL, for example, it's in their best interest to keep the superstars in the game. Sadly, their rationalizations are transparent.

Padraig said...

Thanks for your comments everyone.

BKW as an entity doesn't really haven an agenda regarding Boonen or Kohl. In Boonen's case the issue as I see it is that the process lacks transparency and consistency. The victim ends up being the fans of the sport who don't know what to think or how to have faith in the desire to watch cycling raced clean. Boonen isn't being treated the way he was treated last year. Why? Was his treatment last year misguided or is this treatment this time misguided? Each approach has liabilities.

As fans of racing, we want to see the best athletes contest the best races. But if John Q. Public suspects that cyclists by and large aren't clean, then dominoes start falling and one of those dominoes is inevitably sponsorship money.

Kohl can talk all he wants, but until he stops with the about-faces and retractions he can't be called the voice of forthright confession. We should regard his every statement with the same suspicion we reserve for politicians.

Da Robot said...

If I get arrested for drunk driving, my employer won't fire me. It's not their business, as long as I'm not missing work as a result or showing up at the office drunk.

I don't think Boonen should be doing lines off hookers' asses, but it really doesn't have a lot to do with Quick Step, ASO, the UCI or WADA. He wasn't doing blow at work.

So get off his back. The test should never have been made public.

rsbones said...

Agreed. It should never have been made public. I don't even know why they are testing for things out of competition that they don't have sanctions for. Just test for things that are actually against the sporting rules.

Padraig said...

Da Robot: I think you might be missing the point; I'm not addressing my views on Boonen's actions. Boonen isn't the issue; rather it is how the UCI deals with him. There are problems in the logic of their behavior from top to bottom. Why are they testing for something that isn't illegal? Why did they announce the finding? Why is it an infraction? Why are they dealing with it differently this year than last year?

mathias_d said...


I agree with you as well as the couple gents above. As far as I am concerned, nobody is following me around after work or before work to see what "illicit" activity I am up to. Never mind the bs opinion that Boonen is famous, more peoples' lives are affected (life or death outcome) by people like me who work in construction.

If I can spend my life in an obscure fashion outside of work; trusted until proven guilty by a random drug test administered by my union then Boonen should be almost completely ignored in an out-of-competition drug test where he does not test positive for anything that would help him gain an edge.

The UCI is not like the NFL. The NFL actually has policies set up ahead of time (whether or not they enforce said policies is their problem).

As far as the people who say things about Boonen damaging the image of the sport I say "go F*** yourself you self-righteous puritan idiot."

If you think that several positive epo-variant drug tests per year are not 5,000% more damaging than a little nose candy maybe you should be subject to the whims of the fan-parliament yourself.

The peloton is a circus. Whether or not doped, the participants are still amazing genetic subjects and their feats are no less so. Go to a magic show and try to figure out what cup the shell is under and you will drive yourself crazy...lose yourself in the event and stop worrying folks, it's a show and you aren't participating.

Da Robot said...

@ Padraig

You're right. The UCI needs a coherent and comprehensive testing and sanction policy.
They're improving, but like all the other big sports, they struggle in striking the balance between marketing and discipline. I would love to say that discipline should always win, but the world doesn't work that way.

Also, they need to get their labs under control.
Labs that leak information should be sanctioned as well (does l'Equipe have all the labs in France on their payroll?).

Hubert said...

The whole enterprise of drug testing at the level of professional cycling leaves some serious doubts to its credibility and validity.

Boonen's out of competition positive is just that, out of competition and it is NONE of the UCI's, WADAs, etc business. It was off the clock and not a banned substance (when found out of comp). And any stance by the ASO and the Tour organizers is comedy at its finest since they've shown that their idea of whether or not your should be penalized depends on if you're French (i.e., Virenque).

The problem is that the UCI and WADA and the sport of cycling in general is filled with self-important bureaucrats trying to assert themselves while trying to maintain their own relevance. Added to that cluster is the fact that the major regulatory bodies are staffed by megalomaniacs who find the time to engage in protracted pissing contest rather than doing their job.

Meanwhile, all they've accomplished is creating an entirely unnecessary fog to the regulatory process, its validity and (I can't believe I'm saying this) "efficacy." players in this sport; ultimatly, this back and forth errodes their credibility, and the credibility of the sport as a whole. If the captain's out to lunch, what's the crew to do?

As for testing, I think, on the whole, it's mismanaged. There are constant leaks to the press from the labs, which in and of itself violates a whole host of ethical rules of conduct while totally obliterating the objectivity with which the samples should be treated. And if we learned anything from the Landis fiasco, it is that the labs certainly aren't a tight ship either.

Pardon my cynicism but I think the regulatory and testing structure of this sport needs an uprooting. It is starting to feel like old boy's club cronyism at the top and that sort of social disease needs to be flushed out sooner rather than later. I think Kohl's comments on the biological passport are interesting because they question the UCI's income; why should the teams pay into an as of yet unproven system of testing if the organization itself can't show definitive counter examples to invalidate Kohl's claims?

My guess is that it's going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.

jza said...

The Boonen thing is not a doping/sport issue. It is an employment/law issue.

Boonen not only needs his employer's (Quickstep) permission to continue working. He also needs the permission of the race organizer.

Boonens busts are big tabloid news. The ASO, likes to make examples out of certain riders, and there appears to be no recourse for their scapegoats. The ASO likes to get up on their soapbox and yammer on about clean-living and sportsmanship. Are they total hypocrites? Yes, absolutely, but it is their race.

As for Kohl, y'know when there are those hard hitting interviews after something like this and the interviewer gets all intense and asks something like "How could you go against all that is good and right in the world and do something like this?"

The subject is then expected to say, "I was wrong, I was selfish, Sorry...Blah blah"

Well, that answer is BULLSHIT. The correct answer is "I was a good bike racer, I wanted to win. I wanted to get rich. I watched Armstrong and Ulrich and Mayo and Basso and Hamilton win races and make MILLIONS. I also watched guys try and do it clean, try to hold on in races, try to find jobs every year. The choice is there and most riders choose to try and win."

HELL(cat) ON WHEELS said...

I'm a beginning cyclist, a mommy, a girl and I work in the legal profession. I personally, don't care about doping. I am completely 100% indifferent. It exists in many sports, it happens, I still love the sport of cycling, life goes on.

I'll even go so far as to admit the horrific truth that many many won't....sometimes, when I'm on my bike and my legs burn and my lungs burn and agony sets in...damn, I wish I had some drugs...and my livelihood doesn't even rest on my cycling.

Before you sling judgment at me for that should know, I'm also indifferent about your opinion of me. I don't endorse doping, but I also don't endorse sitting on my couch, judging an athlete, whose mind and body experiences a caliber of agony that mine will never ever know.

Padraig: you are absolutely right. Your post and your comments are "right on". I agree that the issue is the double standard and the precedent set by the UCI in other years. Inconsistencies are unjust and I, for one, happen to be a fan of justice. The vacillating, the waffling.... unstable. It's a much bigger issue than who does what and for what reason.

mindtron said...

I am surprised that you think Kohl is just trying to cover his own ass by creating fabrications.

He gives an interview that lays out in meticulous detail how he doped, who provided it to him, and how he was able to get away with it while wearing a jersey in the biggest show on earth as far as cycling is concerned.

then suddenly he takes back everything he said about others getting away with it? sounds more like witnesses to crimes that get threatened and suddenly change their testimony to me.

and he doesn't have to prove anything to Vasseur or anyone else. he didn't name names so that he couldn't be sued but come on are we to believe this one rider on this one team is the only one who could do this? do you really think no one else is blood doping with their own blood?

you are veering rather close to the just a few bad apples excuse in my view

GhostRider said...

"I'm a beginning cyclist, a mommy, a girl and I work in the legal profession. I personally, don't care about doping. I am completely 100% indifferent. It exists in many sports, it happens, I still love the sport of cycling, life goes on.

I'll even go so far as to admit the horrific truth that many many won't....sometimes, when I'm on my bike and my legs burn and my lungs burn and agony sets in...damn, I wish I had some drugs...and my livelihood doesn't even rest on my cycling.

Before you sling judgment at me for that should know, I'm also indifferent about your opinion of me. I don't endorse doping, but I also don't endorse sitting on my couch, judging an athlete, whose mind and body experiences a caliber of agony that mine will never ever know."

Amen, lady...while you're indifferent about my opinion of you, let me still take the time to say that you're AWESOME!

I've been an active cyclist, racer and Pro Tour follower for decades, and I am completely indifferent to doping, too. Would I prefer clean racers? Sure. Is it a deal-breaker when I find out that various champions doped or whatever? Not a bit.

+1 for anyone who says that Boonen's coke problem is none of the UCI's business unless such use was during competition.

RMM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RMM said...

At this point, does anyone really believe that Pro Tour cycling will ever be a "clean" sport? It never has been. I challenge anyone to point to a time period in cycling that was free of widespread doping.

The WADA and the UCI may stamp out the current scourge, EPO and CERA, but as history instructs us, there will be new generations of doping products that will enhance athletes in ways that we have yet to imagine.

As doping becomes more sophisticated, more refined, more targeted and more effective, it will continue to entice riders with promises of riches and glory.

I am not saying that we should accept doping, but it seems that a losing battle is being fought. On the whole, it is not the dopers who are losing, only individual dopers who are unlucky enough to get caught.

Padraig said...

Yet again, thanks everyone for the terrific comments.

Mindtron: I don't think everything Kohl said is BS, but I think everything he said must be regarded carefully. I don't think he can be trusted because he backs away from too much of what he says when pressed afterwards.

RMM: You're spot on. It'll never be 100% clean, but we should never give up the fight, despite the fact that this effort has been no more effective than the United States government's "war on drugs."

Da Robot said...

I wonder what people think about Valverde not only winning Dauphiné with a doping ban hanging over his head, but also sitting atop the UCI rankings? I understand that a Spanish judge is keeping the door closed on Operación Puerto, but this has to make people cringe, no?