Tuesday, May 15, 2007

At All Cost

Is it any wonder that WADA is going after Floyd Landis tooth and nail? Consider a possible situation in the abstract: A cyclist tests positive. Following an evaluation of testing procedure, auditors find that procedures were skipped, machines mis-calibrated and rights violated. A reasonable person could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that the resulting black eye to WADA would undermine public confidence to such a degree that there would be little respect for the findings. Kinda like how we view intelligence reports of WMDs by the CIA in say, oh, any Middle Eastern nation. Put another way, if WADA were to lose such a case, many people would—rightly or wrongly—come to the conclusion that the organization lacked the ability to catch the real dopers and would mistrust any result as yet another false-positive. Ever heard of the boy who cried wolf? WADA knows lost cases undermine credibility, which is why the organization believes it can’t afford to lose a single doping case. But such a strategy is counterproductive.

Whether you believe Landis’ Wiki-defense or not, the truth is none of us really know if he doped. He makes a compelling case for his innocence, but we really don’t know. And the truth is there are cyclists who are innocent of doping but whose names have been forever tarnished. Take the case of hapless Danilo Hondo.

Danilo Hondo has been shown to have had such a low concentration of Caphedon in his body that it not only didn’t affect his performance but it was most probably too tiny an amount to be deliberately administered. Put another way, he didn’t mistakenly take too little, such as might happen in an error concerning order of magnitude where someone takes 10mcg instead of 10mg. This guy didn’t intend to dope and didn’t benefit from the presence of the drug in his system.

He received the same penalty as a rider who doped in order to win as a result of a policy known as “strict liability.” It dictates a zero-tolerance environment (adopted to give the appearance of being tough on dopers) in which any stray compound found in a pro’s system results in a penalty.

Another hypothetical: Suppose you are driving down the street in a 35 mph zone. You approach a construction site that is soon to be a new school. You miss the new 25 mph speed limit sign and an officer notices continued rate of speed. He pulls you over. In the United States, the officer has leeway to give you a warning instead of a ticket for what would otherwise still be a minor infraction. In the world of WADA, you don’t drive for two years. Period.

Some people may think that the “strict liability” standard is reasonable. It is not. American jurisprudence is built on the idea that intent is significant when a crime is committed. The courts in America hold that the penalty for striking a pedestrian with your car should be different if you never saw the pedestrian and did so only accidentally than if the pedestrian was your former boss and you waited outside of work for the chance to run him down and subsequently backed over him before fleeing to Tahiti. Grading crimes according to severity helps to give the public the perception that outcomes are fair. Stealing a pack of gum is not the same as stealing a car, no?

In the Landis case the defense has accused WADA and the lab at Chatenay-Malabry of poor record keeping, shoddy lab work, changing and erasing computer data and refusing to let their representatives attend a procedure WADA’s own rules grant. An American prosecutor accused of such action could wind up disbarred.

WADA tested B-samples of Landis’s urine to which the A-sample was clean—this is a clear violation of its own procedure. Logically, if the A-sample was clean, the B-sample cannot be tainted, provided the lab did the work correctly in the first place. If the lab didn’t do the work correctly then it shouldn’t be permitted to perform any further testing until an audit of its procedures and equipment has been performed. In finding a B-sample positive when an A-sample is negative, only one thing has been proven: The lab is not performing its science consistently. Repetition of results is one of the most basic standards of science and any lab that can’t manage that isn’t much of a lab.

Because the administrative process is not transparent and WADA and USADA seem engaged in a win-at-all-costs ideology, we are unlikely ever to learn the real truth to whether or not Floyd Landis doped at the Tour de France. If we cannot be certain that the outcome was justly based on fact, then there are four victims: The first is Landis; he deserves an outcome based on the truth, whether he doped or not. The second is WADA; if we are not convinced justice was served, we will not trust it is fulfilling its mission. The third is the sport itself, which is losing fans due to the general mistrust for all cyclists in the PRO peloton. And the final victim, of course, is us; if we are not convinced WADA is pursuing its mission competently and that the athletes are clean, we are robbed enjoyment of our favorite sport.

This entry was written out of love, frustration and a desire to see some clean, healthy competition in the PRO peloton. Thanks to Padraig for this great contribution.

Photo Courtesy: www.theage.com


Anonymous said...

good morning freddy, I can't say how much I agree. Dick Pound seems to have brought back a case of McCarthyism and I really question what the french labs are doing. It reminds me of Jalabert in the late 90's when he took out a swiss license and raced for them instead of france. When asked why he said that he'd do all the controls they wanted him to, aside from the french controls, that he didn't trush their nurses, docs, testing, etc. I don't know Jalabert, but he has always seen like a classy rider in the eyes of othre PROS and fans. If someone like him does't have faith in his own countries workings, why should anyone else? I also recall Micheal Barry saying that during a routine control the tester said something along the lines of, "we'll get all of you sooner or later." How's that for unbiased testing. Sorry that was so long winded, but I feel ya.

Ari said...

Freddy, thanks for the great writings. I hope our sport recovers,before cycling starts to focus on Comfort bikes and forgets racing.

How do i get to my old stuff said...

Yeah, nice write-up. Thx.

GWR said...

It's hard to be optimistic about this whole process.
This case is a tough one and, as a layman trying to follow all the science, it seems to come down to a debate between the Landis camp and the USADA over: a) whether the lab work was done correctly; b) whether Landis met the criteria for a positive test.
I suspect I'm not the only one sitting on the fence at the moment!
The re-testing of the B samples might be the clincher, though. Remember that they were initially tested only for the T:E ratio, which was found to be within regulations. The re-testing was for synthetic T and statements yesterday from USADA alluded to positive results from those re-tests.
Perhaps we will get all the answers by the end of the hearing. But, unfortunately, I suspect not.

Anonymous said...

All good points, Freddy.

I'll nominate a fifth victim: the sponsors. Phonak, BMC, Oakley and many others took it in the shorts when Floyd tested, well, however he really tested.

Sponsor losses, like Floyd's, can be measured in real dollars. The current dysfunctional state of WADA, the labs and the way drug testing information is handled is having an economic effect on the sport that is as corrosive as fan disillusionment.

Forrest said...

I agree with your statements. Something is not right with the system. Real dopers get away while innocent riders take the heat. However cycling does have a problem, and this problem is real. The Basso and Jan saga only adds fuel to the fire of discontent with cycling right now. The bad apples make everyone suffer, even the innocent. And Floyd could be caught up in the dragnet right now. I dont blame Floyd but the pro peloton for this situation along with WADA and all the governing agencies. Cycling needs a new model to run its affairs.

Ed W said...

Thanks for that. It's an excellent post with great insight into the hearing process.

Erik said...

Freddy, You are very articulate and this entry speaks to all I have thought about this situation. If you cannot be sure of guilt, then you cannot find the party guilty. Landis' reputation will always be in question whether he is allowed to keep his tour crown or not. This cannot be rectified. That being said, if you cannot prove his guilt you need to find him not guilty (no side can ever prove his innocence at this point). Again, thanks for your writings.

strangelife said...

And, much like our current middle east problem, hubris has a death grip on truth. A travesty.

Thanks for the well thought words.

Anonymous said...

no pain


JBP said...

Despite the facts (whatever and wherever they may be), the UCI should seriously consider banning cyclists from competition when they habitually wear baseball caps backward, and listen to Kid Rock - it's just not PRO.

Anonymous said...

18/05/07: now that it's in court, things look much different, Freddy.