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Lots of nasty business in the news today... and some more encouraging stuff, courtesy of the latest Cycle Sport issue.

There's already a thread below on Patrik "Sinking Joke" Sinkewitz, but VN has the alarmist news on T-Mobile's possible sponsorship crisis. Cycling is a mess in Germany right now, so I guess it figures that T-Mobile, the industry leaders in internal doping control, are being subjected to one disastrous sponsorship rumor after another. Sinking Joke acted alone, and was caught. Pretty much all of the pre-2007 establishment which tolerated their legacy of doping is gone. Sacked. Replaced in body and spirit. You'd think this was a good thing...

The Kashechkin is getting equally hysterical coverage at VN, with his civil rights case threatening doping control as we know it. This seems like a pretty dim case -- apparently he intends to claim doping control is an impremissible trade restraint -- but I'm no expert in the applicable law.

My recollection of US law, as a comparison, is that restraint of trade would be the necessary claim, because of the voluntary nature of being a cyclist (and therefore having to give tests). A straight-out civil rights claim -- they pinned me down and stole my blood -- doesn't exist. So the question should be, are the tests an impermissible trade restraint? In this country, you can place certain restrictions on rights otherwise guaranteed by the Constitution, if they're reasonable and/or uniquely and urgently justified (and I'll thank the reading lawyers for not nitpicking this grossly minimal overview of Con Law). The fact that doping, by people just like the plaintiff, is such a fundamental threat to the industry should make just about any amount of testing look reasonable... but again, there's more to international civil rights than what I know.

Excellent feature on Anne Gripper in CS this month. Among the things I learned:

  • Pat McQuaid wasn't hired to craft an anti-doping vision; he was hired to market the sport. Just wrong place at the wrong time for him, and people like Gripper now exist to help get Pat onto something he can handle, like bringing professional cycling to Asia. Fine by me.
  • Gripper's pledge to catch the "men in black" was actually an attempt at a meaningful statement, something about targeting specific cases. Instead it was distorted beyond all reason by the media into the UCI equating training out of your team kit with doping. Obviously it's not about clothes; it's about the UCI having various reasons to suspect certain riders, and targeting the suspects.
  • More on this point:
"We got Vinokourov in the end. Yes, it's sad that it happened during the race, but we got him. It sent a big message that we will catch you eventually."

Oftentimes the anti-doping effort is described in terms of random checks; in other words, that it operated completely at random. And while there's something to that, it seems highly significant that the UCI is targeting certain riders. This is a form of profiling, which is not without its risks, but does paint a more thorough and determined picture than we're used to. For whatever reason, I find this prosecutor's mentality very assuring.

Some other points...

  • Don't forget Dr. Mario Zorzoli... Back in my early manifesto I called for whichever agency took over the anti-doping effort should have its own medical advisors, in-house expert doping docs who can alert the cops about the latest intelligence, and who can assist in building a medically-sound case when someone is caught. Apparently Dr. Zorzoli is on staff at the UCI, heading up a team of doctors. Who knew? Anyway, cross that off the checklist.
  • As for the Pledge, Gripper is declaring victory to some degree, as the Pledge allows riders to proudly declare their innocence proactively, and helps place more peer pressure on the bad guys. Fair enough, but from there CS editorializes a bit:
The commitment to a new cycling charter, launched in June, was ridiculed in some quarters as being nothing more than an empty gesture, lacking legal rigidity to enforce the docking of a rider's salary for testing positive.

Some quarters... hey! That's us! This isn't the first time CS has challenged ideas found on this website, and I've had enough email contact with them to think it's no coincidence. Frankly, I love the debate and would be delighted if they'd call us out by name. My response is, there's no evidence that the pledge did anything. Gripper's "peer pressure" notion may be true, but hard to prove and of debatable value. Riders are scared that they're going to get caught, thanks to increased and more sophisticated testing. In other words, thanks to Gripper and co's more tangible activities. Maybe the Pledge helps, but anyone who says so is guessing. Or else they should show their homework, cuz I don't see it. Also, the salary docking thing is almost sure to undergo legal review in one of the pending cases, so we'll get an answer to the "legal rigidity" question. I only do law in the US, so I'm guessing too... but I'll stick by my skepticism.