Everyone involved in professional cycling publicly protests the doping abuses that have inflicted so much damage on the sport. Perhaps some of the official organizations harbor private reservations, but publicly they are united in principle.
There can be no question that doping still takes place because some of those who tested positively have not denied their guilt. Meanwhile, others claim they have done nothing wrong in spite of their “non-negative” results. The two highest profile examples that come immediately to mind are Floyd Landis and Alexandre Vinokourouv.
Landis’ book decrying his innocence has made the New York Times Best Sellers List. (The fact that any book about cycling makes the Best Sellers list should be big cycling news in the USA.) The Kazakh Cycling Federation has publicly defended Vinokourouv, decrying his innocence, while Team Astana has dismissed him and his name no longer appears on their team roster. All this while the UCI and ASO are haggling over which of them should be in charge of these decisions.
Science is not perfect. Neither are laboratories. There certainly is going to be some room for someone to exercise some reasoned discretion each time a rider is accused of cheating; or at least each time a rider produces a non-negative test. So the question remains, whom should “we” trust to make those decisions?
Here’s a novel approach: Why don’t we trust the forces of the free market and voluntary associations to make these decisions for us?
Obviously the market is no longer willing to tolerate a tainted sport. Many clean riders probably have had to clench their teeth for decades, refraining from expressing their concerns that they were losing to artificially enhanced competitors. Now that the consumers and the press have caught up to the clean riders, let’s not make the problem worse by creating a new bureaucracy to “fix” the problem.
The fans – the people who purchase the promoters’ and advertisers’ products – want clean races. They are not going to continue to support dirty races or dirty racers. And the people who have a financial stake in the races and the racers now understand that. The market will not support it, so that generates the pressure to clean up the sport.
How, one might ask, does the dynamic of voluntary association come into play? Easy! In any environment where no one person has the power to tell another what he must do, people who depend on the voluntary cooperation of others to reach their common goals are required to reach agreements that facilitate their cooperation. They all agree to play by a set of rules, but they can cooperate only so far as their express agreement allows them to do so. Then they all either succeed or fail, but they do so both individually and collectively.
Will all teams and all race organizers agree on all the rules or on whom should be selected to administer and enforce those rules? Probably not. But each event is a distinct contractual entity so each race would be at liberty to demand higher standards than have been adopted by the larger group as a whole. Additionally, each event could select the third-party arbiter of its own choosing. Individual teams or riders who do not want to meet that event’s higher set of standards can elect not to participate in that event.
How well would a system like this work? I do not know, but I do think it worked pretty effectively in this year’s Tour de France where the teams dismissed the riders whose cheating had been evidenced sufficiently to threaten the integrity of the outcome of the event. I think Astana and Rabobank should be thanked for doing what they did.
Rasmussen’s case is above reproach. His team dismissed him for lying to them. He does not have to be guilty of doping or conspiracy to dope. He lied. Case closed.
Landis’ and Vinokourouv’s cases are different. They have questioned the validity of the testing process or of the testing laboratory. Those are legitimate questions and they will be addressed in the appropriate forum. But if the UCI, the teams and the race organizers are not using the very best labs available to perform these tests, then they are the ones who will reap the financial whirlwind.
Now would be a very good time for those entities to look into the mirror and answer those questions. If they wait too long, the fans might not be here when they do finally decide to fix this problem properly. That is the purest and simplest application of the forces of voluntary association and the free market.
Then again, that all is just one fan’s opinion.