The accepted mantra within cycling is that it is ‘cleaner’ than most other sports and that its anti-doping procedures are transparent and out in the open for all to see. Whatever the reality in terms of comparative cleanliness it is arguable that the lack of transparency in the anti-doping procedures and decision making system is doing as much damage to our athletes as doping itself.
The case of Allan Davis is a glaring example of this sorry state. Last weekend in the Australian national championship road race at Buninyong, Davis hung in with the leading group until the penultimate climb of the day. But as he emerged out of the eucalypt-lined climb, off the back of the group, he cut a solitary figure. Solitary in more ways than one.
Over the past five years Davis has emerged as one of Australia’s most promising professional cyclists. But now, even with the possibility of a new team in sight he finds his career at an impasse.
Last year Davis found himself caught up in the Spanish Operación Puerto investigation. The popular wisdom is that he was cleared of any wrongdoing in what started as an investigation into the importation and supply of unauthorised Chinese medicines to Spain before blowing up into the huge blood doping affair that had strong links to the world of cycling. But the reality is that he and the other cyclists were never targeted as wrongdoers, he and the other cyclists were never anything more than mere witnesses.
The problem for Davis and others is that documents leaked from the Spanish Guardia Civil set out what seem to be extensive doping programs for the 2005 season. Subsequently, the Australian Anti Doping Sports Agency (ASADA) found that Davis had no case to answer. But still his career remains in limbo.
Davis faces both career and emotional ruin within a system whose administrators claim has turned a corner and embraced a cultural change. But it is that very system and its emphasis on secrecy and privacy that has left him in the unenviable position of being unable to prove his bona fides.
It is a system that promises athletes that they can ‘have it all’, that has impressed them into taking up the tools of the trade and doing what they need to do in order to obtain victory for themselves, their team and their country. But at the same time this system is happy to leave them on the sporting scrap heap in order to protect the interests of sponsors and administrators who seek to hide behind this facade of cultural change.
Davis should and could ride in the Pro Tour again, but given the level of suspicion surrounding doping and cycling, whether he does or not remains uncertain.
It is kids like Davis that carry the political and emotional can. Once suspicion looms, they are virtually hung out to dry. They are caught up in cycling’s code of silence, the attempts to shift the sports power base outside of Old Europe, and in Davis’ case the inability of ASADA to provide any information to the public as to how it reaches its decisions. In any event who would want to come clean and ‘fess up when in all probability, that act of good faith would see you liable to face criminal prosecution for doing what was the sporting norm?
A Year Zero in cycling or any other sport is an impossibility. The slate cannot be wiped clean overnight or because the sporting hierarchy state publicly that a cultural change has occurred. Maybe the only way forward is a moratorium on prosecutions for past offences. A moratorium that is accompanied with some form of truth and reconciliation which must be a process that in includes those at the level of the sport’s administration and its sponsors who have benefited from the old system.
Talk of cultural change in cycling requires something more than bland statements about a zero tolerance policy to doping and the prosecution of kids caught up in a system created and perpetuated by their elders. It requires sporting administrators to bite the bullet and admit their complicity in the old ways.
It also requires young athletes being given real career paths that extend beyond their time on the bike. Early and broad life education must be a part of any athlete’s sporting development. If athletes were given real career planning and options by Government funded organisations, rather than being pushed to achieve ‘it all’ within the short athletic life span, they may well be in a position to develop real life skills that might just see them avoiding the mistakes of the past. Skills that will allow them to see their careers as something else than make or break opportunities that will end when they reach their mid thirties, leaving them with them to cope with the physical and emotional scars that doping brings about.
If not, kids will continue to fall into the traps that have been laid down for them by the past examples of their elders.
Martin Hardie is an Australian working on a PhD in law on the globalisation of cycling and the criminalisation of doping. He contributes to Procycling.