Sunday, July 27, 2008

Since when was it a crime...

The recent images of Riccardo Riccò being carted away by French authorities following his positive blood test at the Tour de France got me thinking (again) about the existence of "sporting fraud" crimes that exist in some European countries. What I am referring to here are actual crimes for which one can go to jail or be forced to pay fines to the state...not prohibited acts in the eyes of the UCI, World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), or any other sporting body.

If a professional cyclist is caught doping in some of these European countries, he/she could face criminal charges of sporting fraud in addition to any criminal charges associated with possessing, distributing, or consuming a banned substance.

In America, the only actual crime associated with doping would be the possession, use, or distribution of the banned substance, assuming the drug at issue is actually illegal to possess.

This article from last year on the Huffington Post, written by J.P. Partland, makes the case for sporting fraud laws in the United States. I have to say that I disagree with it 100%.

I view the criminalization of "sporting fraud" in the U.S. as an expansion of the already over funded and largely unsuccessful war on drugs. I don't want my tax dollars funding cops who bust down the doors of professional athletes looking for EPO or steroids or extra asthma inhalers. I care about doping, but I don't care that much.

Plus, European sporting fraud laws have not stopped the scourge of doping in the European pro peloton. If you do believe that the pro peloton is cleaner now than it was five years ago (which very well may be the case), the recent shift toward clean cycling was not caused by sporting fraud laws. Instead, it was caused by the horrible publicity from several Tour de France scandals, sponsors pulling out millions of dollars from cycling, and a general sense of doom within the sport.

Allow the market to dictate how strictly pro cycling enforces its own doping policies. If people want clean cycling, sponsors will continue to pull out until the sport comes clean. The thought of the FBI, ATF, or local law enforcement involved in this fight seems unnecessary, which is why those Roger Clemens Congressional steroid hearings sat so poorly with many people.

The real shame here is that cycling continues to receive a black eye for all of the doping scandals when it is one of the few sports that actually try to purge the dopers, even at the expense of the credibility of the entire sport. There is nothing more annoying than hearing a U.S. sports commentator decry the illegitimacy of cycling while praising the virtues of baseball and American football.

Let's just say that, if doping did become a crime that was strictly enforced in the U.S., there would likely be a heck of a lot more baseball and football players sporting orange jumpsuits than cyclists.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You write, "If you do believe that the pro peloton is cleaner now than it was five years ago (which very well may be the case), the recent shift toward clean cycling was not caused by sporting fraud laws. Instead, it was caused by the horrible publicity from several Tour de France scandals, sponsors pulling out millions of dollars from cycling, and a general sense of doom within the sport." You know this how? With sporting fraud laws you don't have to fund sting operations or anything like that. You just have to occasionally prosecute people who get caught. The sport associations put up the money for the test or tests, people test positive and, suddenly, they're facing the potential of jail time. Doesn't seem to be anything like the war on drugs.

ueberdiebruecke said...

I have to agree with DS. Why single out sports figures for this? Because we're obsessed with sport and somehow want to maintain this image of our sports heroes being beyond reproach. That is foolish. But lets get to the real reason for the push for such laws: it's good for the politicians who push them, and for the media who report on them.

ds said...

Anon-

I have no inside knowledge, but I do know that sporting fraud laws have been around in Europe since before the Festina scandal in the late 1990's. And it's generally accepted that the last decade has seen widespread doping. If cycling has cleaned up its act lately, it's because of better science with doping controls and teams like Astana and Garmin with their astonishing internal doping control programs.

These people are willing to sacrifice their reputation, career, and livelihood to dope. I just don't think that an additional disincentive in the form of criminal punishment is going to do anything, unless it comes with serious jail time. And that just isn't going to happen.

Our jails are overcrowed enough. I don't think we ought to build more to house dopers.

Ueberdiebruecke is also right...the politicians would love this issue because the general public (many of whom claim to hate taxes and large government) would totally support it, regardless of its cost.