What's the right number?

How long should someone be suspended if they test positive? TriathlonWorld.com editor Phil Wrochna says the current time frames aren't enough.

| April 12, 2017 | NEWS

Photo >Photka | Dreamstime.com

Becoming a pro athlete has many trap doors that are probably not really considered when you sign up to make a living from sport. The key term for most pros, though, is responsibility. Becoming pro in any sport requires a certain level of responsibility. Responsibility to the events you race in, the fans, the sponsors and the myriad of other things you have to navigate to be a member of the top flight.

The key responsibility, though, revolves around doping. And, these days, that most fundamental responsibility has become a moving target and those who are supposed to monitor it all are drastically under gunned.

There are number of ways in which the athlete can be caught out in this never-ending game of responsibility when it comes to anti-doping concerns. It is just the tip of the iceberg when a prohibited substance is detected in a sample. When it comes to anti-doping there are a number of ways an athlete can be caught out: the use, or attempted use, of the substance; those who refuse to submit to a test; violations of applicable requirements; sample tampering; trafficking and supplying other athletes; simple possession; and prohibited associations.

It is minefield. For the average pro each day presents a number of athletic challenges, but the simple day to day administrations of your anti-doping duties can be time consuming. Like ignoring that parking ticket, if you leave this function alone it will grow larger and eventually bite you.

So what’s the answer here in terms of the perfect number for ban years for those who transgress? After reading yet anther report on Michele Ferrari getting in trouble for another offence, it got us thinking about what is the perfect number. The anti-doping departments are low=funded and always seemingly a step behind those who want to dope. In short, they need a better armament.

The anti-doping punishment, like in all parts of society, historically has tended to reflect the crime. To apply an arbitrary number to crime, sporting included, is a little too simplistic. In some of the descriptions above there can be some hard questions asked. Is a refusal the same as a positive test? Or how do we differentiate between trafficking and associations? Of course, there will be a gamut of legalese to explain this, but the average Joe (like us) wants to see a clean sport and that what we are seeing we have a reasonable chance of believing.

If this means that athletes have to be woken up at all hours to be tested, then so be it. (And, no, we don’t want to hear about it on twitter.) Let’s be honest, while it might not be them, their pro brethren have brought the random testing on themselves. The key here is what the doping crime is. In the case of some of the recent key offenders in cycling and triathlon, and indeed in Australia’s own ball sport leagues, the penalties have justified what has transpired. It’s the burden of proof that has become a moving target.

Longer bans are the only way to forward if sport is to maintain some semblance of control. The testing procedures are being outsmarted daily by the perpetrators and, when caught, some of the most ridiculous theories are then “tested” to see how much confusion the guilty athlete can throw. This leads to public confusion and shows the governing bodies, who chase down the anti-doping villains, as toothless. A two-year ban, with appeals etc., is a slap on the wrist.

What pro athletes understand is career-killing sentences. The hopelessly undermanned testing principals need a hand in their fight and long sentences are it. Six years should be a starting point, They need their own version of the sonic boom they can lower to enforce and deter. Let’s be honest - the two-year ban was not enough. Even at four athletes can make a comeback. Multiple offences need a simple lifetime ban. Sure it reads well when you say it quick but, like in real 3 dimensional life, you can make mistakes and come back.

But at what cost to those who raced clean? Receiving a posthumous gold medal or award is joke when you think off the glory missed on the Games dais. If you are caught out then, in six years, you can possibly come back, although that is highly unlikely. The powers that be have to be content with losing athletes who transgress. There is a “collateral damage” argument, for example, for those who legitimately ingest a banned substance versus a serial doper. But governing bodies need to ask if they want to sweep them too. The amount of information out there is vast and the raft of excuses get more and more flimsy. The grey areas of this side of sport will, no-doubt, have legal folks up at night debating the best route.

There is no easy solution to this. This is an ethical and practical mine field. And one size does not fit all. But the anti-doping movement must have the power to take careers where the case fits. Simply continuing down the current path is not working.