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Switch off the light on cycling, switch off the light on doping
  1. G Lippi1,
  2. M Franchini2,
  3. G Cesare Guidi1
  1. 1
    Sezione di Chimica Clinica, Dipartimento di Scienze Morfologico-Biomediche, Universitè di Verona, Italy
  2. 2
    Servizio di Immunoematologia e Trasfusione, Azienda Ospedaliera di Verona, Italy
  1. Professor G Lippi, MD, Sezione di Chimica Clinica, Dipartimento di Scienze Morfologico-Biomediche, Universitè degli Studi di Verona, Ospedale Policlinico GB Rossi, Piazzale Scuro, 10, 37134 Verona, Italy; ulippi{at}tin.it

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There is rather a long history of fraud in sport competitions, and doping has plagued the Tour de France almost since its beginning in 1903, culminating on 13 July, 1967 with the dramatic death of British cyclist Tom Simpson on the climb of Mont Ventoux, attributed to the use of amphetamines and complicated by the now defunct practice of drinking as little as possible.1 Nearly a year after the 2006 “Tour de Chaos”, when nine riders who were implicated in an international doping probe based on blood transfusions were ruled out of the race and the winner of the yellow jersey tested positive for testosterone,2 a sequence of events again plagued the 2007 competition. First, a German rider was tested non-negative for testosterone in an out-of-competition antidoping control a few days before the start of the race. Then, an Italian rider tested “non-negative” in a doping test for testosterone after stage 11 and a Spanish rider was found guilty of erythropoietin misuse on the second rest day after stage 15. Later in the race, a Kazakh top-class rider and Tour contender tested positive twice in 3 days, after stage 13: the first time following an individual time trial, which he won in an “impressive” manner, and the second time after the mountains stage (stage 15). The rider was suspected of blood doping by autologous transfusion, since a doubled red blood cell population was detected during a in-competition antidoping test. Last but not least, the Danish rider who was wearing the yellow jersey (and already pronounced Tour winner) was fired by his team and was forced to withdraw from the race three stages from the end of the race because he had failed to heed several warnings about not informing his national cycling federation of his whereabouts. Information on whereabouts is vital for the effectiveness of out-of-competition random testing, to which the International Cycling Unit (ICU) attaches great importance. Finally, a formal enquiry was made into the 2007 winner of the yellow jersey, a client of the doctor (Dr. Fuentes) involved in a massive blood-doping scandal widely known as “Operacion Puerto”.2

In an immediate reaction to what it widely believed to be the “greatest swindle in sport history”, and following the admission of doping by several Tour contenders (including the two riders who won the yellow and green jerseys in 1996), the major German TV channels decided to stop broadcasting the Tour, a resolution that was supported by most German political parties. This is probably the point at which we should say "enough is enough”. The disappointing number of cyclists still involved in doping cases clearly attests to the fact that the innovative and pervasive strategies adopted by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the ICU and several other sport federations3, although valuable in analysing the situation, are ineffective in either preventing athletes from doping or modifying this upward trend towards doping practices. Several top class athletes have been familiar with doping over the past decade and will probably continue to dope in the years to come, since their desire for victory, along with the mirage of glory and money, will always overcome the risk of being caught. A strategy based on prosecuting athletes only to protect their health is no longer appropriate, and it may even turn out to be unproductive and costly.4 Therefore, a more radical strategy is needed. Since the enormous economic revenues to be gained from the most famous sporting events worldwide (Olympics, Football Word Championships, Tour de France) are largely linked to sponsors and media coverage, it is time to insist that media coverage be stopped at those events where doping is revealed to be commonplace. In this respect, the German TV channels have taken the initiative in their audacious resolution. Sadly, little has changed since the 2006 “Tour de Chaos”, and the situation has even worsened.2 Since it is inconceivable that cycling is the only sport where doping is commonplace, it is proposed that the broadcasting of sport competitions where doped athletes routinely participate should be interrupted. The time has come to switch off the light on doping.

What is already known on this topic

  • There is a long history of fraud in sport competitions, and doping has plagued the Tour de France almost since it began.

  • The 2006 Tour de France was transformed into an elimination race, when several riders were ruled out of the race for being involved in doping.

What this study adds

  • Nearly a year after the 2006 “Tour de Chaos”, a sequence of doping events has again plagued the 2007 competition.

  • Owing to the relative ineffectiveness of the current antidoping strategy, a more radical policy must be readily adopted.

  • The interruption of media coverage of those events where doped athletes participate is an effective strategy to damage the economic revenue of athletes and teams, and could act as a deterrent to doping.

REFERENCES

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Footnotes

  • Competing interests: None.

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