World Championships: Provincial play with international casting

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01.10.2007/  A week of chaos ended yesterday as Italy's Paolo Bettini won the road race of the UCI World Championships. A week full of accusations and court cases where politicians and officials did everything to harm the event. An editorial by Cyclingheroes.

In Germany the rule of law doesn't seem to count for pro cycling. As in most western societies criminals are innocent until proven guilty, many professional cyclists are not, appearently. A rumour, a remark, a media report seems to be enough to make somebody jobless. Politicians, officials and large parts of the German media have found a common cause: the fight against performance enhancing drugs in pro cycling. At least that's what they say...

Germany's minister of the interior Wolfgang Schäuble, who is also responsible for sports, held back 150.000 Euros of subsidy for the Stuttgart World Championships because of the refusal of Paolo Bettini to sign the anti-doping declaration of the UCI and the decision of the International Sports Court (CAS) that Alejandro Valverde has the right to start at the World Championships. The very same Wolfgang Schäuble sounded very different as a member of parliament in the seventies. During a debate about performance enhanching drugs in the German Bundestag (1977) Schäuble said: "We only want to insert these substances restrictedly and only under the absolute control of sports medical specialists (...), because appearently there are disciplines in which without the insertion of these substances (...) we can't keep up in the world competition."

The German Cycling Federation is fully behind the so called 'Code de Conduit' or code of ethics. The code of ethics is an agreement between the ProTour teams that a rider is voluntarily suspended if he is under suspicion to be involved in a doping case. After BDR vice-president Udo Sprenger was accused of organizing and financing a doping programm at the Nürnberger team in the nineties, he was allowed to continue his work for BDR.

After the unprecedented campaign against former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich, the witchhunt continued with the cancelation of the live broadcasting of this years Tour de France after the announcement of a positive test of Patrick Sinkewitz by German public TV channels ARD and ZDF. ARD was a co-sponsor of the Telekom Team in the nineties and their head of sports at that time, Hagen Bosdorf once said: „If Telekom says there is no doping, than for us there is no doping.“

Last year Jörg Ludewig was voluntarily suspended by his T-Mobile team after a fax of Ludewig prove that he had informed himself about the effects of certain performance enhancing drugs and which where the best to take. Former head of sports of ZDF and current presenter of ZDF's 'Aktuelle Sportstudio', Wolf-Dieter Poschmann, knew already about Ludewig's fax in 2004. That did not prevent ZDF from engaging Ludewig for a daily Tour diary on their website in 2005.

On September 14 former Olympic gold medal winner Georg Braun stepped down as ambassador of Stuttgart's World Championships. Braun is co-owner of the cycling academy. His associate and manager of Stefan Schumacher, Heinz Betz, was refused an accreditation for the worlds because Jan Ullrich will start at a charity ride for children in Weil der Stadt, Germany on October 3. The charity event is orgenized by Betz. Furthermore the local organizing committee declared that Eddy Merckx, Rudi Altig, Gianni Bugno and Dietrich Thurau as 'personae non grata' because of their „dark past“. That didn't prevent the local organisers to give Bernhard Thevenet or Bjarne Riis an accreditation. Both have confessed to have doped in the past.

But that wasn't enough. The head of the local organizing committee, Suzanne Eissenmann didn't want to see Erik Zabel, Alejandro Valverde and defending world champion Paolo Bettini in Stuttgart. She even tried to get a court injunction to prevent Bettini from starting at the worlds road race because Bettini refused to sign one of the clauses of the UCI anti-doping declaration. Bettini wrote a letter to the UCI months ago in which he wrote that he was not willing to pay a one year salary to the UCI if he would be convicted in a doping case. He would be willing to pay the money to his team. No word about that last sentence in most media. The court of Stuttgart rejected the court injunction. The court ruled that the anti-doping declarartion wasn't binding and therefore Bettini was allowed to start.

The last round is promising to be a round of court cases. The UCI demands that the local committee pays 600.000 Euros which the city of Stuttgart is not willing to pay although they are obliged to according to a contract between the city of Stuttgart and the UCI. Stuttgart also refuses to pay the BDR 75.000 Euros. Paolo Bettini wants to sue ZDF, the city of Stuttgart and the local organizing committee for defamation.

Under these circumstances the World Championships had to end up a disaster. Local politicians of Stuttgart used the World Championships to make their mark. But in the end they wouldn't have had a chance if the world of cycling would have made a serious effort in the fight against doping instead of legally controversial pr instruments like the code of ethics and the anti-doping declaration.

Is it a good instrument to simply cancel the rule of law, the principal rule innocent until proven guilty? The code of ethics is a dangerous instrument, who decides who is under doping supicion and who is not? After Italian Police started to investigate Luca Paolini in a doping case in Italy he was allowed to continue racing. After the 38 pages long fax of the Puerto affair some riders were sent home before the start of last years Tour de France. However others were allowed to start although there were similar indications about their involvement in the affair.

The anti-doping declaration which riders had to sign before the start of this years Tour de France was questioned by many lawyers from the beginning. It was clear that the declaration was not worth the paper it was written on in a legal sense.

Operacion Puerto made clear that doping is internationally organized, the UCI should not complain that different countries are handling the affair in their own way. They should step forward and take their responsibility, for instance by handling doping proceedings by an international body. And handle them faster. More than a year after he was suspended by the code of ethics Jan Ullrich is still under investigation by Swiss Cycling, no hearing, nothing.

Ofcourse there is a doping problem, and ofcourse riders have to take their responsibility but we should ask ourselves one question. Are the mentioned politicians, officials and certain parts of the media the solution or are they part of the problem? It's about time that some people step down.

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