Sunday, November 28, 2010

In the matter of Iljo Keisse

Iljo Keisse and Peter Schep won the zesdaagse in Gent today. The spectacular victory was Keisse's fourth title and came after a suspenseful session in which Keisse and De Ketele switched the lead several times. It is quite obvious that without Iljo the zesdaagse would have been a whole lot less interesting and entertaining. It is also obvious that whomever would have won in that case, would have had a lesser victory.
Iljo Keisse

If you have been reading this blog you will know that Iljo was only able to start after a Belgian High court stepped in to temporarily suspend a ruling TAS made. Keisse got the green light two weeks before the event. In addition he suffered a brief illness and had a fever until just before the racing started.

Keisse is accused of using doping in a complex case that has been dragging on for more than a year now. It is a prime example of all that is wrong with the way doping cases are handled. To add even more irony, the zesdaagse was in turmoil a few days ago, when a group of anti-doping officials showed up and apparently threatened to interrupt the racing so they could take samples. According to the reports, these individuals were not welcomed by the crowd.

I do firmly believe all competitors should play by the rules, whatever those rules are. I therefore believe that riders who take forbidden substances should be punished just like anyone else who cheats.

What I do NOT agree with however is the following:
-that the rules banning particular substances are in any way different from the rules that define a competition legal bicycle. These rules are just conventions and it is up to us to find conventions that are sensible, workable and enforceable. The recent hoopla about mechanical doping proves that this viewpoint is valid.
-that doping is a special kind of cheating -this is just magical thinking that may sit well with primitive societies but has no place in a modern scientific world. There is nothing magical about doping. It is not even proven to be effective and its effects are in any case far less than those of drafting, pushing, or towing riders, and other forms of cheating where the competitors gain a real tangible advantage.
-the punishment and stigmatization associated with drug use is wildly excessive and out of touch with the way other incidents of cheating are treated.
-retroactive punishment should be abolished. Results should be finalized a short time after the race and they should be final and unalterable. Even crimes have a statute of limitations.
-the way doping cases are handled is shameful. Riders are guilty until proven innocent and the damage done to people's livelihood and to the sport of cycling is excessive and vindictive. The modus operandi reminds one of the Spanish Inquisition or that of the Salem witch hunters. Once you are in the system you rarely come out unharmed.

The quest for clean competition is nothing more than a modern form of the age-old quest for virginity. The responses to doping cases are emotional rather than rational and remind on of the practice of stoning women for adultery that is still prevalent in some societies. About the only positive thing we can say is that so far WADA has refrained from using real stones or actually killing the defendant.

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