Friday, October 01, 2010

Why Amnesty Probably Wouldn't Work

The “amnesty window” concept for truth and reconciliation in cycling has been kicked around for a while but, according to one of the Great Thinkers with which Pappillon is regularly in consultation, it’s total fantasy. He writes:

The only way it could possibly work is if there were a single, worldwide doping authority that total control over national or local organizations. If there were any disagreement to the terms of clemency, it simply wouldn’t work. We know this is obvious, but here’s an example: Let’s say American Pro Bob Beaver wants to come clean. He also doesn’t want to risk his right to work. USADA and WADA both agree to open a “fess up, boy” window at the end of the season. He signs some papers, makes a statement, joins the bio passport program and slips on a blue wristband - or some combination of events that convince everyone else (and himself) that from this point on he’ll be clean. Unfortunately, the Dutch [or Austrian] authorities aren’t exactly on the same page and while they’ll let Bob’s team come race some kermesses, they won’t let Bob race. Or maybe they will, but details of the Dutch amnesty require a 6-month suspension.

Apparently, the devil is in the details and there’s no way all those organizations could ever come to an agreement.


  1. Jonathan Williams01 October, 2010 23:07

    I think that amnesty wouldn't work because it assumes that things would be fundamentally different after it was over. If the same system--incentives, oversight, doctors, sponsors, testing, etc.--is still in place, one can only assume that athletes will continue to dope. Furthermore, because everyone gets amnesty, they'll still have to work with the same people in the same profession, so the incentive to keep silent will still be present. So they keep their mouth shut then go back to doping, right? Realistically? Then what, amnesty again?

    Truth and reconciliation had a chance to work in South Africa because when that process was over, the laws and government were radically different, and the nation could truly turn the page. Here, cyclists would step right back into the old world with the same old people and the same old structure.

    I have a hunch that the people who want to come clean already have enough incentive to do so (via their conscience or whatever), and people who don't want to won't confess simply because amnesty is offered. I think giving antidoping agencies the flexibility to reduce a ban in exchange for information about suppliers, infrastructure, etc. (much like criminal prosecutors with plea bargaining), should be enough extra incentive without declaring general amnesty (which would undermine accountability).

  2. Thanks, Jonathan. Your comments are appreciated, if somewhat discouraging (the idea they convey - not your comments themselves! which are'm hoping that others will share their thoughts on this issue as well, so that we can author a more declarative piece and either recommend something akin to amnesty, or explain a better, more effective path.

  3. Jonathan Williams02 October, 2010 00:25

    Yeah, I wish I had something more constructive to offer. I think that a lot of antidoping efforts will be seriously hindered until the UCI gets serious about cleaning up the sport. Right now they still see catching (high-profile) dopers as bad for business. The change of leadership at ASO a couple of years ago, the removal of the AFLD from taking the lead at the Tour de France, the news of Lance Armstrong's "donation" to the UCI, the general treatment of Floyd Landis (who is clearly telling the truth, now), and the weird (to put it mildly) way the UCI has handled this Contador mess, all tell me that truth-tellers are still in the minority party in the cycling world. Until we get someone like Vaughters, Stapleton (Bob, not Bill!), or some of the French rabble-rousers like Bordry in charge of cycling, the highest-profile riders will continue to get special treatment, which only encourages everyone else to dope.

    Until the power structure changes, I think systemic efforts of reform will be stymied and of limited effectiveness. I think the work of bike-pure and others can serve as activism, political pressure, support for confessors and truth-tellers, awareness, and lots of other good things, but won't ultimately win until their people get their hands on the wheels of power.

    But I agree with your sentiment and would like to hear more about an amnesty plan or other constructive ideas for moving the ball forward.

    It's not all doom-and-gloom. It was encouraging to see at the Tour that climbing speeds and wattage were returning to more human levels (thanks for your coverage of that). The introduction of the bio passport has helped a lot, though it's not perfect. There's still work to be done. I look forward to hearing more about the results of your recent trip to Colorado. Keep up the good work!


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