The cheats are out there, but the media are scraping the barrel to link drugs with athletics and cycling
According to a Reuters news story, “the spectre of doping was again looming over … cycling” in recent days.
Is it another scandal of Armstrong-proportions? Has someone failed a drugs test?
No, unbelievably, this is in reference to one cyclist missing one out-of-competition test. Did they not answer a door to a drugs tester? Did they not show at a training venue where an anti-doping official expected them? No, in fact, the cyclist in question seemed to have a pretty good excuse: he said drugs testers turned up at 7am at the start of his designated one-hour slot at the hotel where he was staying on holiday, but the staff would not allow access to guests so early.
The fact that the cyclist making this recent admission is someone as prominent as former Tour de France winner Chris Froome is the reason why it has made headlines and why it offered Reuters the chance of a “cycling and drugs” story with a lurid intro.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Reuters story does not mention the other drugs test he admitted to missing, although that one was five years earlier, thus out of the 12-month range in which athletes would have to miss three to have committed a doping offence.
And there is a reason why the rule is three missed tests, why the missing of just one or even two tests does not normally become public knowledge. That reason is illustrated by the farce that led to Froome’s missed tests this year.
The circumstances around the missed test are just one of countless innocent ways athletes could miss tests under the whereabouts system. The extent of the negligence, forgetfulness or disorganisation in each case probably varies considerably – but it’s difficult to insist that Froome was at any great fault.
The recent comments from 800m runner Lynsey Sharp that she had to sit in a cafe one hour per day while on holiday because her apartment doorbell wasn’t working show the lengths to which athletes sometimes have to go to avoid missing a test – and why innocent athletes may miss more than one.
Martin Samuel, in the Daily Mail, compared not missing a test to showing up at work on time. How ludicrous! Some people in the work arena are unreliable and disorganised (just like in sport). Some might be fired for being late too many times. But they find other jobs and perhaps become more punctual in the future. However, athletes can be hung, drawn and quartered by the press after a couple of missed tests and labelled as “drug cheats” after three.
If the whereabouts system weren’t as fraught with the uncertainties of life as it is, the anti-doping rules would state that one missed test is a doping offence. But the rule is three and that’s why Farah’s two missed tests should not have come to light.
True, it’s a bit scary that he was just one further missed test away from being unable to compete in London 2012. However, it’s a bit like a driver being a tenth of a second from going through a red light – no offence is committed. Or it could be compared to letting your vehicle’s tyres become so worn down that they are close to illegal – but not illegal. Three tests in 12 months is an offence – two tests aren’t.
It is bad enough that we have real deliberate cheats in athletics, in cycling and in every sport. Let’s worry about them – not about someone missing a test because they stayed at a hotel with overzealous staff.