Thursday, December 1, 2011

Doping in Cycling and the Mafia

The head of the World Anti Doping Association (WADA), David Howman, gave an interview in New York City that gives some insights into the difficulty of battling doping in cycling and other sports. Here are some of the meatier quotes from an article on CyclingNews, along with my comments:

"We, WADA, were set up because every sport and every government had a different rule. I think things have improved considerably because now there is one set of rules covering everything, and I think that the gaps to the cheaters has narrowed quite considerably," he told Cyclingnews. "On the other hand, the cheaters that are really clever are now cleverer, or they're getting more help, and that's a challenge."
That 'help', Howman made clear, is coming from mafia-style criminal rings who have moved from selling hard drugs such as heroin, into the markets of steroids and performance enhancing drugs, where higher mark-ups and minimal police intervention means that the financial rewards can be far greater.
Mafia-style criminal rings are now helping athletes cheat by selling steroids, EPO, HGH, etc! According to this interview, the mob can make more money selling EPO than they can selling heroin.
How long such activity has been going on is unclear but Howman estimates that there have been at least five years in which the problem has escalated. In the last 12 months WADA has launched into collaboration with Interpol, sharing information – a bold move considering that the anti-doping agency's budget was frozen for 2012 and that their further investigations and hard work has lead to greater knowledge of sport's murky underworld.
Interestingly, the last 12 months or so includes the time frame when Jeffrey Novitzky's team has been working on its investigation into Lance Armstrong's doping allegations.
Last month Howman bluntly told a conference in Paris that only the 'dopey dopers' were being caught, pointing out that the number of suppliers and doctors who have been caught remains low.
Only dopey dopers get caught is a sad comment that explains how the peloton can be using these products and nobody gets caught until someone does something stupid like leaving a bunch of syringes in the hotel trash can.
"I think you've got to address the major issue, and sport has to look at this. Is organised crime moving into sport or not? Sport would like to say surely it's not but we now know that through match fixing and everything that goes on with betting that that's what goes on in the underworld. We know that the mafia-organised crime is making more money from pushing steroids than it is through pushing heroin."
Is he saying the Mafia is supplying drugs to athletes and betting on their customers?! Imagine if they decide to throw a big event by supplying tainted drugs. Let's say the 2012 Tour de France. Assume Contador is up by 5 minutes going into the final week of the Tour and the Schleck brothers are in 2nd and 3rd, about one minute between each other and another five minutes to the fourth place rider, Levi Leipheimer.

The odds in Vegas are that Contador will walk away the winner. If you want to bet on Levi you can get great odds (50:1). The mafia decides to bet on Levi and fix the game on the last week by giving Contador's team and Andy Schleck's team some EPO mixed with a virus that takes 7 - 10 days to go away. Levi, who was ten minutes down at the beginning of the final week, ends up running away with the race as Contador and both Schleck brothers abandon with this wicked virus. It would make for some drama but I think pro sports of all types just got a lot less interesting to me...

Regarding how long Contador's case is taking, Howman said:
"I'll feel more comfortable talking about that when it comes to a conclusion but what I'll say is that no case should take this long," Howman admitted.
"But when you've got cases where you've got lawyers who want to make sure that every piece of evidence is put through a court and you've got a court that allows that, then instead of having a case where it's 30 pages long you've got one that's 3,030 pages long."
"The appeal was based on the fact that the federation got it wrong in exonerating him, simple as that. He had the banned substance in his system, with no excuse and that was why we appealed. I'm hopeful that CAS will make the correct decision."
Well, I'm pretty sure we know what's going to happen with this case. Contador sure doesn't seem worried about it as he's been talking about competing in the Olympics this week. I might be wrong but if I was a betting man (which I'm not), I wouldn't be putting much money against Contador winning this case...

By the way, if you think Jeffrey Novitzky's investigation to pursue Lance Armstrong is a waste of money, you might consider whether you want organized crime to be involved in supplying doping products to both pro and amateur athletes. I think the progress they appear to be making in the past year in identifying who the parties are that are involved probably wouldn't have happened without Novitzky's team investigating what some pro cyclists have referred to as the "cycling mafia" along with the "boss" of the peloton...


  1. By some reports Armstrong has already paid $3 million to his combined legal counsel. Lawyering up is one thing, but that's quite a lot of money for someone who was tested more than any other athlete and has never tested positive. Oh wait!
    That was Joiner's line, too. Then again, according to Landis and Hamilton, Armstrong did test positive. And then there was that steroid positive that Emma told us about. Oh what a tangled we we weave when first we practice to deceive.


  3. The only flaw to your theory is that they would be very unlikely to be using much EPO anymore that you could spike. Maybe a few (2-3) very small microdoses while blood doping (reinfusing their own stored red cells). But the mafia would have to corrupt both Contador's own personal blood stores and any illegal pharms he was going to consume. Totally plausible in theory, but very difficult logistically unless you're implying that Contador himself is basically a made-man and that the mafia itself is storing his packed red cells since Dr. Fuentes seems out of business. Thoughts?

  4. JMP, this wasn't supposed to be a theory. It was simply an extreme example of potential implications of what David Howman was saying. I seriously doubt the mafia is that wrapped up in doping and betting and match fixing in cycling as Howman implies. However, the suppliers of prescription drugs to athletes are, by definition, criminals and could well be working under some sort of organized crime networks. In the end, Novitzky and Howman know more about this mess than I do.