Reflections for the World Conference on Doping in Sport
2-4 February 1999 - Lausanne, SUI
M. Hein Verbruggen - Président - UCI
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Cycling is a popular sport and viewers avidly follow TV coverage of the Tour, Vuelta, Giro and World Championships. It goes without saying that our sport is growing at a healthy pace. But, as we all know, there is a drawback to popularity. When a negative event occurs, the impact is in proportion, as we have experienced in 1998 with the events during and after the Tour. For the first time, evidence was found of 'organized' doping practices by one group or team, contrary to the "normal" individual cases.
Needless to say where this has lead to. For months, we have been buried in avalanches of discussions and articles by all kinds of experts, politicians and the press finally resulting in the organization of an "IOC World Conference on Doping in Sport" on 2, 3 and 4 February 1999.
Within the framework of this approaching conference, I feel the need to express some of my reflections. After all, cycling did cause this crisis (not just doping as such), placing us rather doubtfully at the centre of many considerations and reflections, regrettably not always of an objective nature. That is why as President of the International Cycling Union, I am perhaps best placed to write down my experiences and remarks in an attempt to provide a constructive contribution to the debate.
First of all, I am prepared to admit that as far as doping is concerned, I am still rather confused myself. Because of the great complexity of the doping problem and the limited means that we have at our disposal, I am inclined to say that we cannot solve the problem, at best we will be able to control it. And when I say limited means, I am certainly not referring to financial means. No, what I mean is that the structure of the sports world, even if united, will not be able to be efficient without the national authorities, which in their turn I am afraid, will not adopt the same legislation in all countries. After all, we are dealing with a sports structure which is in many cases still amateurish, with well-meaning volunteers, who are increasingly confronted with a highly professional framework around the athletes themselves, with more and more doctors and lawyers, specialized in following the thin line between what is or is not medically or judicially tolerated.
And "limited means" has MAINLY to do with the fact that there will always be - and presumably more and more - banned products and methods which CANNOT BE TRACED.
Please forgive me, when I admit honestly that uncertainty remains regarding the fact that the much desired unity on definitions, prevention, political aspects and so on will not provide us with the final answers in the fight against doping. It is almost cynical that more frequent tests and more stringent punishments will not make some athletes stop doping but instead encourage them to use undetectable products.
As sports leaders we might sometimes be compared with politicians. And one of the less favourable aspects of politicians is that it is (almost) forbidden to lose face. In politics, one will at any price try to avoid this and history is filled with examples proving that this has lead to the most outrageous deeds, wars certainly not excluded. I am mentioning this example, because we should try to avoid following it in these difficult times. All throughout the years, we have proclaimed to condemn doping and to take rigorous measures, thus creating a pattern of expectations especially with a large part of the press. He who punishes rigorously, is "doing good", that is the image we have radiated. And I fear that, just like politicians are afraid to lose face, we wish to confirm this image. However, this attitude would prevent us from entering into a real discussion on the issue of doping. A discussion that will provide us with the answers to the future questions sport will be confronted with because of the advancing "medicalisation" of society and also the world of sport. In the following chapters, I wish to present a number of questions: questions I have myself and for which I myself do not know the answer. I sincerely hope that the conference will allow these questions to be debated so that we will be able to prepare ourselves for an efficient future combat against doping.