Jonathan Vaughters did a head shake on Team Sky’s plans to insist that all their riders and staff sign some kind of “didn’t do anything bad” affidavit. He understands the idealism but questions what effect — other than negative — that will have in the grand scheme.
Besides the grade school silliness of the Brailsford-Sky approach, Vaughters made a huge point about why blindly trying to throw ex-dopers out of the sport is a bad idea. In effect, he said you need some of them because they can do a better job of cleaning up cycling than anybody.
“You cannot change history but you can change the direction forward and you can use the people who have encountered that history and probably didn’t really like that history,” said Vaughters. “By just throwing some of them to the side, you are eliminating the knowledge base of how to prevent doping, you are completely pushing it to the side, eliminating all of that experience and the emotion of people who had to live through a doping era.”
That kind of argument holds buckets of water and it’s been proven again and again. Ex-cons make the most passionate and successful prison counselors. Former computer hackers make superb computer security experts. Reformed Wall Street embezzlers make ruthlessly effective investigators of insider trading. They know the game and all the tricks and they go to war.
Right now the USADA-Armstrong nuclear explosion has everybody and everything up for review. There’s room for plenty of self-criticism whether you were a rider, team manager, doctor or UCI president. The temptation is to just kill them once and for all, no mercy, scorched earth, no exceptions made for any positive contribution and no time taken to weigh up each case on its own merits.
The questions have to be asked and rightfully so. Should ex-doper Jonathan Vaughters be running a WorldTour team? Should unrepentant doper and race fixer Alexander Vinokourov be in charge at Astana? Does Bjarne Riis have any right to continue leading Saxo-Tinkoff after the testimony or Tyler Hamilton? Should Matt White have to pay the price for a bad choice 13 years ago?
The throw-them-all-under-the-bus approach reminds us of when US military forces went into Iraq and wiped out the army of Saddam Hussein. Paul Bremer, the man in charge, decided a clean sweep was necessary and began a De-Ba’thification process to removal anyone in Saddam’s Baathist party from the Iraqi civil service. That kicked about 50,000 people out of a job and it was an exceedingly bad idea. Iraqi educational institutions had no school teachers and no qualified people to run any of the ministries and government organizations. It was chaos and the policy was eventually reversed.
We agree with Vaughters that it doesn’t make sense to start a reign of terror and chop all the heads. There are plenty of passionate and skilled and experienced people in pro cycling that made mistakes years back and ever since have been in the forefront of anti-doping efforts. Vaughters and his Garmin-Sharp squad are shining examples — not to mention the template and inspiration for other riders and teams.
While it’s tempting to simply erase the past doping history, the way forward is with people like David Millar and Jonathan Vaughters who’ve been there, done that and hated it enough to change it. Saddam Hussein is long gone and with any luck UCI President Pat McQuaid will also soon be out of power.