2 Percentage Points

I just read Jonathan Vaughters’ opinion article in the New York Times on eliminating doping from sport (specifically cycling) and it’s a good piece.


His point essentially is that systems have to be in place so that most of the competitive field finds it reasonable to abide by the rules. That is a good, sustainable policy in sport, as well as economically-sound approach to governing cycling and other sports, even valuable for heady things like running economies. He maintains that during his racing days, it was far too easy to cheat, actions that provide a gain of what sounds like a measly 2% of performance effort. Per his article, 2% is the difference in the 100-meter dash, turning a 10-second effort into a 9.8 (world-class territory). It takes an Olympic swimmer from first to last, and drops a cyclist from first to 100th (of a 189-person field) in the Tour.

From a purely economic point-of-view, it stands to reason that the proper structures must be created to deny rewards to cheating and they must be solid enough to be independent against the question of morality of the participants in a system without checks and balances. The market can’t always fix itself. It simply cannot be too easy to cheat. We never know who the bad actors are, until they are on the perp walk and, up until then, we take them at their word. High-end athletes must realize this when they make comments, surprised at a skeptical public.

Take Bradley Wiggins’ tirade against Tour reporters some weeks back during the 2012 Tour De France. The exact circumstances aside (maybe the reporter was disrespectful or something), he is not personally to blame for the skepticism that exists, but the fact is that scores and scores of results that have occurred in sport from the past twenty years. Be it track, cycling, baseball and other sports have been reversed or donned with an asterisk, as if the jury of public opinion can disregard them.

Furthermore, Wiggins’ win comes 45 years to the year that Tom Simpson, Britain’s most famous cyclist, died as a result of complications that allege the use of drugs while on The Tour. His Wikipedia page is here So the cynic has room to be cynical and should simply be confronted with the ostensible truth at every reasonable beckoning. I say this because I do know that Wiggins made public statements denouncing doping doping when he left Cofidis after the team was left in a compromising situation as the result of others within the team. But, in the tune-in, tune-out world of fan-dom, if the subject comes up, it needs to be dealt with in “plein-air,” As David Millar did during his stage win. What better stage than to do it as Tour leader?

So it is with short historical memory that some folks, particularly those within their sports, fail to speak up about its past. We, the fans, have been asked to dis-believe too much. It’s perplexing that with the current body of evidence of past failures that many high-profile athletes and figures can be intolerant, moreover dismissive of the media and fans when questions arise about the veracity of results. Yeah, we should, but we can’t dismiss the too-good-to-be-true comeback of Floyd Landis in the 2006 Tour, but it’s like a do-over, right?

Perhaps there was the idyllic notion that we were supposed to consider all sportsmen and women as holding themselves to standards beyond takinf advantage in the same fairy-dust kind of way that market economies are always supposed to work correctly without fail. An economy, without a governor (an active system of fairness) becomes a wasteland, while an overbearing governor lays waste of people’s imagination and the two, while opposites are unquestionably intertwined. It’s key that both sides of such a dynamic push and pull at an accurate level of even-handedness to properly reward fair play.

To look at cycling, perhaps the biggest result in the past ten years is the less evident, less sexy turnaround of the system governing the sport.


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