Cycling culture and development of whole athlete hold key to alleviating doping woes – report

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In their report, ‘I wish I was twenty one today – Beyond doping in the Australian peloton’ launched today (Monday 27 September) authors Professor David Shilbury, Martin Hardie, Dr Claudio Bozzi, and Ianto Ware speak to the ‘workers’ – the cyclists and ex-cyclists – involved in the sport and their views on doping, the reasons why it exists and the ways it can be eradicated.

Despite the change within the peloton, they have recommended:
•That administrators use the peer pressure of the peloton to enforce anti doping measures and ethical behaviour in the sport
•That teams are required to develop the whole athlete ensuring they continue education and skills development for when they retire from the sport
•That an international superannuation scheme for cyclists is established with contributions deducted at source

“Unusually, very few studies in the past have sought the views of cyclists and asked the views of cyclists themselves,’’ explained Mr Hardie, the report’s lead author.

“One of the great problems facing the sport is the inability of the cyclists to speak about their position without fear of retribution.’’

Mr Hardie said the report had allowed the researchers to build a picture for the first time of the position of Australian cyclists and the pressures they operated under.

“Like other professional sportsmen, professional cyclists risk a stable career path to enter a career path with an extremely steep learning curve and limited rewards,” he said.

“They do so because the sport means something at a personal level, none of the participants indicated that they entered the sport purely for financial reasons.”

Mr Hardie said cyclists generally entered the profession between the ages of 18 and 25 and 19 and 23, few were riding by their mid 30s. In addition, for Australians the choice meant they moved to the other side of the world away from friends and family, they needed to learn several different languages, learn to manage contractual and financial negotiations and cope with job instability.

“For most, their career was either over or on the downturn by age 30 and they faced effective retrenchment requiring total retraining and adaptation into the ‘real’ world. For some this never happens,” he said.

“The older cyclists and ex-cyclists for instance talked about the limited options and none were likely to leave cycling with a reasonable level of superannuation, savings and investments capable of sustaining them in the long-term, skills applicable to a wider industry and a viable career option.”

Mr Hardie said the cyclists interviewed felt the sport was unfairly scrutinised over the level of drug use.

He said while cyclists complied with and supported the drug testing regime, those interviewed questioned the rationale feeling it was more about protecting advertising sponsorship, audiences and the industry which surrounds it, rather than being about the health of the riders themselves.

“The athletes themselves don’t see doping as a legitimate means to winning, nor is winning the be all and end all.

“In fact many believe the incidence of doping has reduced.

“Those who do dope do so because of the need for another contract, the belief that it is impossible to compete without it, the sense that it is acceptable under certain circumstances and so on.”

Mr Hardie said the study had shown that as a group cyclists had their own rules and ways of enforcing those who stepped over the line.

“Overwhelmingly, despite more nations competing, riders value the opinion of their peers, and do work cohesively together within the social peloton to keep the sport sustainable, safe and manageable, regardless of their team or personal ambition, race after race.

“It is an interesting dynamic because it works on the rationale of ‘you’ve got to share it around because the next day you are going to be in a race with the same guy and it’s going to come back to you’.

“The social peloton has sway with the riders, it is capable of sanctioning riders for doing the wrong thing by their colleagues, for this reason we suggest that an option for the future is to better engage the cyclists in the anti-doping process – to date they have simply been the objects of policing. Rather than active participants.”

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