• Chris Froome, for taking one puff of his inhaler too many, may be handed the same length ban as former captain of the Australian cricket team. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
When they have wronged, are we too harsh on our sports stars or too lenient? Do bans - the equivalent of going to the lock-up - even work? And should sporting crime be treated any differently to real-world crime? Anthony Tan reflects on a few such issues.
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5 Apr 2018 - 1:36 PM  UPDATED 6 Apr 2018 - 6:42 AM

Go to Wikipedia's 'List of doping cases in cycling' and the very first sentence will tell you "The following is an incomplete list of doping cases and recurring accusations of doping in professional cycling" - yet it nevertheless cracks the 40,000-word mark.

Yes, professional cycling has a very long and storied past - and since the 1880s doping has been inextricably linked.

A famous quote from Fausto Coppi, the most dominant pre- and post-War War II rider of his generation, pretty much sums up the zeitgeist of the time - and could arguably be extrapolated till less than a decade ago: "I only took drugs when absolutely necessary, which is nearly always."

Do bans per se discourage recidivism?

I didn't bother reading all of it since I'm all too familiar with stories of cheating via use of banned substances or methods, particularly the past three decades. However what is apparent is that throughout history, the punishments administered have been inconsistent to say the least.

Nowadays it appears standard to be handed a two-year suspension for a first violation for intentional doping, with anywhere from four to 12 years for a second offence (ciao Riccardo Riccò, come stai?).

In the case of four-time Tour champ Chris Froome, however, things become more nuanced and consequently more complicated, not just because of the substance in question but the nature of the infraction. As the situation stands, the Kenyan-born Brit has not yet been told his adverse analytical finding from last year's Vuelta a España has resulted in an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) - explaining why he and Team Sky have continued to deny breaking anti-doping rules, and explaining why he continues to race unsanctioned.

Froome, an asthmatic, denies deliberately exceeding the permitted dosage of salbutamol at the 2017 Vuelta - "I took the greatest care to ensure that I did not use more than the permissible dose" - and said at February's Ruta del Sol that "We're working as hard as we can to try and get this resolved. No one wants this resolved more quickly than I do."

If he cannot sufficiently explain why there was an excess of salbutamol in his system, the UCI is likely to conclude an ADRV was breached and award a ban up to 12 months. Which just so happens to be the period of suspension for the erstwhile captain and vice-captain of the Australian cricket team.

It's difficult to compare sports but on face value the former appears unintentional (ignore former coach Shane Sutton's claims about Team Sky's abuse of Therapeutic Use Exemptions for the moment), or at the very least indefinite, and in the case of the latter it is unmistakably intentional. Yet they may receive identical sentences.

In light of Froome's hitherto clean record (until the 2017 Vuelta, any claims of doping violations had been nothing but innuendo) and his decision not to enter a plea bargain for a reduced sentence (again, contrary to media reports stating otherwise), I'm prepared to grant him the benefit of the doubt. Unlike what is likely to emerge from the investigation into the ball-tampering scandal, there was no previous history or pattern of abuse on his behalf, nor does it appear to be a premeditated decision to cheat.

A number of questions arise. Is 12 months a fair ban for the cyclist and cricketers in question? Should it be less - or more? Do bans per se discourage recidivism? With respect to the Australian cricket team, should we be focusing less on psycho-analysing tearful press conferences and the length of the bans and more on a win-at-all-costs culture (sound familiar?) that has allowed such a blatant transgression to occur, in a game whose very name is supposed to evoke the essence of fair play?

In cycling at least, shouldn't we be quietly applauding the governing body, the anti-doping bodies, and the teams for getting us to a point where we are talking about mistakenly taking one too many puffs of an asthma inhaler, when just a few years ago it was the vampirish arts of blood tranfusions, EPO and anything else your local Swiss pharmacy was willing to dish out?

Team Sky and the Australian cricket team have broader issues to deal with but it's important not to immediately conflate management with individuals until such time a direct link can be drawn between the two. Being unfairly tarred with the same brush only serves to swell speculation to the benefit of none other than tabloids who have far more interest in sensationalism than truth.