Good Journalism Encourages Doping

Doping in sport is going to remain a problem as long as anyone benefits from it happening. Happily it seems that the days of competitor’s benefitting are passing: improved tests, increased out-of-competition testing, and programs like the “biological passport” are doing a good job of catching the cheats; this is probably enough to discourage anyone who only benefits while they remain uncaught.

However, there are those who benefit from doping in sport only if the doping is revealed: non-sports sponsors.

Not all sponsors of course: if a Nike-sponsored athlete is caught doping it’s a huge problem for them. The same applies to Adidas, Trek, Specialized, Oakley, etc. Everyone who might buy one of their products already knows who they are; they want to be associated with winning performances so that people will attribute it to their gear, and that link will not be made if the performance is due to doping.

The sponsors who benefit from doping are the ones which are not making a sports performance product. And those with the most to gain are the sponsors which are not so well known. A good recent example of this is Vini Fantini: I would never have heard of this Italian winemaker at all if they weren’t sponsoring a cycling team with two dopers in it. Every article in every news outlet about Di Luca or Santambrogio mentions the team name and therefore the title sponsor several times.

Compare this with the amount of exposure received by the title sponsors of the non-doping but otherwise broadly comparable teams invited to the Giro: toy maker Androni Giocattoli, valve maker Bardiani Valvole, pump maker CSF Inox and the South American countries of Colombia and Venezuela. These guys have lost-out twice by playing clean: during the race the Vini Fantini dopers were more active and therefore mentioned more often, whereas if they hadn’t been doping these other teams would have been able to appear similarly competitive; and after the race the world’s media has mentioned Vini Fantini every time they mention Di Luca or Santambrogio, and no-one has written about these clean teams.

I do not personally believe that the Italian winery influenced those riders to take up doping in order that more of us would hear their name. But the problem is that now all the companies which sponsor second-tier cycle teams will know that if their teams play clean they get very little benefit and if they play dirty their name will be mentioned everywhere. I will be skeptical of the sponsors the next time this kind of thing happens.

The only way to stop this is for journalists to stop mentioning the team name when a doping athlete is found out. Of course this runs contrary to normal journalistic standards of completeness and accuracy: I think it is a price worth paying to preserve sporting integrity.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>