CIRC report: Can triathlon do better in the fight against doping?

Following the release last week by the UCI of its latest Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report, we wanted to get a read on the implications for triathlon and triathletes. So we asked Clean Protocol founder Teague Czislowski, together with his head of science Dr Mike Puchowicz M.D, for their thoughts…

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The recent UCI CIRC report is a reminder of the choice that athletes face; accept the current state of anti-doping which has enabled the culture of doping in countless sports or recognise the need for change and action.

The report confirms to us again that with each new sports doping scandal inquiries are held and reports are written with recommendations hoping to bolster the anti-doping system such as the formation of WADA, a 50% haematocrit test the bio-passport, blood testing, a whereabouts system, out of competition testing, in sleep testing and so on.  Each revision is accompanied by an easy and compelling public relations narrative championed by those with an interest to get back to business as soon as possible.

Unfortunately the response from some athletes and their sports entourage is to simply adopt ever more evasive doping practices.  This pattern continues until the next doping scandal emerges.  The cycle repeats because the imbalance between the incentives to cheat versus any resistance or reason not to cheat is never disrupted. 

Like most previous reports or inquiries into doping practices, the report is ultimately another study of failure. While important, the isolated study of past failure creates expertise only in further failure. It is not surprising then that there were few new revelations or insights in the report.  It was already well known that the doping culture is deeply entrenched in cycling. What is surprising though is that hope continues to be put on each new torch bearer that emerges in the procession of scandal: 1984 Olympics, PDM, Festina, Human Plasma, Freiburg Clinic, Operation Puerto, Oil for Drugs, USADA, Mantova, Padova, Astana, CIRC.

(Credit: Anita Ritenour)

Loss of credibility

People cheat because they want to profit from the deception, but they also have a need to see themselves as fundamentally good people.  That is only possible if they believe everyone is doping or it is condoned by those around them. Such acceptance of doping results in a fundamental loss of credibility, the sports ecosystem shrinks as sponsors leave and clean athletes retreat.  There are winners, but they are mostly unworthy and do not deserve the benefits of sport.

The CIRC report identifies correctly what needs to be done but offers no solutions when it concludes: “Only the participants themselves can decide when enough is enough, and act to effect change…It remains of great importance that all stakeholders, of which the public is one, get behind clean riders and teams.”

Triathlon as a relatively new sport still has the chance to distinguish itself as a clean sport. But to do so requires action not empty words and public relations efforts.  

In that light we established the Clean Protocol as an action plan for athletes to demonstrate they are clean.  It does this by using scientifically validated tests for the athlete and their entourage as a health check and then uses ocular motor deception testing to determine whether their sports performance is credible. Instead of catching cheats in ever ingenious ways it focuses on identifying those who are doing the right thing and creates the social context for clean sport to emerge.

In triathlon there is reason for hope with the ‘Kona 9’. Nine professional triathletes (James Cunnama, TJ Tollakson, Luke McKenzie, Andrew Starykowicz, Daniel Halksworth, Harry Wiltshire, Sara Gross, Jodie Swallow, and Mary Beth Ellis) who at some personal risk took the Clean Protocol in the days before the 2014 Ironman World Championships. They have shown that it is possible to disrupt the cycle of failure in anti-doping. They are the future of clean sport, get behind them.

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