Thoughts on Punishment for Drugs Cheats in Sport

Everyone knows that drugs are a problem in professional sports. It isn’t news, and is something that authorities have been struggling against for decades. So how can drugs be removed from sports, and what is the most effective deterrent for drugs cheats?

Currently athletes, cyclists and the like are suspended, often for a couple of years, and have their results (including medals) voided. In some cases, the medals are then awarded to the next placed athlete – for example, the silver medalist is upgraded to gold etc. That is all well and good until the person who finished second tests positive too, as was the case with the Tour de France after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles.

The thing is, even with the threat of spoiled reputations, returned medals and voided wins, there are still drugs cheats being caught, whether its the rash of Jamaican athletes caught in the last few weeks, or Ryan Braun finally agreeing to take a suspension for the remainder of the baseball season, at a cost of millions of dollars in salary.

Rather than just suspending the guilty parties, and in the case of the likes of Braun, not paying them during suspension, here is a slightly different approach: take the money that they earned while cheating, and put it to a slightly different use.

For example: a professional cyclist is caught using performance enhancing drugs, and admits to having been using for five years. During these five years, he earned a total of $5m in prize money (I know these figures are not necessarily accurate or realistic, but it makes the maths easier). Regardless of his wages and if they were earned because of his chemically enhanced performance, or other sponsorship deals, it is known that he earned $5m prize money by cheating.

The cheat now ought to be made to repay the $5m. All of it. Regardless of his current circumstances. Say he has retired, doesn’t make an difference. $5m please. If he isn’t able to come up with the money then it should be treated in the same way as a bank debt or mortgage: reclaim and sell off property until the debt has been repaid. So not only is there the risk of having reputation and wins destroyed, but also going broke. Having to repay all prize money earned through cheating is a pretty solid incentive to not cheat.

So once this hypothetical $5m has been reclaimed, what to do with it? Simple: it should be given to the organisations such as WADA who fight drugs cheats. So the punishment is a two stage process: 1) we take back the money you got by cheating, 2) We give the money you earned by cheating to the people who caught you. (The idea of Ryan Braun’s forfeited payments being given to the MLB’s anti-drug organisation appeals as well, though some of it should go to the enforcement officer he got fired last year).

In terms of the money from sponsorship, it also ought to be possible for sponsors to sue the athletes who cheat to have all of the money earned during that deal while the athlete used drugs.

So, at the end of this hypothetical story, our cyclist has had his $5m prize money given to the organisation that caught him, lost the house he bought with that fraudulently obtained money, and is being sued by his sponsors for the money he got from them by trading on his not-as-wholesome-as-it-seemed opinion. Oh, and in the case of Ryan Braun, he has to deal with the business partner he lied to as well.

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The ongoing saga of the Olympic Stadium

We are still waiting to find out who is going to be moving into the Olympic Stadium after 2012. As someone who is a football fan (though not in any way supportive of any of the clubs involved in the bidding process) as well as an inhabitant of the Crystal Palace area, I have something of an interest in what is going on. Depending on what happens, it would very well be possible that the area where I live will be affected by the outcome in Stratford. As far as I can tell, the parties involved, and their proposals, seem to be:
1) West Ham: Their plan seems to involve keeping the Olympic Stadium much as it is, most importantly, keeping the running track so that the stadium can be used as a multi-event venue, in a similar way to how Wembley currently hosts football, concerts, rugby and NFL games. This option would seem to satisfy the criteria of the bid that won the Olympics, as it would allow UK Athletics to have a home venue, and would keep the promise about an athletics legacy post 2012.
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2) Tottenham: The Spurs plan involves extensively rebuilding the Olympic Stadium, so that it is a football ground. This means that there will be no athletics track. This also means that there will not be a legacy of athletics at the venue. Given the issue of the legacy, and how athletics would be served by Spurs’ proposed move to the Olympic park, they have added as part of their plan a redevelopment of the National Sports Centre in Crystal Palace Park, so that there is somewhere for UK Athletics to be housed, allowing Spurs to do what they like with the Olympic site.
One question I would have of this plan is why Spurs would move to Stratford to build a new ground, on top of the essentially brand new Olympic Stadium. Surely they would be better served staying in North London with their fanbase, and building a new ground closer to their home? There was a proposal to build a new stadium closer to White Hart Lane floated last year, but it would appear that this plan has been shelved in preference of the Olympic site move.
3) Crystal Palace: As the club named after the area (despite being based in nearby Selhurst since 1924) it would make sense for the Eagles to return to their original home in the Park. They have submitted a proposal for a move from Selhurst Park to the National Sports Centre . This proposal does include a commitment to athletics, and would allow the NSC to retain its athletics heretige, as well as giving Palace a move away from Selhurst Park. This would seem to depend, however, on the outcome of the bids for who would take over the Olympic Stadium – if Spurs bid is the winner, then the NSC would be redeveloped for athletics only.
Those appear to be the three choices at this moment in time. If the West Ham bid is accepted then it is possible that the Crystal Palace move to the NSC would be possible as well. This would be my preferred option, as it would mean that the Olympic Stadium is retained as an athletic venue and not knocked down and rebuild for football. It would also mean that there would be redevelopment for the National Sports Centre, and hopefully it would mean a bit more activity in the Crystal Palace area, given the increased numbers of people using services in the area. It might make some weekends a bit more crowded, but I think that, overall, for the area having Palace move back to the park is the best option. The main benefit of the Spurs plan is that there will be redevelopment of the NSC, which, whoever wins, is desperately needed. If there is to be redevelopment it needs to take athletics into account, which both the Spurs and Palace plans do, but I think that overall the best result for both UK Althetics and the Crystal Palace area is to have West Ham move to the Olympic Park and have Crystal Palace move back to the park.