The International Pro Tour Council (IPCT), a voluntary association of European Pro Tour teams, excluded Lance Armstrong's Discovery Channel from its ranks on Friday. The reason: Discovery violated its ethical rules by hiring Ivan Basso.
The specific ethical rule in question is that "a Pro Tour team should not sign a rider involved in the Puerto affair." This rule was created in the late summer of 2006 in response to the fallout from the Operacion Puerto Affair. Pro Tour teams adopted this rule as a means of protecting the sport from further damage associated with the use of PEDs and enhancing its image in the eyes of the public. Of course, given the intense media scrutiny, Pro Tour teams may have assumed that those named in the affair - Basso, Ullrich, Sevilla, Mancebo and Jasche among them - were guilty of the offenses for which they were accused.
Since that time, Spanish authorities have suspended action against any implicated riders. The Italian Olympic body has dropped charges against Basso, and the UCI has cleared Basso to race. Let's be clear, Basso has not been found guilty of any of the accusations against him. No charges are pending. He is approved to ride. What is the problem?
The problem is the ethical rule adopted by the IPTC. The tacit assumption is that if a rider was named as a suspect in the Puerto affair, he must be guilty of the offense. How fair is that to a rider like Basso who is only guilty by dint of association? Not only is the IPTC attaching guilt to Basso, but even after all charges have been dropped, Basso is also being ostracized by the IPTC.
The implications of this rule are sure to backfire or worse yet, be used strategically by competing teams to exclude the riders of other teams. Here's how it might go. Three weeks prior to the Tour of Flanders, a Pro Tour team provides circumstantial evidence to French newspaper L'Equipe that Tom Boonen is using a full regimen of PEDs. A major story is run. Boonen denies the story, but the pressure is such that the Belgian cycling federation opens an investigation. Boonen's out of Flanders under the rules of the IPTC. How fair is this? Had the same rule been in place in 2005, Lance Armstrong would not have been able to compete in the 2005 Tour, as he was under investigation for doping in France - a case that was dropped only recently.
In their zeal to "clean up the sport," the IPTC has adopted ethical rules that are unfair to riders, the teams and ultimately the fans that support them. Unless modified to a doctrine that riders are innocent until proven guilty, the rules will ultimately backfire on the Pro Tour teams that support them. The rule is bogus. It's got to go.