Sunday, May 13, 2007

When to Govern through Crime? The Case of Sport Doping

That American governance practices are highly tainted by the long war on crime toward criminalizing social problems and turning to criminal justice techniques is one of the givens of this blog and my book. But even recognizing that pattern does not relieve of us of the problem of trying to define when it may in fact be appropriate to govern through crime. Drugs and domestic violence both came under increasing criminal justice sanction in the 1990s, but they represent very different issues with distinctive histories and social frameworks. We need a vocabulary for talking about the appropriate subjects of criminalization (indeed that may be come even more important if we can get traction with the American public in spreading skepticism about the reflex reliance on crime). The problem of doping in competitive sports, particularly cycling, provides an interesting example. As detailed in a New York Times article by Juliet Macur, the exposure of a widspread doping at the very pinnacle of competitive cycling, has had devastating consequences on the economic viability of the sport, with sponsors dropping out and fans turning away. The Spanish police have taken part in an aggressive effort to force out doping, one that is winning support from many cyclists.

One may well be tempted to see here a parallel with the disastrous war on drugs in the United States. Illegal drugs are a sticky concept and we can see all kinds of metaphoric and real links between the two. Yet it is precisely the advantage of foregrounding techniques of governing that we can suspend the often false unity of a field like illegal narcotics. In important ways doping in sport differs from other kinds of illegal drug markets. Here are several observations that support my sense that it is quite appropriate for Spain (and other countries) to upgrade the criminalizing of illegal doping in sport, while we used waste little time in decriminalizing and even legalizing most other kinds of illegal drug use and distribution.

  • While the case for criminalizing drug users relies on vague social impacts of drug lifestyles, doping in sport represents a rather focused and profitable form of fraud, allowing those willing to do it the ability of some to claim an illicit advantage over those who accept the constraints of the rules.
  • While the impact of most recreational drug use is longterm and likely to be manageable by many other kinds of governance strategies, the nature of competitive sport as a field makes the worth of the whole enterprise vulnerable in relatively short time frames to the misconduct of a few.
  • While the war on drugs has required a massive proactive law enforcement apparatus to create deterrence (and whether it has created any at all is questionable) sport doping will involve focused investigations of readily identifiable (and thus deterrable) individuals who can compelled to provide biological information for forensic analysis.
  • While the war on drugs has produced mass imprisonment, especially concentrated on minority populations, punishment for illegal sport doping could consist of massive fines coupled with permanent or limited exclusion from professional sport; sanctions with far less social collateral damage than prisons bring.

These seem to me good reasons to consider a greater role for crime in the governance of sport doping. This is especially true where there is a history of failed efforts at self regulation. If so it may suggest a new role for criminal justice in a society that no longer relies on mass imprisonment it for routine governance. Criminal justice might be sought not as kind of action for those who lack security carried out against those with even less security, but instead as a kind of knowledge, valuable precisely to those communities most threatened by the corrupting effects of imperfect knowledge.


Unknown said...

I find it sad and unfortunate that professional cycling has become the poster child for sports doping. I love cycling. I've followed the sport forever. I can't help but wonder where the problem originated... a couple of teammates looking for an edge? A team doctor or director sportif hoping to pull his squad up a competitive rung or two? The rose-colored glasses through which I view the sport allow for even the following scenario: A rider given a handful of supplements at the end of a long day of training, an injection or "flu shot" by a team doctor... fast forward a few months and the same rider, told it's time to start doping as prep for Le Tour, refuses to participate. "Hey, those supplements, that flu shot? Not what you thought. Do what we say or you're off the team and you'll never race again. Tell anyone and you'll never race again." Yeah, yeah, crazy talk, I know. It also sort of pisses me off that cycling is getting the bad rap when much of this is being handled in the guilty-until-proven-innocent French judicial system. Aren't we arguing apples and oranges a bit here? Wouldn't the U.S. Congress get to the bottom of control-substance scandal in a hurry?...

My point? Stop talking about testing cyclists, testing athletes... Test EVERYONE or test no one (and add an "enhanced" category to the Olympic Games). Isn't that the next logical step? Random drug tests for everyone in the country over the age of seven. At least then we would have some consistency. We should probably consider forming a pseudo-religious order of incorruptible labtech monks as well. Refresh my memory... where's that unbiased lab that's taking care of Floyd's samples?

Professional sports grew out of friendly rivalry; the desire to test oneself against others; to test our friends, our team, against their's. Cheaters used to get thrown out. Now the message is, "Everone cheats. Just try not to get caught too many times."

I don't have a solution, but I do have a strong sense that Diogenes would be screwed in the modern world.

Jonathan Simon said...

Random drug testing of high school students involved in "extra mural activities" has already by approved by the Supremes and is a good example of governing through crime carried beyond all rational limits (yes dangerous things can happen in 4H Club when participants are lit up, but in that case there was no evidence of any actual drug use). Still I'm not persuaded that its wrong to ask professional cyclists who are riding for major purses and whose conduct can drag down the entire sport to expose their body chemistry to analysis on a regular basis.