Though I have the same aversion to doping that I suppose most of us have, I am not sure Rabobank’s sudden decision to fire Rasmussen was the wisest move given all that is at stake.
Rasmussen neglected to notify anti-doping authorities earlier this year of his whereabouts—as he was required to do—and therefore missed several possible out-of-competition drug screens. This is, of course, troubling, and casts a cloud of suspicion over him.
But Rasmussen has apparently tested clean in every stage of the Tour, while several others, most notably Vinokourov, the fierce but now fallen warrior and captain of the Astana team, have failed their drug tests. And you can bet that the UCI French lab that has been testing Tour racers this year has scrutinized Rasmussen’s samples with the greatest possible care and precision because he is wearing the yellow jersey.
As punishment for Rasmussen’s silence about his locale, last week the Danish cycling federation banned him from competition in this year’s cycling world championship and the 2008 Olympics. Severe punishment indeed for someone who is riding so supremely well right now.
According to media reports, what led to Rasmussen’s firing this evening was his admission that, in addition to his lapses in telling cycling officials where he was, he lied about being in Mexico (where his wife is from) when in fact he was in Italy, doing stealth training in the hills and allegedly under the care of a yet-to-be named sports doctor (Dr. Ferrari, perhaps?).
There is no question that Rabobank had the right to sack Rasmussen if he lied about something so important to a professional cyclist and his team. My question is timing—did Rabobank act precipitously in getting rid of Rasmussen now, hours after he won today’s cruelly and wickedly difficult stage, sealing an all-but-certain victory in Paris?
Assuming Rasmussen continued to test clean and there were no more stunning revelations about him, would it have been smarter to let Rasmussen finish in Paris, conduct a more thorough investigation into the allegations about his deceit and lies, and then dismiss him if the allegations proved true?
By acting now, Rabobank has created an out-of-control media tsunami that will quickly sweep over the organization and its team members and sponsors, Danish cycling, the Tour, and, worst of all, the sport itself. Print media and television news stations that scarcely report on the Tour (if they mention it at all) will now have a schadenfreude-fest over another skeletal nut in lycra who dopes so he can ride his bike faster than other emaciated guys who do the same thing for nearly 3,000 miles.
On the other hand, if Rabobank waited until after the Tour was over, the negative media coverage would not be nearly as bad, and would get buried underneath reports of Lindsay’s latest arrest or personal debacle.
But what about “zero tolerance”? You violate company policy or lie to your employer, you get fired immediately, end of story, no excuses, etc. What zero tolerance lacks is judgment and even common sense—something you will never see HR, politicians, school administrators, or law enforcement types admit. Zero tolerance is what your computer has. Type in a single keystroke incorrectly and you get an error message—even if anyone looking at it would know exactly what you meant. Judgment, though fallible and subject to bias and prejudices, is what makes us different—and better—than the best computer anyone can dream of. Zero tolerance, without an overlay of judgment, imperfect though it may be, just reduces us to the level of a thoughtless, mindless machine.