August 4, 2007 – The 2007 Tour de France concluded Sunday, July 29 in Paris – but the full ramifications of its controversial legacy are not yet known. Three weeks of doping scandals and debate did the race an enormous amount of harm. Christian Frommert, vice president of sponsoring communications at Deutsche Telekom looks back on a controversial race, and analyses the factors influencing the company’s re-assessment of its cycling sponsorship.
The Tour is over. What conclusions do you draw?
This Tour will certainly have lasting effects, many of which remain to be seen. Therefore, it’s too early to draw any conclusions. It is clear that it was of dubious sporting value; which makes me feel especially sorry for young riders like Linus Gerdemann, Markus Burghardt in our team, or riders like Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner) and Christian Knees (Milram). They performed brilliantly and have something to say. Their efforts were overshadowed, however. But perhaps the Tour has touched rock bottom — if so, it offers a chance for renewal and a clean break with the past. At this moment it is difficult to see how this renewal can shape up — and who will be around to shape it. For that we will have to wait and see, but one thing is certain: the hour of reconstruction has come and many people are now reflecting more critically on what can be done for cycling — not the worst development.
What might a re-shaped cycling look like?
The doping debate during this Tour can be looked at in two different ways. First the positive tests for doping; they prove that the testing system has become more efficient and more intelligent. More troubling is the case of Rasmussen. A rider simply disappears to avoid out-of-competition tests. The World Cycling Federation (UCI) knows about this, warns him but doesn’t inform the organisers of the world’s biggest bike race. Only when he’s leading the general classification does the case come up and nobody reacts. Then a very public argument rages about who’s responsible. It’s the worst case scenario. In the end it was the sponsor, four days later, who had to intervene. All procedures and systems had failed…
Christian Frommert”¦and what are the consequences”¦?
All these points must be highlighted and critically analysed. It’s a fact that many of the present protagonists can only be trusted conditionally. Thus a more credible infrastructure must be constructed; a professional framework, with clear regulations, strict testing and tough sanctions directed by competent figures with the appropriate track record. The system must be strong enough to withstand the collateral damage of exposing cheats — this should not be a sign of collapse but of progress.
But the T-Mobile Team tried to put in place such a system. And yet the “Sinkewitz Case” still arose”¦
And it was exactly through this new system that he was exposed. This year Deutsche Telekom is providing financial support to Germany’s National Anti-Doping Agency (Nada) to the tune of 450.000 Euro. 50.000 Euro of that sum are expressly set aside for stricter out-of-competition testing on the T-Mobile Team. This testing can only be carried out by an independent external institution. Anything else will leave the floodgates open to cheating — the war against doping would lack transparency. Patrik Sinkewitz was caught out by one of these controls. And it was an internal test, a blood volume control, that revealed abnormalities in Serhiy Hochar’s blood levels, leading to his expulsion from the team. That is how we can move forward, by degrees. Collectively, competently and on a sustainable basis. At the T-Mobile Team, this system is being led by Bob Stapleton, a person of integrity – and the system must be embedded in the sport. On an international level, and not just in cycling.
Will Deutsche Telekom stay committed to cycling?
We are taking our time to discuss this matter in a calm and considered manner. And the internal debate will be a mirror image of the external debate. What’s certain is that the Deutsche Telekom is a committed patron of sport — and that will remain the case. The company is conscious of it responsibilities. And that means ramping up the push for clean and fair sport. We will strongly advocate that this effort be stepped up at an international level – for the benefit of the sport, the athletes, the fans and, not least, the sponsors. We must keep this debate open and transparent. Arrogance and self-publicizing are the wrong course and it grates with the fans. We have been steering a hard course up until now. Now we will have to see how far we can continue on this course, and under what conditions. Our cycling-engagement also extends extensively into amateur cycling and youth development. All that needs to be factored into our deliberations.
When can we expect Deutsche Telekom to reach a decision?
We want to monitor the developments, weigh up the facts and then make a responsible decision based on those facts. In addition, we will hold discussions with politicians, sports bodies and the media. We will take as much time as we need. We all owe it that. But there must be closure on this within the next weeks. I can assure you of one thing: as soon as we have something to say, we will say it….