Robin Scott-Elliot: Team Sky sets standards that sports rulers are failing to follow
"We are hurting ourselves,” said Brailsford of his zero-tolerance policy
Monday 29 October 2012
As you would expect for a team launched within Millbank, a tower that should at least boast a revolving rooftop restaurant such is its intimacy with spin, Sky have always been slick operators. It was two years ago on a bright-blue January morning next door to the Houses of Parliament that the men in dark blue were unveiled accompanied by great promises. The most eye-catching was to produce a winner of the Tour de France within five years.
There proved substance to that claim sooner than anyone expected but it is substance abuse that has become an even bigger challenge. Back at the beginning it was one other promise in particular that raised eyebrows among an audience gathered from across Europe's cycling heartlands, and it is one that may prove tougher to live up to than putting a Briton on top of the Tour podium. We will, stated Sky's team principal, Dave Brailsford, be a clean team.
Last week Brailsford sacked Bobby Julich, his race coach, after the American admitted to having doped in days gone by.
Now, and most damagingly of all, Sean Yates, a key figure behind the scenes of the Tour triumph are on the way out. It is proving a painful process, and one that is self-inflicted.
Quite where this will leave Sky as they head towards a new season as the team everyone wants to beat remains to be seen. These are telling losses. "We are hurting ourselves," acknowledged Brailsford of his team's zero-tolerance policy. "If it does hurt in the short term that is the price we have to pay."
It is a black-and-white stance over an issue that is shaded with grey, and may yet collapse in a heap. But it is demonstrating clear, unequivocal leadership – setting their own high standards and then trying to live up to them – in a sport that appears desperately short of it. Indeed, it is a quality that sport in general, or rather one a number of governing bodies, globally and nationally, appear to have run short of.
Cycling's rulers have followed a pattern of behaviour that would shame a stroppy teenager; stubborn refusal, blame someone else, stick fingers in ears and yell "I'm not listening", slam bedroom door and sulk. In short, they accept no responsibility for the disgracing of their sport. There is no leadership.
The Football Association has been around a lot longer – Friday was its 149th birthday – but age has not brought the confidence to mark out its own case at its own pace. Football's response to racism has not been as slovenly as cycling's to doping and there has, in this country at least, been significant progress made over a decade or so. But the handling of John Terry's case has been inadequate from all the key rulers of the game. The FA likes to stress the independence of its disciplinary process. The independent commission that found Terry had racially abused Anton Ferdinand also expressed alarm at Ashley Cole's evidence and the part played in that by a senior Chelsea official. Back to the FA: case closed. We are satisfied with what we have done throughout, insists the FA. Chelsea keep Terry, a man who racially abused an opponent, as their on-field leader – forget zero tolerance when a pivotal player is involved. Compare that to Team Sky. Where is the leadership there?
The Premier League stays silent – it is not its remit but it is its league, the richest in the world. The FA and the Premier League each give Kick It Out £110,000 a year. Both resist the Rooney rule on interviewing black and ethnic minority coaches for management roles. No one will stand up and be counted, take bold action, condemn the inadequate response of Europe's champion club. Perhaps it cannot be said to be lions led by donkeys – there is plenty of fault in the ranks – but too many among the general class are too scared of making an ass of themselves to try to make a difference.
Uefa fiddles with paltry fines while racism burns around eastern Europe, crops up in Spain too and elsewhere. Fifa's past is well documented and there is scant cause yet for optimism in its governance either – the sins of the past will continue to condemn the future. A Mauritian setting for the agreement of belated, and unconvincing, reform at its next congress next June seems all too appropriate.
The usual response of a governing body, league or team when a crisis gallops into sight is to circle the wagons (and/or form a committee). That is why Liverpool made such a mess of Luis Suarez's case. Brailsford is different, he has left himself and his team open to attack. He acknowledges the damage done to his sport and is willing to confront it; anything to try to stop the doubters doubting. For that he deserves the benefit of all of our doubts.
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