Giving Steroid Sports a Cold Shoulder


Is this the autumn of the Tour de France? Its riders are dropping like leaves in the wake of a series of doping scandals.

The hard line the Tour has chosen to take on the drug use that threatens its integrity is difficult to imagine replicating in America, and so is the even harder line that has been taken by the German public media.

German public stations ARD and ZDF made an unprecedented stand when they followed through on their promise to halt coverage of the Tour de France if any steroid scandals threatened the credibility of the race. Last Wednesday, the two stations let screens go dark all over Germany.

The equivalent in the United States would be nearly unthinkable: Fox, for example, taking a contractual vow to end coverage of the World Series if a baseball player tested positive for steroids. This is not our media’s habit. It tends to grant such scandals additional coverage, not punish the sport with a cold shoulder. However ARD and ZDF’s boycott is proving a powerful mechanism in the push to change cycling, and other stations might do well to take note. 

ARD and ZDF jointly hold 30% of the Germany market share, and Germany accounts for a third of the Tour’s television income. The financial blow is substantial - to the Tour de France, its sponsors, and the stations themselves. ZDF announced last Thursday it was holding the Tour responsible for its own lost revenue, saying it had "bought the rights to a clean sporting event."

Now, not only are corporate sponsors such as T-Mobile reconsidering their agreement with cycling teams, but a Berlin lawmaker has raised the possibility of cutting public funds for all sports.

This may go a long way to cracking down on sports dope. The embarrassment of bad press from individual drug scandals is nothing compared to the shunning of an event by the media.

So what then if Fox were to boycott the World Series. Would major league baseball tighten supervision with increased dope testing? Would sponsors respond? Would the public fight or support the decision?

Most importantly, would Fox - and do the German stations - indeed, should any network or station have the right to police sports standards in that way?