In Italy, Mafia informers are shot or blown up. In cycling, dopers who inform on others aren’t blown up or shot, but they do risk being vilified for their actions by the very community they are acting to defend: some lose their jobs, some are insulted on twitter and in internet forums. Of course, their efforts to defend cycling from doping are paradoxically self-interested: most give up information in order to benefit themselves in some way, just as some keep quiet for the same reason. It is very rare for those directly involved in cycling to break Omerta otherwise (maybe Frankie Andreu is a nice example, although he had just a little help from the formidable Betsy).
Joe Papp gets his fair share of crap hurled at him. Some of it may be deserved, but it is the way it is linked to his status as an informant that troubles me: if every time he is linked to a doping case leads to another attack on his character I think this tells us something about the problems in professional cycling and how we view anti-doping efforts.
Back in March of this year I wrote an article for this blog about doping in sport, informed by my experiences as an academic. At many stages of my career I have witnessed unethical behaviour, and have had to deal with it within a culture in which appearing ethical can seem more important than acting ethically. Many individuals and organisations suffer from a lack of insight into their actual values and choose to espouse theories that sound great, but do not actually underpin their actions at all (as discussed at length in the literature on organisational psychology: e.g., in the work of Argyris and Schön, 1974; 1978).
This, I would argue, is exactly what is going on in the bizarre world of professional cycling. It has been clear for many years that there is often more of an incentive to keep quiet about doping (even when caught and punished) than to describe practices and name names. Only legal and financial pressures really provide sufficient motivation to provide useful information to law enforcement and anti-doping agencies (as I have argued here). Yet when Jeannie Longo is being investigated for failing to make herself available for out-of-competition testing and it is alleged that the case may turn on evidence provided by Joe Papp (a convicted user and supplier of doping products) it is extraordinary how quickly Papp’s actions (and character) are criticised by some: and this is not the first time this has happened. Papp often uses twitter and cycling forums to pre-echo doping busts yet to occur: in this case he had some time ago hinted on twitter that he had supplied Longo’s husband with EPO (he also hinted at the case against Dan Staite in the UK before it was announced). This is probably why Shane Stokes of Velonation contacted him about the Longo suspension; it is also well-known in cycling circles that Papp has provided evidence to the anti-doping authorities about his own practices and those of others.
Papp is often labelled a self-publicist and many are at pains to point out that his actions seem motivated by a desire to mitigate his own punishment (he is yet to be sentenced in the US). The problem here is that as far as anti-doping goes it doesn’t matter what Papp’s motives are: just that they were exploited to extract information that can be used in criminal and anti-doping cases. What matters is that progress is made in anti-doping.
I have never met Joe Papp, and have communicated with him only briefly (and after I wrote my first article that mentioned him). He is a convicted supplier and user of performance enhancing drugs, and has provided evidence to the authorities about this. He still awaits sentencing, and it is unclear to what extent he has helped himself by cooperating thus far. His desire to maintain visibility, avoid a prison term, and rebuild his reputation may be seen by some as selfish, but without such self-interest it is hard to see why he would help the authorities. Others may have personal experiences that have led them to dislike Papp, I have not, and can only comment that to my knowledge he has hardly been rewarded for his crimes or subsequent actions (contrary to what some seem to think).
One of the espoused theories of those who criticise him seems to be that self-interest is not an appropriate form of motivation in relation to anti-doping. The danger here is that if individuals who come forward are pilloried as ‘snitches’, and every time their evidence is used they are attacked for perceived character flaws, this serves as a disincentive to others. I suspect that what actually underpins the criticisms of those like Papp (or Kohl, Landis, Jaksche) is a tacit belief that doping is a personal failing, and they therefore treat those who are caught (especially if they try to help themselves) as scapegoats. What professional cycling and its followers needs to understand is that doping is an institutional problem, and that scapegoating individuals will never solve these institutional problems, especially if it removes the possibility that they can help address the issues at a more systemic level (e.g., exposing practices and supply chains).
I am sure however, my entreaties will fall on some deaf ears. I know that my views on anti-doping are unwelcomed by many, and really wonder whether it is worth the effort at times. Jeannie Longo may or may not have used EPO bought from Papp, but I am hopeful that she too will not be pilloried if found guilty: it is the culture of cycling that has to change, after all it is a bit late for Longo herself…
Disclaimer: Joe Papp’s link to my original post on whistleblowing delivered more hits to this blog than any other. Since I earn no money or personal aggrandisement from this site I do not think this corrupts my objectivity. My views on anti-doping predate his interest, and if his notoriety helps keep anti-doping in the news, so much the better.
Acknowledgement: this post was peer-reviewed by @accidentobizaro, google translator of fabianese and baker of cycling cakes extraordinaire.