Global Economics

Pro Cycling Crisis Hits Germany


The doping scandal caused public TV to cut Tour de France coverage. Now Berlin is considering cutting top-level sports funding

It was, in the end, just one more case of a relatively unknown cyclist being found with an elevated level of testosterone in his blood. But for the professional bike racing world, it could well prove to be the straw that broke the camel's back (more...). And on Thursday, one day after German public television stations ARD and ZDF cut their coverage of this year's Tour de France following revelations that T-Mobile team member Patrik Sinkewitz may be guilty of blood doping, the aftershocks keep coming.

In Berlin on Thursday, Peter Danckert, head of the parliamentary committee dealing with public funding of sports, said that it was time to take a look at whether public funding should be cut to all top-level sporting events. Germany is scheduled to host the cycling world championships in Stuttgart in late September.

"Public funding isn't just being called into question," Danckert told German radio on Thursday. "Stuttgart will very likely have to do without. That, in any case, is my opinion. And that is true for cycling in general and also for other sports."

Danckert's comments come a day after German television's unprecedented step to cut Tour coverage. Both ARD and ZDF, which cooperate on their race reporting, had for years gone all out for the Tour de France given German racer Jan Ullrich's immense popularity back home for much of the last decade. Ullrich, in fact, was a "consultant" for ARD -- until he too came under suspicion for having doped.

"We couldn't wait any longer to pull out the yellow card," said ZDF Editor-in-Chief Nikolaus Brender on Wednesday. "It was time to wipe the slate clean." He said the move was intended as a contribution toward cleaning up the sport.

ZDF on Thursday announced it was seeking financial redress from the organizers of the Tour de France for the lost revenue. "We bought the rights to a clean sporting event," Brender told the Berliner Zeitung when questioned about the move.

The German withdrawal came after it was announced that the "A" sample of a blood test taken from Patrik Sinkewitz following a pre-Tour training session in early June showed a sharply elevated testosterone level. Should the "B" sample confirm that result, he will be immediately fired from the T-Mobile team. Last year's Tour champion Floyd Landis remains under suspicion of doping after he was tested with raised testosterone levels following an impressive mountain-stage victory.

Sinkewitz is no longer racing in this year's Tour after he collided with a spectator earlier this week. The 26-year-old rider suffered a broken nose and other facial injuries in the crash and was reportedly having surgery on his jaw. When contacted by German news agency DPA on Wednesday, he didn't have much to say. "It's not possible," he said. "I know nothing about it. I am about to have surgery. I can't deal with it now."

T-Mobile team mate Linus Gerdemann, who briefly wore the yellow jersey following a stage win on Saturday, tried to put a positive face on the findings. "It shows that the controls are getting better and better," he said, according to AP. "I always said we need more controls and more tests. I think the possibility to dope is getting smaller and smaller."

T-Mobile on Thursday also indicated that it might back out of professional cycling entirely as a result of the most recent doping case. The team received massive amounts of unwanted attention this spring when rider after rider that raced for Telekom -- as T-Mobile used to be called -- admitted to having doped in the 1990s. The team promised that it was clean this year.

Company communications director Christian Frommert said: "It's a low blow. We have to now take a renewed look at our sponsoring." Beverage company Gerolsteiner, which also has a team in the Tour this year, likewise indicated that it might consider dropping bicycle racing from its sponsoring portfolio once its current contract expires at the end of 2008.

Provided by Spiegel Online—Read the latest from Europe's largest newsmagazine

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