One woman leads a crusade to cleanup cycling in Germany
Sylvia Schenk, a lawyer and former Olympic runner, is trying to rid sports of drugs by getting sponsors to force athletes to submit to testing.
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In 2007, the dike of denial sprung a leak. Several prominent riders, along with trainers, masseurs, and doctors, confessed to having used or administered EPO in the 1990s. Significantly, Germany's two biggest TV stations pulled their coverage of the Tour de France mid-race in protest of the doping issue.Skip to next paragraph
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For Germany, it was a fall from grace. For Schenk, it was something of a vindication. "The fact that now a few cyclists were so under pressure that they saw that the only chance to save their skin was to confess ... made it clear you can't push the issue under the table," she says.
The issue became a cause célèbre. The German government doubled its antidoping budget. "The publicity surrounding the cases had a better effect than all the arguments we had for years," says Hans Geyer, founder of the German Sport University's antidoping laboratory in Cologne. "Politicians woke up. The public woke up."
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Schenk glides up on her black Intra bicycle, looking elegant but sporty in a pants suit that could have been designed by Yves Saint Laurent. She flips down the kickstand. Her clients are waiting – five men in crisp three-piece suits.
The business motif is appropriate: If there's one word to sum up Schenk's current antidoping focus, it is money. Stop the money from flowing to those who take drugs and you stop the problem. She cites estimates that some athletes have spent up to €100,000 ($157,000) on doping during their careers.
"Obviously, you have to take the money out to make people think, and take away the financial means to dope," she says.
Sponsors seem to agree. Volkswagen withdrew its support of a major cycling event, the Lower Saxony Round Tour, after allegations surfaced of doping at the Tour de France. More recently, the government of the state of Rhine Palatinate called off a big regional race. "We feel compelled to send a clear message," the sport's premier said.
Schenk doesn't want to drain money from the sport; she just wants strings attached to the euros. In her roles as chairman of the watchdog group Transparency International and as a private lawyer, she advises firms on how to design underwriting deals with antidoping clauses. One example: Sponsors set aside funds for unannounced drug tests and hold other money in reserve to ensure the athletes remain clean.
More broadly, Schenk is heartened by what she sees as a moral awakening across Germany, spawned in part by recent corruption scandals in business. "The public's view has changed," she says. "The aspiration for morality, for real cleanness, is greater. And that has an impact on sport."
• The next installment in this series runs July 21.