Opinion 8th March 2019

The horror of the scapegoat

Thirteen years after the spectacular Spanish blood doping case Operación Puerto, which involved athletes from many sports and many countries, a similar case has just taken place once again. This time in Austria and Germany.

In comparison to the Spanish case, the Austria-German one is petite. In Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes’ clinic in Madrid, 211 blood bags with code names were found. The number of athletes involved was vast. Fifty-nine cyclists were named. Some of them were later exonerated, but their names had been smeared.

In Dr. Mark Schmidt’s freezer in his garage in Erfurt only forty bags were found, and the number of athletes implicated so far has been limited to ten, including five who were exposed directly in police raids in Austria. Despite the fact that there is nothing extraordinary about this case in terms of doping methods revealed (autologous blood doping), organisation (blood storage), method of detection (police raids) or sports involved (cross country skiing and cycling) there is one thing that makes this case critical. And it is not the revelation that the alleged effectiveness of the Athlete  Biological Passport (ABP) – created to detect blood doping – was a hoax.

The extraordinary fact that makes this case deserving of serious consideration is that footage of the 29 year old skier Max Hauke, caught red-handed in his room on camera with a syringe in his arm loading for competition, was uploaded to social media. Five days after it appeared on YouTube, it had more than 227.000 views. It is not legal to upload any footage shot from inside someone’s home or hotel room without the consent of the person filmed. The YouTube video is obviously a violation of Hauke’s privacy.

It is true that the Criminal Intelligence Service in Austria identified the officer responsible for the violation, took him off the case and stated it would give ‘the case over to the judicial authorities to handle the measures of criminal procedure to be taken’. Tellingly, the statement is given without exposure of the officer’s name.

What punishment he will receive remains to be seen. In all likelihood we will never know his name, or whether he keeps his job. But surely, we will learn what formal punishment Hauke gets for putting a syringe in his arm; he is now being punished by intense scrutiny and criticism.

There are already more than 20 different YouTube videos that expose Hauke in his infamous moment. Established media organisations and members of the public have been quick to hang him out to dry. His disgrace will be there for his children and their friends to see. That is additional punishment.

Does he deserve it? The self-righteous moralists who appreciate the horror of the scapegoat, will probably say: “Yes, he deserves all he gets”. Only the officer himself knows what he thought about the possible consequences before he uploaded the video. If he thought at all.

Hauke’s welfare is in doubt as a result of the exposure. Such public humiliation combined with a potentially career ending ban can lead to serious depression, even suicide. In that event, he will serve the anti-doping cause as an exemplary deterrent, while the officer who leaked the video can go on with his life undisturbed because the media does not seem to care as much about criminal offences committed by law enforcers as compared to anti-doping rule violations committed by athletes.

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