Thursday, 31 January 2013

Can Spain afford to reveal doping in football?

On the eve of the 2006 Tour de France cycling was rocked by yet another drug scandal, Operacion Puerto. The Spanish Police had uncovered a vast doping network organised by Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, a network used by some of the biggest names in the sport. Not since the Festina affair had the Tour been broadcast in such a negative light. The two favourites, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich were thrown out of the race along with Alexandre Vinokourov and Francisco Mancebo among others. Much to the annoyance of many cycling fans, the press coverage focussed primarily on the involvement of cyclists despite Fuentes himself stating that cyclists only made up roughly one third of his client base.

Fuentes stated on record that he counted track and field athletes, tennis players, hand ballers and footballers among his clients despite no names officially being linked to Puerto from any of the aforementioned sports. Why is it that the name of every cyclist on Fuentes' 'list' is public knowledge while the footballers or tennis players keep their anonymity? Even this week as the Operacion Puerto trial started the Spanish authorities explicitly stated that the trial would focus only on cycling. This is despite their acknowledgement of the involvement of other sports and pressure from WADA to release the additional evidence.

Why is Spain so keen to protect sports such as football at the expense of cycling? Put simply football is worth a lot more money to a failing Spanish economy, especially an international team that wins trophies. Financially they can't afford to reveal the truth.

In 2006 French newspaper Le Monde acquired two sheets of A4 paper whilst interviewing Fuentes at his Canary Island home, the sheets in Fuentes' handwriting were 'preparation plans' for the 2005-2006 season. Allegedly the 'preparation plans' were not for cyclists but for Barcelona FC with the Champions League and the World Cup as the primary goals. The plans contained circles for steroid cycles and 'IG' symbols similar to those used to indicate insulin use on a cycling plan found in Fuentes' Madrid office. In addition to steroid cycling and insulin use the plans also contained small 'e' notations and circles with a dot in the centre. These were thought to indicate when EPO injections and blood transfusions were to be performed. Barcelona denied the Fuentes link but did admit to attempting to hire him in 1996 and 2002, both times their offer was refused.

It's almost certain that despite Operacion Puerto, Fuentes continued to help athletes dope. This is evident by his involvement in Operacion Galgo (2010), in which Fuentes again found himself at the centre of a doping scandal. As a result of Galgo Fuentes spent a night in prison during which he reportedly bragged, "If I said what I know, goodbye to the World Cup and European Championship". It's worth noting that while Barcelona allegedly planned to 'prepare' for the World Cup in 2006, a large portion of the Spanish National team that won the World Cup in 2010 constituted Barcelona players. I highly doubt that Barcelona stopped doping post Puerto and Fuentes, it seems far more likely that Fuentes was simply replaced.

A World Cup and two European titles; the financial benefit associated with winning a World Cup alone is pretty staggering. ING estimated that by winning the World Cup Spain boosted their GDP growth by 0.25-0.5%, quite a big increase when you're really struggling. Add on the economic benefits from two European Championships and you can see how much international football has helped Spain since 2008. Even if you consider the tourism revenue from Barcelona and Real Madrid alone, Spain has a lot to lose if the truth was revealed.

It could be argued that Spain has already reaped the majority of the benefits associated with international football success. The big prize however is still to come, the 2020 Olympic games. If Spain were awarded the 2020 Olympics it would create jobs, increase tourism and if done correctly turn a respectable long term profit. Include football in the Operacion Puerto trial and all this could potentially be replaced with a serious dent to national pride.

Even this morning when Fuentes said he would name all he athletes he'd treated, the judge refused. It seems that the Spanish authorities are willing to go to serious lengths to ensure both national pride in their football teams and the associated financial benefits.

It's my opinion that a large majority of the Spanish national team used performance enhancing products during the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships. Spain simply can't afford a doping scandal that would disgrace their prized possession; they're willing to sacrifice cycling to save football.     

As always, discussion welcome.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Is tipping altruism or based on service?

I've always been interested in the practice of tipping and in particular whether the quality of service actually reflects the tip given. In theory you reward for good or outstanding service while penalising for poor or in my opinion adequate service. Saying that, I've not always found this to be the case. I've found that people tend to tip a set amount unless the service has an extreme attribute i.e. the waiter has gone above and beyond their mandate or they've spat in your soup. I'm aware that a number of US states are still without minimum wage and as a result waiters rely heavily on tips, a clear incentive to provide a quality service. In the UK however minimum wage is nationwide and as such the incentive to exceed the bare minimum doesn't exist to the same extent. I've found that people still tend to tip even if they receive adequate service, something I find puzzling and don't agree with despite previously working in a restaurant.

For example, I've found people will leave a tip if their chosen food arrives warm and within 30 minutes. Surely this is the bare minimum you expect from a restaurant and not something worth paying extra for? When I fly I expect to arrive on time and alive, I don't leave five pounds on the seat for whatever airline meets that standard. Why should a restaurant be any different? If a waiter or restaurant goes beyond what I expect i.e. lets me change a set menu item, then I can see why that would warrant an additional token of thanks. Bringing my chosen food promptly and warm is simply expected.

If people still leave a tip for an expected level of service, it suggests they're not tipping based on service but for another reason altogether. Could it be people just like to feel generous? Giving an unnecessary tip makes you feel better than if you'd just paid the bill and not a penny more. Altruism is good for your emotional well-being.

I believe when faced with small amounts of money the majority of people will take a moral incentive over an economic incentive i.e. the feeling of being generous over the money saved by withholding a tip. It's actually quite similar to donating blood. Research has shown that when given a small stipend for donating blood as opposed to being praised for their altruism, people tend to donate less blood. Essentially I believe people tip to feel better about themselves and not to reflect the quality of service they've received.

As always, thoughts welcome.