German state networks ARD and ZDF, in an unprecedented move, pulled the plug on Tour de France live broadcasts on Wednesday in the wake of the latest positive doping test involving German rider Patrik Sinkewitz.
Germany's public broadcasters won't be following the action
ZDF editor-in-chief Nikolaus Brender said that the networks showed
the German cycling teams "a yellow card" and would not broadcast the
race with the famous yellow jersey leader until further notice.
"You can't wait until the Tour is over," Brender said. "That's impossible. The Tour is under constant doping suspicion."
The German cycling federation had said earlier Wednesday that cyclist Patrik Sinkewitz tested positive for the steroid testosterone at an out-of-competition test on June 8, ahead of the Tour de France.
Sinkewitz faces a two-year ban from competitive cycling if found guilty of a doping offence.
Peter Kaadtmann, the ARD and ZDF team chief at the Tour, was quoted as saying that "Our contract stated that we broadcast the Tour as a competition of clean riders, not of people using doping substances."
Viewers had to turn elsewhere
Instead of broadcasting the day's 10th stage, ARD ran a feature on doping and interviewed all parties involved. That program was followed by a telenovela.
The two networks also terminated their
Internet live-ticker of the event.
Germans who wanted to follow the race had to resort to the Eurosport network and its German-language broadcast after the decision.
Doping has never before prompted German networks to pull the plug on a planned broadcast.
But ZDF did not broadcast the 1985 European Cup final after rioting Liverpool fans caused the death of 37 mainly Juventus fans ahead of the match between the two sides in Brussels' Heysel stadium.
ARD and ZDF, who are funded by fees from every German who owns a
TV set, have long held the German Tour de France broadcast rights. No
figures have been released but they are worth several million euros.
They planned to broadcast a total 90 hours from the three-week Tour which ends on July 29 in Paris.
Fans missed Jan Ullrich at last year's Tour
Ratings surged when Jan Ullrich won the Tour in 1997 and came second several times afterwards, but there were always critical voices over the big engagement because the sport was doping-infested.
ARD was under special pressure as the network was a sponsor of the Telekom team, which is now called T-Mobile, from 1998 until 2004.
The networks have become cautious in the past 12 months since Ullrich was heavily implicated in the Spanish doping probe centering on doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
Ullrich was kicked out of T-Mobile on the eve of the 2006 Tour.
In recent weeks, half a dozen former riders including 1996 Tour champion Bjarne Riss confessed to doping on the team in the 1990s.
Two team doctors were kicked out in May after admitting to have been actively involved in that doping scheme, T-Mobile's Ukrainian rider Serhiy Honchar was also fired in May over reportedly suspicious test results, and German rider Matthias Kessler from the Astana team was recently caught for testosterone abuse.
Warned ahead of time
ARD and ZDF told German cycling teams ahead of the Tour de France that they could pull the plug if another rider was caught, and Sinkewitz' positive test for testosterone was announced Wednesday.
Germany's Gerdemann won the 7th stage last Saturday
Sinkewitz was caught at an out-of-competition test ahead of the Tour, but rode in the Tour until withdrawing injured on Monday.
"We talked to the German teams, told them how serious the situation was," said ARD programme director Günter Struve. "T-Mobile in particular swore that everything was fine with them."
T-Mobile has introduced one of the stiffest anti-doping programs in the sport, but not even that may have stopped Sinkewitz from tampering.
The TV boycott could now also play a major role in sponsor commitments in cycling, with T-Mobile company spokesman Christian Frommert "not ruling out anything" when the Tour is assessed.
T-Mobile only recently committed itself until 2010.
Frommert admitted that "the stakes are high" after the move by the networks, while Brender said he hoped that Wednesday's move will prompt the teams, and cycling in general, into more action.
"I hope we have done our share in this," said Brender.
Deutsche Welle belongs to the ARD network.