ARD urged to drop Tour de France

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MUNICH -- Germany's national pubcaster, ARD, is coming under increasing pressure to drop its coverage of the Tour de France this year because of a widening international doping scandal that has stunned and captivated the nation.

The head of the pubcaster's advisory board -- an institution representing the German public that gives its opinion on programming decisions -- said in a Wednesday newspaper interview that the board has asked ARD to reconsider broadcasting the Tour. He was quoted as saying that ARD's credibility will be endangered if it supports a sport corrupted by doping.

But ARD reacted quickly, announcing Wednesday afternoon that it will definitely continue its coverage of the Tour -- until at least 2008 -- with a heightened emphasis on the doping scandal.

"Our reporters have thoroughly prepared themselves to illuminate all sides of the doping problem," ARD managing director Fritz Raff said in a statement. "This is how we want to maintain our pressure on the cyclists, teams, coaches, cycling associations and presenters."

ARD has paid for the broadcast rights to the Tour de France with public funds, but a spokesman said that that was not "the main reason" the decision had been made to stick with the Tour.

"We still believe that there could be a major change coming and that there are young cyclists who are riding clean, and we don't want to choke that off by ending our broadcasts," he said. "But if we get the feeling that no one has learned from the events of the past and that the cyclists and teams don't really want to change, we can still pull our coverage."

The Tour de France is one of the sports highlights of the year in Germany. In the past, when the U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong's arch rival was Germany's Jan Ullrich, the day's Tour coverage regularly captured astronomical audience shares.

Now both Armstrong and Ullrich have retired, and both are presumed by the public at large to have been guilty of doping. But there is still a great deal of support for Germany's two professional cycling teams, T-Mobile and Gerolsteiner.

In the past 14 days, 10 doping scandals have come to light -- including confessions of doping by the Danish Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis and Germany's six-time Tour sprint champion, Erik Zabel.
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