I have written a bit on doping in sport in the past, but in light of the recent interview with Lance Armstrong by Oprah, I feel that I should say a little more.
The interview itself is enlightening. Previously, everything I knew about Lance came from his book (which I read) and watching him ride in the tour. From my previous article you would know that I am under no illusions about the tour, or Lance himself. He doped, they all doped, they still all dope, but he’s still an amazing athlete. The fallout from the USADA report is interesting and a lot has been said about it, most of it stupid and uninformed. I, for one, believe that the way things panned out is the right way.
Should Lance have been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles? Yes. Is that fair? From a sporting perspective – no. Everyone doped. The tour was as fair as sports gets. Lance Armstrong legitimately won those seven tours. But the tour, and high-profile sport in general is about much more than just sport. So from the perspective of The World at large, then yes – it is totally fair. In a perfect world, if you really wanted to be fair, you would catch and punish everyone who rode on the tour for at least the last 20 years, probably longer. But given the situation, finite time and resources, then this is what had to be done. You go for the jugular, and that happens to be Lance, and you hope that the blood that squirts out sprays all over and taints everyone else in the sport.
The other punishments? Extreme? Perhaps. Fair from a sporting perspective? No. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime – from a sporting perspective. Typically, a doping offence is punished by a ban. If it is bad, the ban must be longer than four years, because that causes the athlete to miss out on the Olympics, and that is what really hurts an athlete, both from a sporting perspective as well as a financial perspective. But what do you do with a person like Lance, who has already won seven tours? But not just the tours, but what he has been able to go on and do because of those tour victories. Not to mention what he has done to those who have come out against him in the past.
Once again, we are back to the point that sport is more than just sport. Lance has benefited enormously from his tour victories, and even now after the punishments have been handed out, we would all agree that he is better off than your average cyclist. He spoke in the interview about losing 75 million dollars of future income when sponsors withdrew their support. What about past income? What about basking in the glory of tour victories? What about enjoying the benefits of spending his past income? The house he lives in? The people he has met? It is interesting that in the interview, when he is asked about the cost, he only talks about the money.
What is unfortunately overwhelmingly clear from the interview is that Lance is some kind of amoral sociopathic narcissist. It is overwhelmingly clear from the interview that he spends most of it not wishing that he hadn’t doped, but wishing that he hadn’t been caught. The complete lack of remorse shown for those whose reputations he damaged, “friends” who he sued who were basically telling the truth, and the total lack of empathy for them has made me even less sympathetic to his cause than I had been previously (and I was already very unsympathetic – as I generally am to over-glorified sporting “heroes”). I find the pathetic outpouring of support, and people standing up to defend him (many of them my friends) rather baffling. He rides a bike for crying out loud! Think about that. Think about how you go from “I ride a bike” to “I sue my friends and win even though they’re telling the truth”, and then think about your priorities in life. Lance deserves no less than the punishments he has been given, and indeed I hope that more is to come in the form of large fines and jail time. Sure, all the other riders, and indeed many athletes from many other sports deserve severe punishments too, but that does not invalidate what is being done to Lance.
I skate around in circles, sometimes I throw rocks and sweep the ice with a broom – it’s sport. It’s really not that important. When it gets to the point where people are being bullied into taking huge health risks, where people’s reputations are being tarnished, and where people are getting sued, all in the name of “sport”, then not only has it become more than sport, these people have completely missed the point of sport.
(I encourage the interested reader to read my previous article about doping in sport)