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)
You are wasted as a sport coach/superstar, mathematician, photographer or humanitarian.
What this article shows is your talent for reasoned and persuasitve arguement, as well as moral judgement and ethical perspective. Yes, you should have been that which you have been mistaken for many times, a LAWYER.
With this kind of reasoned, no nonsense, clear and concise discussion skill, why aren’t you president or something?
I have to believe in human nature, so I have to believe that there are maybe 5% of riders in the tour who are clean. This means 5 or 10 guys. (I don’t believe doping is systemtaic on ALL teams). I don’t know who they are, but they are my heroes. And the problem is that if one of those guys finished top 20 or even top 10 and ALL the riders ahead of him were doped, then I feel very sorry for him. He would be the winner of the tour if it was a ‘fair race’. How unfair is that for HIM!
I’m a little more cynical than you are about this. I feel that getting into a position to ride the tour is so difficult, not just physically but from a career point of view, that all the stages, races, and tours leading up to it would have already filtered out that small percentage of people and teams who refuse to dope.
Like climate change, I would love to be wrong about this, but I’m afraid that given all the evidence available to me, I simply can’t believe in the idea of a clean rider on the Tour de France.
I read your other (insightful) doping article also. You say that doping is expensive, but (as many cyclists have pointed out) ‘blood doing’ is relatively cheap. You take your own blood out, chill it, put it back in before the competition. And in cycling many even believe that it’s “not really cheating”, becuase THEY believe it’s just blood from their own body. If it is truly this cheap, then it means most people can do it with a doctors advice. (Thus meaning it is more wide-spread in other endurance sports, than we believe) There is no test for it. However the bio-passport can indicate if ‘blood doping’ has been done. This is great for the sports that use the bio-passport. I really beleieve that the bio-pass can have a great effect to clean up elite sport. (if it is implemeneted properly – unlike in cycling, because of the UCI’s ‘conflict of interest’). But what about the sports that have no bio-pass?
I believe that eventually, if a sport wants to be taken seriously, then it will have to introduce the bio pass at as many levels of competition as is possible.
Those kinds of self-deceptive arguments about blood doping not really being doping are ridiculous, but precisely the kind of thing that very driven and determined (and slightly sociopathic) athletes are likely to say to themselves. In fact, blood doping WAS legal right up until the 1972 olympics – Lasse Virren, winner of the 5k and 10k on the track blood doped, and this was at a time when not everyone did it. Curiously enough, blood doping is actually very easy to detect with chemical analysis because the plastics in those blood bags will show up in your bloodstream in high concentrations – concentrations which can only be explained by a blood transfusion. Contador’s famous clenbuterol-tainted sample contained these plastics pointing to a far more likely source of contamination than *cough* tainted beef.
I’m almost done writing an article about the future of doping, and anti-doping in sport which I believe outlines a pathway to doping-free sport via some very clever new analytical chemistry techniques. I’m just getting the science double-checked, then I’m going to try to get people in WADA to read it.
My favourite bit of your discussion:
“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.”