I remember reading ‘Its not about the bike’ as a young lad and thinking to myself, ‘Wow, what a brave man that Lance Armstrong is’. To battle back from the brink of death and to go on to win 7 Tour de France races. It’s incredible – no doubt. You all know the story about the man, the last thing you need is for me to regurgitate it again. It’s a script that even Hollywood couldn’t have dreamt up – though I’m sure they’re in negotiations.
Not only did we believe this amazing story. We have held it up as the beacon of light at the end of a dark tunnel – it offers hope and inspiration to so many, we need to believe in it to the extent that we willed it to be true. I still want to believe in his story even in the midst of the scandal that’s currently surrounding the greatest competitor that cycling has ever seen.
A great competitor
Armstrong is still a great competitor. I have read what you have no doubt read. I have watched what you have no doubt watched. Do I believe Lance took performance-enhancing drugs? I believe it totally. I don’t doubt the evidence put forward by the USADA, or the witnesses that have testified against Armstrong.
It’s a wider issue though, which changes the context. The USADA remark that Armstrong’s career was “fuelled from start to finish by doping” – yet they also refer to the issue being a lot bigger than Armstrong. I believe that Armstrong too will come out and argue that many others that he was competing against were at it.
Armstrong is a true competitor – drugs or not – you don’t win multiple titles in an elite sport, post-cancer on drugs alone – not even close, PEDs are the icing on the cake, they offer “the edge,” the extra few percent in performance. The faster recovery, ability to work harder and get results faster. Imagine being a hungry, competitive cyclist with only moderate success and now struck by cancer. Armstrong meets someone, they get talking and he says, “Hey, buddy, maybe I can help you find an extra few percent in performance that might take you from also ran in the your chosen discipline, to the best.” What’s a thoroughbred competitor, in a sport already using drugs, on the back-foot after cancer revealed his mortality, going to think – a man who faced death and survived?
One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Its better to be a lion for a day, then a rat for a lifetime.’ If you were a rat and someone offered you the chance to become a lion, would you take the gamble? All we know Armstrong’s character is a true fighter.
Is it ‘right’?
Does even a possible endemic usage of PEDs in cycling (we don’t know there is), combined with Armstrong’s character and circumstance make it right? It’s hard to answer this – it’s subjective. Personally speaking, no it doesn’t. It’s definitely not in the spirit of sport, but it is how ‘big business’ works. I believe the mounting evidence points to the fact that elite level has wider issues than Armstrong; take the recent cases of Alberto Contador and Franck Schleck, which spring to mind instantly. Lance is not alone – especially when compared to most other mainstream sports.
I believe wider usage gives Armstrong some mitigation, yet it cannot make correct, ethical or in the true spirit of fair play. There is a dark side to cycling. In fact, I believe that there’s a dark side to sport, a side that people neither want to believe or choose to ignore.
A dark side to football?
Let’s face it; cycling is not the only sport where drugs have emerged on multiple occasions. Baseball, boxing, athletics, NFL, horseracing, football. You name it, there are people at it – but only where there’s money – where there’s big business.
What about drug use in football? There is a history of it. A number of professionals were reportedly caught up in a performance-enhancing drug scandal (Jaap Stam, Edgar Davids, …) as well as a number who allegedly delved into recreational drug use (Maradona, Mutu, Bosnich, …). It’s there; all you have to do is look.
For example, have you ever wondered how some of the top Italian league players have played at such a high level for so long, this is a bunch of players at the top who are (or were, when playing) fast heading towards 40 and running around like someone in there early 30’s, and playing up to 80 games each season. Nobody, me included, can say that the club or the players are using illegal substance to enhance performance, but it does pose an interesting question, don’t you think? After all, it was in Italy too, where aside from Stam and Davids, there’s also the alleged actions of Fernando Couto, Frank de Boer and Pep Guardiola who in fairness had his charges over-turned – all failed drugs tests for the steroid Nandrolone. We know some top European clubs used or still use ‘vitamin’ injections – and there are organizations (like the USADA) who have been digging into it for over 10 years, to little avail, suggesting that there’s sophisticated cloaking of banned substances in ‘vitamin’ supplements, they just can’t get the evidence.
An England international told me about ‘vitamin’ injections that the England team were administered during the 1998 World Cup. This guy took one before the Argentina game and describes the feeling as though he couldn’t run out of energy. Vitamin C, maybe? I am not suggesting ‘foul play’ – but I do think it’s important to ask the question. Where there’s big money people will bend, manipulate or simply break the rules out of greed.
I was surprised to read about the fact that LA passed a number of random drugs tests. I was even more shocked to read that they’d cheated them and turned it into a giant game of cat and mouse.
My personal experience of drugs tests, as a professional athlete, is that they have only ever taken a urine sample from me. Only urine, in numerous tests over 10+ years of competing at elite level sport. Seems strange to me after reading about cycling’s procedures. Where they frequently test by taking blood from the athletes. Sometimes storing that blood for years. I have never had blood taken during my whole career! Although, I would think my urine and that of lots of other footballers, well be stored somewhere.
Finally, I have never had a hair sample taken. I didn’t know of this procedure until writing this piece and forgive me if I am wrong but doesn’t the hair hold on to the use of substances for a lot longer than urine or blood. For instance in recreational drugs usage, sometimes the said drug can be flushed out of one’s system within days, where as the hair follicles hold on to proof of the same drug usage for up to 3 months. Shouldn’t hair be tested? I mean if your clean you’re clean, right?
Surely, in a the most watched sport in the world, where hundreds of millions of pounds exchanged hands ever few months. ‘Is taking only urine, literally taking the piss?’
Google Victor Conte and BALCO. It’ll give you an insight into the mind of those who look to break the rules, to see a darker side to modern sports.
Big business and power pollutes ethics
Is all this any different from what bankers have done during the banking scandal? Is it any different to what estate agents will do, when you try to purchase a house? Is there a difference, when you call a mobile phone company complaining about your tariff and they subsequently lower your tariff or add extra incentives on to keep you sweet? Or when energy companies up your rate when you ‘roll-over’ at the end of your contract, or why your existing insurance company rarely ever gives you the best rate? What about the MP’s expenses scandal, bending, twisting, breaking the rules. Greed. Spending tax payers money on second houses and moats for ducks? This is cheating tax-payers out of money. Where there’s a will there’s a way. The business of sport is no different.
The few will always spoil it for the many. Most politicians, people, sports-stars, footballers are genuine, hard working and honest people. I believe that, I believe in the good of mankind and try to see good in people, I do – honest! I am also pretty skeptical person though, I ponder stuff, I never started out like that but my experiences have hardened me early – it’s been, well, a funny old game.
A lot of people might feel let down by Lance Armstrong, I can appreciate that feeling. It is disappointing more than anything. Is he a “cheat”, yes it appears so, and he’s far from alone in sport or in politics and big business. I hope the Armstrong case is a catalyst for more people to look themselves in the mirror, to create positive change.
Another fascinating and quite mind-boggling issue on the back of this, is Nike’s arrogance to stick by a man whose whole career appears to be built on lies and fraudulent actions. What does this say about one of the world’s leading brands? What kind of example does this set the youngsters of today? These brands need to take a real hard look at themselves and act accordingly to what’s going on around them. And one final point – since the allegations, donations to Livestrong have increased by more than 50%. Any publicity is good publicity. Apparently.
I for one though still believe in the inspirational Armstrong story of cancer survivor to battling competitor, a hero of character and hard graft, you can’t take that amount of effort away from him. Drugs alone don’t make you world champion, you still have to put the work in.