Friday, 1 February 2013

Thoughts On The Doping Scandal

One news story that I have been following with fascination recently is the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. Having read both his autobiographies, I was inspired by his passion for cycling and focus on his sport through adversity. 

With family I watched the Tour de France religiously every summer, and as I was growing up and getting into the sport myself, Lance was consistently the hero for my brother and I. Cycling is a brilliant sport and one which has sadly suffered so much. 

Obviously, following the recent revelations, I was incredibly disappointed in the true accounts of events. I believe that once he got himself into the cycle of lying that it became habit. Inexcusable, but it became for him part of his sport, something he HAD to do to further his chances.

I believe that he took the mentality that doping had to be a part of cycling to win, that cycling professionally was like playing a chess game – you had to take care of all the pieces, both opponents and doping regulations. Winning was a personal achievement for overcoming all obstacles, legal regulations and physical barriers.

Doping increases the inequality of sport, and for this reason many people are incredibly angry. Added to this that there was a great deal of manipulation and blackmailing going on with regard to the doping.

The essence of sport is that those with focus and drive win, and that you have to be an incredibly dedicated individual to be top of your field, no matter what sport you’re in. You have to practise for hours daily. In addition to that, you need natural aptitude, you need motivation, you need physical potential. For the last reason, sport will never be fair. 

I watched the Olympics to see people who have seized their potential and gone the whole way to make something of it. I watched the Paralympics to see people who had seized their potential despite living each day facing physical barriers.

Neither of these events are “fair” or “equal”, but only as equal it is possible to regulate. The Olympics are about a celebration of human spirit, team work and perseverance. This is the case for sport in general. For most people, chemical enhancements are a complete contradiction to the “perseverance” aspect of sport, and are widely seen as taking the easy route to success. But was success easy for cyclists whilst taking these drugs? I would still say, no it wasn’t. 

People will argue that there is doping in every sport as it is easy to evade drugs tests. We can’t get too paranoid or the regulations will be so strict that people will be deterred from taking part. But no one wants a cheat to win. Personally, I would never want doping to become a part of winning at high level sport, as I believe it takes the achievement out of it.  

Winning is about glory, winning is about money, winning is about fame, winning is about being top of your game.  The cliché, but taking part must be the real personal achievement.

Should the fact that Lance used chemical enhancement to improve his body immediately disqualify him from all future events? 

He lied and cheated for years, took the easy way out, acted selfishly towards family and team mates, manipulated people to achieve personal ends. The doping in sport has stopped hundreds of “clean” sportsmen and women from having a better shot at coming top.

But no…
He dedicated years of his life to his sport, inspired millions as well as using winnings to support Livestrong. He is passionate about sport, he has not stopped with his sport since all of this made headline news.
Livestrong has been condemned by some cynics as a vanity statement, one which simply highlights Lance as an undeserved hero. 
But if we’re looking at this from a moral standpoint, surely the fact is Livestrong has done so much good for so many people. It’s an organisation which offers support to cancer patients. This is a fantastic cause.

A controversial question which has been at the back of my mind is “Do performance enhancing drugs cause cancer?” There, I’ve asked it. There’s various articles out on the web with contradicting views on this, though one I recently read suggests there is no evidence to support this.

Lance was my childhood sporting hero. I had little interest in football, but when the Tour de France was on, I would watch for hours. His autobiographies, however much fact and however much fiction still gave me a lot of reading enjoyment and inspiration to encourage my cycling hobby. 

I don’t believe in never forgiving people, and the same applies to my “heros” turned sour. I respect Lance for those words to Luke, “Don’t try to stick up for me anymore, tell people that your dad says he’s sorry.” Heart-breaking, and I can’t imagine how this whole situation must affect the kids.

There is no easy answer to these questions. I believe that being a liar and cheat in the eyes of the public is quite possibly the worst kind of punishment, and Lance just can’t have believed that he would get away with it forever. I think back to times when I have “cheated” on a small scale at board games when I was a kid. On one hand it takes all the pleasure out of achieving something under your own steam, but you still get to enjoy winning. I didn’t truly believe Lance took part in doping until the final confessions from team mates. 

Food for thought indeed!

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