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I don’t follow cycling all that much, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never heard of Lance Armstrong. What do I know about him? In 1998 he returned to professional road-racing after surgery and chemotherapy for testicular cancer that had metastasized into his brain and lungs. I know that in 1999 he won  the first of seven successive Tour de France, a feat which may well remain unequalled for ever. I know that he is the most decorated cyclist ever, by a country mile. I know that he left his wife and had a fling with Sheryl Crowe. I know that since then he has fathered two children by his current partner, a notable achievement for someone who has had chemotherapy for testicular cancer. I know that throughout his career he never failed a drug test, in a sport where doping is endemic. Finally I know that for the second part of his career lesser men have been out to get him.

Now it seems  they have succeeded. For some time now Armstrong has been hounded by the US Anti-Doping Agency, on the basis of allegations made against him by a convicted doper and former team-mate, backed up by some other cyclists with doping records. There still have been no positive drug tests from that period, and a two-year Federal criminal investigation found no case to answer, but the USADA will not give up.

If Armstrong  was a doper when he won all those tours, then one of the most rigorous testing systems in world sport failed to produce any physical evidence against him, and without that it’s hard to see how any proceedings can be valid. That’s the basis of Armstrong’s case, and to many it might seem incontrovertible, yet what he describes as a witch-hunt goes on. Now he says that is no longer prepared to participate further in a process that he regards as one-sided and unfair and is walking away.

That’s the story, as it stands. The truth of it all will never be known, but . . . I have always been a little suspicious of the zeal with which athletes are pursued by the doping police. They must train and prepare for events knowing that at any hour of the day or night someone with a badge is likely to turn up on their doorstep demanding that they piss in a bottle. They work under conditions  that would not be tolerated in any other industry, other than those where public safety is an issue, and if they do not accept them then they are assumed to be guilty. Any sport which does not accept the full rigours of  the World Anti Doping Agency finds its integrity questioned. This happened to professional football, and to golf.

Lance Armstrong’s case may or may not have been a witch-hunt, but there is always a Witch-finder General somewhere around. Dick Pound would have been an obscure Canadian lawyer but for WADA, but he became one of the most quoted men in global sports media. I had never heard of Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the USADA, but I have now, because of his pursuit of Armstrong. History is full of people who have built their fame around pursuit of individuals and issues. Joe McCarthy comes most readily to mind, but most nations have them. The venal public, always too ready to pull down the idols it has created, will always them a hearing without pausing to consider what they are actually saying. For example, John Fahey, Dick Pound’s successor at WADA, is quoted thus:

He had a right to contest the charges. He chose not to. The simple fact is that his refusal to examine the evidence means the charges had substance in them.

If that is Mr Fahey’s definition of a fact, then God help every accused sportsman in the world. For an example of the injustices such an attitude can throw up, examine the situation of a golfer named Doug Barron.

So what’s my take on the Armstrong case? Well, it’s this. If the guy managed to fake those countless drug tests then sure as hell he wasn’t alone. If he was a doper in that sport at that time, he’d have gained no unfair advantage over most of his competitors. If he wasn’t, then he was all the more remarkable. There was a man called Alan Hardaker, Secretary of the English Football League, who said, notoriously, that he would not hang a dog on the word of a professional footballer. As I look at the people who are accusing Armstrong, I find  myself recalling that tongue in cheek quote. Bottom line is this; the USADA can scratch his name out of the record books if it chooses, but everyone will still know who won those seven Tours de France.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. August 25, 2012 at 11:06 am

    For my sins ,one of my hobbies is Harness Racing which, unlike in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a good part of Europe, where it’s massive with prize money in the hundreds of thousands even millions, local owners race every Thursday evening at Corbiewood near Bannockburn for £300 prize money.

    For reasons too numerous too mention, the sport has never captured the public interest in this country.
    We desperately need someone like Barry Hearn to kick-start some life into it.

    One of the main reasons, though, is a governing body which seems to spend most of the revenue raised in pursuing the small owners/trainers with a zeal not seen since McCarthy times…with negligible results and questionable data and tactics. One of my friends was hit with a fine/suspension which, in comparison to the prize money won was so draconian it was laughable. They even tried to take away his driving licence to ensure he couldn’t evade his suspension. His offence – applying a herbal paste to the pony to alleviate an injury. A remedy approved by the local vet.

    If they spent a fraction of the money spent on this “mission” to rid the sport of doping offenders (which appears to be an issue only in the eyes of the governing body) on actively promoting ,then the sport in this country wouldn’t be on the brink of extinction.

    Seems they are everywhere.

  2. August 25, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Why don’t you call a general meeting and sack the governing body?

  3. August 25, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Believe me it has been attempted but the current set up favours the status quo by demanding an overwhelming majority of the sitting committee to vote for any changes which would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.

    Usual story of those with vested interests looking after their own.

  4. David Brown
    August 25, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Two questions Quintin. 1 Would the PGA Tour lose any money if Doug Barron was not playing? 2 Would the PGA Tour lose money if Tiger Woods was not playing? The second question is not anti Tiger Woods.

  5. August 25, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    The answers are self-evident, but are the questions relevant?

  6. Patricia wright
    August 28, 2012 at 12:44 am

    Belatedly entering this discussion, I was really angry at the anti-Lance anti-doping,anti spectacular success deal! You’re so right that we all know that Lance won those races-facts can be obscured but not denied in a real world ( one NOT of the making of the “:rule makers”. Sort of like denying Joe Paterno Penn State’s great wins in their(his) history. The teams who played those games WON those games and just saying they didn’t doesn’t make it true.Many sins were committed by the Penn State Admin, but the teams were NOT the villains. I’m, of course, assuming anyone knows or cares about US football. Injustice occurs and is usally at the hands of the “rule makers”./

  7. August 28, 2012 at 10:44 am

    The Sandusky case is known outside the US, Patricia, but only in headline terms. The NFL is screened globally, but we know very little of college football. Now I’ve looked in more detail, you couldn’t be more right. Obliterating the results of 111 games because a member of the team’s coaching staff was a paedophile, and colleagues covered it up, defies all logic. Financial penalties against Penn State itself, they’re okay, but such a denial of history spreads the punishment to the pool of potential victims. That’s more than wrong, it’s wicked. As I understand it, the penalties against the college have been determined essentially by one man, and endorsed by the NCAA Board. I wonder how they will withstand any law-suits by former Penn State players, of whom at least some must be pursuing NFL careers by now.

  8. Patricia wright
    August 28, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Thanks, Q, for your understanding and comments.The injustice and denial of reality are the most egregious results of this whole affair and in no way recompense the victims ofSandusky’s abuse butpunish innocent young men who played the denied games.

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