Reassessing our approach to doping in sport

Al Hinds

cycling,doping,WADA,USADA,lance armstrong,travis tygart,matt white,john fahey,tour de france,dopers,amnesty
Samples await testing... The not so human face of doping. (Getty Images)
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Where do you stand on doping? It may sound an obvious question but it’s a issue that’s only consistency is the variance of opinion surrounding it.

We need to as a cycling community get past the notion that all doping is bad, and start to understand the roots of the problem before we burn all those that come forward in the spirit of co-operation.

Poll: Where do you stand on doping?

When I was much younger I came at the issue from a hardline perspective. Doping was cheating (If you need some imagery watch this clip).
 
Cheats should not be involved in sport. My justification of such a belief was never too complex. People were displaced from the sport that otherwise should not have been. Results were scrambled; history was almost disconnected from reality.
 
Money. It was about money as well. Dopers wanted livelihoods that they couldn’t have. Ambition drove them to cheat to get results that were beyond their grasp.
 
They were also liars. They would always deny. Deny, deny, deny. It wasn’t just the initial deception. Some became experts. There were those that trumpeted beliefs of a clean sport while injecting banned substances at night. How could anyone ever feel for these people? They were the lowest of the low.
 
I think it’s natural to feel this way when you have a passion for something. I think it’s natural to think in extremes when your passion is strong, like mine and I’m sure many others is for our sport.
 
As I’ve gotten older, as I’ve read more, as I’ve tried to understand further, doping has become an obsession of a sort. It’s a philosophical conundrum that has made me a head-case. I can’t see it as a black and white issue, nor do I see every case of doping as black and white.
 
Understanding the culture in cycling in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, probably even now, it’s impossible to think the way I used to. The who, the when, the why, the how all matter, at least to me. Context is not without its value.
 
Do I condone the past? No. Do I condone doping? No. Can I empathise with certain cases, yes I probably can.

Armstrong for example appalls me. His continued denials even now, his famous “what am I on” Nike ad, his speeches not least that famous address to the ‘cynics and the sceptics’ on the Champs Elysees at the 2005 Tour de France, his intimidation, his arrogance. There’s a lot not to like.
 
Armstrong doped, though it’s never been that which bothered me the most, it’s been his behaviour towards those around him. Of lives he’s ruined in his single-minded pursuit of success and of an insidious culture he helped facilitate and lead. Armstrong helped professionalise and institutionalise doping in cycling at a level above and beyond it had ever been. That will be his legacy in the sport. And a legacy that is hard to reconcile or forgive.

Not that he is the only one to lay the blame on. Ferrari, Bruyneel, Riis, del Moral, Celaya, Marti the list goes on.
 
But for others...
 
Anne Gripper told the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday of her views on the matter, and a view I tend to agree with: I have a much more sympathetic approach to (the riders), and Matt White is one of those riders. They basically had chosen to do a job; and the job and for some employers - most employers - at that time meant that they had to comply with the medical program. In that era, the choices to be an elite professional rider were pretty much limited to teams where a systematic doping program was in force.What counts against White more than anything in my eyes is his role in recommending Trent Lowe to Dr. del Moral. Without that I would have no issue with him continuing with Cycling Australia or Orica-GreenEDGE. White has done wrong, but he’s also done a lot for cycling in Australia, and that should not be forgotten.
 
Part of the cultural change that cycling is currently undergoing needs to be how we reconcile the issues of yesteryear with today. How we define and talk about doping. How we treat the cases of the past, today. Is sacking Levi Leipheimer really the right move by Omega Pharma-Quickstep? Is zero tolerance really the way we move forward?

I ask Patrick Lefevre, can you tell me honestly that every rider and staff member in your 2012 team is completely beyond reproach? Because if they’re not all beyond reproach, the only wrong Leipheimer has done is co-operate in an investigation to clean up the sport with zero incentive and lost his job. Sacking him simply rejects his decision to co-operate.
 
Team Sky is also going down a ridiculous path. “We’ll sack you if you come forward, or we’ll sack you later if you don’t and then we find out”. This is an approach that will do more for stopping the momentum of change that helping it. Champions of anti-doping? Champions of omerta more like.

We need to as a cycling community get past the notion that all doping is bad, and start to understand the roots of the problem before we burn all those that come forward in the spirit of co-operation.

The USADA has gone some way to doing this by charging the puppeteers rather than puppets. But we must go further. If cycling wants to bury its demons, if it wants to move on and embrace the future it needs to be open minded about its ongoing approach.

Already there are signs that things are changing. Cycling Australia came out with the endorsement of a once unthinkable amnesty only recently, and the World Anti-Doping Agency President John Fahey made a similar comment on the future on ABC radio this morning.

But the intransigence remains in the bodies that matter most. The Australian Sports Commission said the idea would 'send the wrong message' implicitly threatening the funding of Cycling Australia in the process, and the UCI has already fumbled on the issue previously.

I have news for the UCI. This won't just go away if you block your ears long enough. Cycling needs a line in the sand, it needs a plan. We need a well-defined policy document, a structured approach to the future, and ideally, we need it soon.

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