Why Does the USADA Want Convicted Dopers to Win the Tour de France?
USADA have claimed this as a victory, calling the result “a reassuring reminder that there is hope for future generations to compete on a level playing field without the use of performance-enhancing drugs”.
If Armstrong is stripped of his Tour victories, the new list of “winners” will contain many names familiar to those who have followed cycling’s infamous doping scandals: Jan Ullrich (banned for doping), Ivan Basso (banned for doping), Andreas Klöden (accused of blood doping- the case was closed when he made a 25000 Euro payment to settle the charges, without an admission of guilt. NADA, the German anti-doping agency, have recently expressed an interest in re-opening the case), and Joseba Beloki (implicated though not charged in Operacion Puerto investigations). Of the new victors, only Jaan Kirsipuu has been neither implicated nor proven to be doping. If he is the hope that USADA is banking on, it is a slim one. Along with many who have previously been banned for doping, Basso and Klöden are still riding, still performing at a competitive elite level (5th in Giro d’Italia 2012 and 11th in Tour de France 2012 respectively). The Olympic gold medal in road cycling was won by Vinokourov, another convicted doper.
As Verner Moller has pointed out, it is difficult to understand why people dope if they are subsequently capable of riding clean and winning. Nor has the pace let up. The Tour de France winner’s average speed in 2012 was faster than Lance Armstrong’s 2000 win and than the infamous 2007 Tour which was marred by a string of doping scandals.
It would be one thing to watch the Tour de France and other sports in the knowledge that riders are competing using training, determination and talent alone. But all the evidence shows that is not the case, and will probably never be the case. New doping methods arise as old ones become testable, including gene doping. USADA themselves, in chasing Armstrong despite his history of clean tests, have shown a lack of faith in the testing system’s ability to catch cheats. They have allegedly relied on his team mates snitching on him for lenient treatment.
Under the current system, doping appears to be widespread, and only sporadically detected. It is also a danger to the athletes. In 2011, Riccardo Ricco was rushed to hospital, allegedly due to a poorly administered blood transfusion. A number of rider deaths and other damage have been linked to drugs . It will be impossible to ever know the extent of any damage, as there are no effective controls.
The war on doping has been tried and has failed. It has cost millions. The lives of the few athletes who are caught are ruined, whilst the culture of doping remains prevalent. However, more worryingly, many more young athletes are a victim of a system which demands doping in order to be competitive, to win races which will get a sponsor, who will pay for them to carry on competing. Yet the current system forces them to do so without any safety controls and under cover. Allowing doping, under the protection of a doctor who is responsible for the athlete’s long term health, and measuring key indicators to ensure they are at safe levels, will ultimately provide a greater protection for future generations than giving Lance Armstrong’s victories to a less high profile set of riders with doping histories of their own.
It is time for a moratorium on the witch hunt for dopers. It is time to set up a new harm reduction approach to doping that bans only very unsafe substances and interventions which are inimical to sport. But Armstrong, even if the allegations were true, never used any of these.
It is time to take a realistic, rational approach to performance enhancement in sport. The crusades and the witch hunts are ruining it for everyone, not the least the athletes themselves.
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