Why so naive? The case of Lance Armstrong

To fully understand the case of Lance Armstrong and the state of doping in professional cycling and even sports, one must accept two things. First, that a vast majority of the top class athletes around the world are many steps ahead of the anti-doping agencies that try to catch them. Second, those athletes still train themselves into the ground to achieve feats that keep people’s eyes trained on the television screens, which means big profits for organizers and governing bodies.

How many of you can honestly admit to not even once thinking that Usain Bolt’s otherworldly speed is not entirely down to his natural ability and coaching? Bolt too has undergone a barrage of anti-dope tests and was found clean just like Armstrong was when he was causing amazed onlookers to call the famous cycling road race that he dominated the ‘Tour de Lance’.

And yet while the world is led to believe that running the 100 meters in 9.63 seconds in less than ideal sprinting conditions is perfectly legitimate, Armstrong has been thrown to the mercy of people who love nothing more than to see someone famous stripped of everything that made him so in the first place.

In announcing its decision to hand a lifetime ban to Armstrong and its intention to strip him of all the titles he won dating back to 1998, the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) has not only perpetuated the myth of zero-doping professional sports, but has also been too vague when it comes to the details.

The USADA has apparently claimed jurisdiction over not only those events that come under the purview of cycling’s global governing body, UCI, but also that over the Olympic Games where Armstrong won a bronze medal in the 2000 games in Sydney.

Given that the very first charges levelled against Armstrong from the 1999 edition of the Tour for the alleged use of EPO were thrown out by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) should give some indication as to their lack of naivete. For if Armstrong was doping, then they would have to pursue everyone else too. Case in point is how most of the riders on the Tour de France who finished second to Armstrong have also been implicated in doping charges.

So I’ll stick my neck out and back Armstrong in his assertion that he is being subjected to a “witch hunt”. But I do it not because I believe he has never taken performance enhancing drugs. But because I believe he is a victim of the misguided idealism amongst sports officials and (to some extent) fans too who believe that professional sports is clean and that anyone caught taking performance enhancing substances should be banished.

Well if that’s the case, then maybe we should go back to the days of 100 meter sprinters without rippling muscles and never getting anywhere close to breaking the 10 second barrier. Maybe we should ban anyone who has ever taken a protein supplement to put on the muscle that you just can’t get by eating natural food. Maybe we should wipe out every 100 meter world record before Jim Hines ran it in 9.95 seconds.

Or maybe we should accept that athletes training themselves to the point of sheer agony will take something that allows them to get out of bed the next morning and start training again. It’s an approach that would not only allow them to keep setting the records we all love to marvel over, but maybe also allow anti-doping agencies like USADA to focus on preventing them taking substances that can do them serious bodily harm.

But don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. Otherwise there won’t be any more ‘witches’ to burn at the stake.

By Vinayak Pande

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