Lance Armstrong’s admission to doping earlier this week has opened up a grey area of sport that needs to be addressed – why are sports personnel so afraid to speak up if they know someone is cheating? Because that is what doping is, and there’s no two ways about it.
Former Great Britain road cyclist Nicole Cooke lambasted Armstrong earlier this week and made it clear she had no sympathy for him. She said that ‘when Lance “cries” on Oprah… spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward – just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances.’ Pretty strong words from the Olympic champion of 2008 who prides herself on being 100% ‘clean.’ Her retirement statement also included details of her finding ‘various bottles’ in the fridge at her team house during 1999 – being a young cyclist she felt she couldn’t do much because all of her team-mates were experienced professionals and she was just a novice, not even a professional yet. She took a stand and got rid of the drugs, yet it’s only now we are being told about it. And that is part of the problem – young athletes cannot report any form of cheating for fear of the older professionals ganging up on them, twisting the situation to make themselves look good and ruining the potential careers of the expendable youth. Cooke also shed some facts on Genevieve Jeanson, one of the greatest female cyclists of all time who admitted to drug use since she was 16 not long ago, but couldn’t do it until Jeanson herself had admitted it for fear of other cyclists turning against her. It’s bullying and should not be tolerated in sport, yet it seems that unless something drastic changes whistleblowers will only be those who already have solid careers, those who have respect and aren’t likely to lose anything as a result.
But even in these circumstances telling the truth can be just as difficult. Former Essex County Cricket Club bowler Tony Palladino was the man who told on Mervyn Westfield and Danish Kaneria for spot-fixing a one-day cricket game in 2009. But he didn’t report it for six months after the game because he ‘didn’t actually know what to do. We’d never had any training for that.’ Cheating has been rife in sport throughout many years, yet the players still don’t know how to report it. It was only when the Players’ Cricket Association gave him and his team-mates a talk saying that they had to report any instance of cheating because if they don’t they can be ‘liable as well’ that Palladino admitted what he knew. And in doing so he opened himself to a really difficult time at Essex before effectively being forced out. He did the right thing, he told the truth and kept the game respectable, yet he was the one who suffered for it. And it was the supporters who gave him the most stick: ‘I’ve had mostly positive stuff come back but quite a bit of negative stuff as well – not so much within the game but from supporters. Sometimes people didn’t 100 per cent believe me.’ Why is it us fans feel the need to defend those who have clearly done wrong? Fans of football teams are the worst, defending players who clearly cheat by diving and rolling around on the floor and then slating any other players who do it. We need to stop pressurising the athletes into thinking that they need to win in order to be loved and make them feel stupid when they cheat so they are deterred from it.
And it’s not only us fans and other professionals that stop professional sportsmen and women from having their say – it’s the National Governing Bodies and other groups based around the sports that also do it. Football again is a great example – how many players recently have been fined for airing their views on Twitter? Take Ashley Cole for example – he was fined £9000 for having a go at the FA for seemingly implicating him in the racism scandal with Mark Clattenburg at the back end of last year. While he didn’t exactly have his say in a very diplomatic way, he was punished for standing up for himself. And it seems that this is also a problem in cycling too, with Cooke suggesting that the ‘UCI have spent the past 10 years trying to defend the indefensible Armstrong position, with time wasting actions such as suing Paul Kimmage [journalist and former road racer who is strongly critical of drugs in the sport] for libel after Kimmage dared to bring their “good name” into disrepute.’ It seems that all NGBs want to do is show their sport off and attract more performers to make themselves more popular, and if that includes ignoring the fact that cheating is rife and silencing those who speak up then that is what they will do. Lance Armstrong’s interview on Friday certainly did nothing to dispel this argument. This has now led to us questioning anything we see that is an extraordinary act of sporting brilliance – is Andy Murray’s sudden rise to success drug enhanced? Is Michu on drugs, given the fact he was no-one before he came over here in the summer? What about Michael Schumacher in his prime? He must have been on drugs…
By coming clean Lance Armstrong has made everyone aware of just how much of an issue cheating is. It isn’t just a one-off thing that is hidden alongside lies and deceit, it is also clear to see on TV at times too. And yet when someone tries to speak up about it they are hounded, ridiculed and abused because no-one wants to believe that their sport is tainted. It’s unfair; it’s unjust; it’s just not cricket.