Within hours of the drug scandal engulfing Essendon this week, I received an email with the subject heading: “Bomber’s new fitness coach.”
Attached was a photo of Lance Armstrong in an Essendon guernsey: a light-hearted, viral response to an increasingly dark national disgrace.
I’ve always had a pretty simplistic (some might say naive) view of sport’s role in shaping young lives: sport will teach them the value of teamwork and discipline; it will introduce them to new friends; and if they’re focussed on being fit, they’re less likely to get into drugs. Like many Aussie parents, I’ve also watched my boys and their mates as they’ve found their feet on the footy field, and wondered if any of them has what it takes to play AFL.
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“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” This win-at-all costs sports creed, adopted by the Americans, has now crept into the psyche of Australian sport.
Drugs in sport will continue to tarnish the reputation of sporting groups and their athletes – such is their desire to be the best. The Lance Armstrong scandal has been a classic case. The consequences are lethal to careers and reveal the human failings that reflect the deadly sins – greed and pride.
We’ve seen former Australian cyclists Matt White and Stephen Hodge dragged into the tour mess and they were promptly sacked. Are they scapegoats in an elaborate, complex plot that touched most riders of the cycling tour?
Something is rotten in the footy codes and this is a crisis.
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Why didn’t the Australian Crime Commission investigate doping in Olympic sports as well as “the big five”, rugby league, rugby union, AFL, cricket and soccer?
The Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport report released yesterday noted how professional Aussie sport was “highly vulnerable to organised crime infiltration through legitimate business relationships with sports franchises and other associations”.
But nowhere in the report were the Olympics even mentioned. The report examined case studies involving Rugby League and the AFL. And yesterday’s press conference extended to Rugby Union, league, AFL, cricket and soccer. The report mentioned how sport had become a highly profitable exercise at global and international levels. According to ABS statistics from 2006, sport generates $8.82 billion per year.
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Lance Armstrong’s remaining fans have performed some epic intellectual back flips to rationalise the cyclist’s behaviour following his semi-contrite confession last week.
Apparently, because so many other riders were pumped up on drugs, and because it’s bloody difficult to win the Tour de France clean, Lance shouldn’t be treated so harshly for systematically defrauding the public and building himself up as a sporting legend under false pretences.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of stupid going around at the moment. Which brings me to the latest bright idea for dealing with performance enhancing drugs in sport - bare-faced surrender.
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I have a confession. It’s important that this confession be made in a non-threatening environment, ideally to a very broad audience of people of which many have never heard of me before, but are still able to empathise and hopefully commend me for being so brave.
But since Oprah won’t return my calls, I’ll have to make it here. I have used performance-enhancing drugs. By “performance” I mean “my year 6 School Captain campaign speech” and by “drugs” I mean “my mum”.
As I’m sure most of you are aware, I was School Captain of Our Lady of the Way Primary School, Emu Plains in 1995. It was a year of strong policy - freshly painted handball courts, new bubblers and the introduction of senior-only lunch areas - tainted only by one minor scandal: the most sophisticated and successful doping program the school had ever seen.
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The admission by Lance Armstrong that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his cycling career may finally lead to a comprehensive account of the widespread doping during the past two decades of the sport.
Drug use has been known to cycling for decades. In the early days, some riders consumed a cocktail of amphetamines to withstand the long hours of competition, day after day, in the grand tours.
But it was the discovery of Erythropoietin (EPO) in the 1980s that has cast a long shadow over cycling to this day. EPO is the hormone that regulates red blood cell production, giving the user an unfair advantage.
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Cycling needs a new doping test. But this is not about drugs, rather the need to rid the sport of the dopes who’ve overseen its descent into the roadside gutter.
Top of the list is Pat McQuaid, president of cycling’s world governing body the UCI. Last night in Geneva, he announced that there was no place in cycling for Lance Armstrong and that his seven Tour De France titles would be erased from history.
Doh! It took McQuaid two weeks to come up with that bleeding obvious conclusion, which given the weight of evidence against sport’s biggest ever cheat and liar, was a huge failing in itself. But it was what McQuaid didn’t say during the press conference that was more important.
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The noose has been tightening, tightening, then snap. Today, Lance Armstrong gave in. He didn’t admit he was guilty of systematic doping over the years, or any doping at all, but he’s had enough of the fight.
Some fights you can win, some you can’t. In a way it’s offensive to class any struggle with cancer as a battle, as it unfairly implies a certain weakness among those who die. That said, Lance won his battle with Testicular cancer, and he won it with honour.
No sooner had he hopped out of hospital for the umpteenth time than he started raising money to find a cure, then hopped on his bike and rode his international rivals into the ground. There’ll be some hard-bitten French sports journalists popping champagne corks tonight, while a few in the Australian press will uncork chardonnay. Let them gloat. Lance Armstrong is still a winner to me and to so many of us.
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The Olympics are in a few months. They’d throw me out.
Right now, I would fail an Olympic-style drug test so hard it would make your teeth rattle. None of this A sample/B sample business, both specimens would probably just glow in the dark.
Why? Because I’m in the throes of a come-down from a workout that makes Pumping Iron look like Anne of Green Gables, and to survive it I took an array of stimulants which would give most people a coronary just looking at the bottle.
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This week’s article by George Galanis in The Punch was an interesting read. But, I’m afraid to say, it mistakenly perpetuated the myth that somehow it is medically safe to use performance enhancing substances in sport.
Doping has been around as long as competitive sport itself. However, in modern history one of the major catalysts for the prevention of doping in sport was the deaths of athletes resulting directly from doping.
The reality is that athletes have indeed died during and straight after competition because they have doped. The death of Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen during competition at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome (the autopsy revealed traces of amphetamine) increased the pressure for sports authorities to introduce drug testing.
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