In the last few weeks there have been two in incidents which have really called into question my faith in the integrity of sport. The first not surprisingly is the seemingly compelling evidence that Lance Armstrong didn’t win his seven Tour De France titles on his merits. The second that the Adelaide Crows, my team in the AFL, may well have tampered with the draft and also possibly breached the salary cap.
The revelations about both have shaken my sporting belief to the core!
When it comes to sport
I believe we expect that it is played fair. We assume that at the elite level it is played hard, no quarter given or asked to use a sporting cliche. That’s the way we like it. As an example, Casey Stoner taking the risk to pass Jorge Lorenzo at Laguna Seca – he risked it all to pass and maybe seal the 2011 MotoGP Championship in the process. Courage and skill at their best. Contrast that with the feeling when a player dives in the penalty area and ‘cons’ the referee for the crucial winning penalty?
Cricket has suffered mightily since it became clear that matches have been fixed. The euphoria of Australia’s win against Pakistan at the SCG in 2010 has been sullied by allegations, still not proven, that Australia’s amazing win was not amazing at all but the result of a fix! Ricky Ponting, Australia’s captain of the time was reported in The Telegraph on 30 August 2010 as saying “he feared some of the great individual performances by his players would be” tainted” if allegations of cheating by Pakistan were proven”. Even without that proof the shine has been taken off such that in The Sydney Morning Herald’s December 28, 2011 article on memorable test matches at the SCG this match figures as much for Australia’s exploits in winning as for the unproven allegation of match fixing.
Two further but truly famous sports frauds are the 1919 World Series, and Ben Johnson’s 100 metres dash at the Seoul Olympics. Not being around in 1919 I can only rely on reports of the time, but the fact that the Chicago White Sox of the time are referred to as “the Black Sox” for throwing the series gives a fair hint of the public’s view. As for Ben Johnson, the euphoria of such a great run was quickly dashed by the disappointing but accepting wry smile that drugs were simply part and parcel of the sport.
In the case of cycling as each week seems to go by, more revelations come out about the sports doping past.
All of that said I had clung onto the belief that Lance Armstrong was the greatest athlete of all time. He had beaten cancer and performed feats that were incredible. He was an inspiration to all, actually more particularly for me!
It should have been obvious to me that the Armstrong’s now discredited wins were dodgy given they were bookended by cyclists whose performances in the Tour were either subsequently shown to be the result of performance enhancing drugs or were at other times of their career shown to have doped. That Ulrich was suspended for doping and Pantani was outed all made sense as the conventional wisdom was that they were cheats but Lance wasn’t. The pirate’s (Pantani) end seems all the sadder now. As my friends and colleagues questioned his ability to perform at such a level citing this as evidence, it did not dissuade me from my belief.
Armstrong was winning and apparently from the results of numerous drug tests and from his own mouth doing it clean. What an amazing performance it seemed from a man who had cheated death and now was winning the greatest bike race in the world. Whilst there were questions being asked, rumors of a failed test and the French press baying for his blood, Lance simply stared down the camera each time he was questioned..
I have to say as more and more commentary about the implausibility of his feats come out my unfliching belief and support for Lance continued albeit that it was becoming increasingly hard to defend and believe. Still I rode my Trek 2002 TDF winning replica, a bike I bought simply because Lance Armstrong had won on it! Now with USADA’s report it is no longer possible to have such belief.
A much less significant to the world, but important all the same circumstance has arisen surrounding my team, The Adelaide Crows! Allegations are now being investigated about a side deal for their (our) high priced player Kurt Tippett, which if proven, as it seems they will be, are in direct contravention of the AFL’s Draft and Salary Cap rules. Rules which I might say are front of mind for everyone who follows the game and presumably therefore those who are directly involved.
As an Adelaide Crows supporter I felt I was personally tainted by these allegations. The team that I support and ride the emotions of throughout each winter, the team who, in my very biased opinion are the subject of the harshest treatment by both the umpires and the AFL itself, have it seems broken the rules, cheated infact! I feel personally embarassed that my team could have been implicated in this and in so doing have lost the high moral ground to which up until this latest allegation they were rightly able to claim. They have been a team who “have played the game the way it should be played” to quote another teams club song. It seems it will be hard in future to make such a claim.
So in a short period my faith in two sports, an individual and team I have supported admired and “loved” have it seems broken rules which are sacrosanct. As a result I don’t feel the same about my Trek bike anymore – a bit embarrassed to ride it, given it’s emblazoned with US Postal markings and certainly discussion with my interstate colleagues who are well aware of my views on how hard done by The Crows have been is just plain embarrassing!
The loss of sponsors by many of the cycling teams and the continued loss of credibility of the sport may make it impossible for it to be taken seriously, in the short to medium term, maybe forever. What a shame that would be.
As for the Crows, it seems they will be punished heavily if the charge is proved. That will be the right outcome, however it will be for me the bad taste it leaves in my mouth as I watch them that will be more of an issue.
After all it is the integrity of the sport that is integral.
I recently found this post which put an alternate view.