This week Lance Armstrong’s reputable career has continued to crumble beneath him. The US Anti-Doping Agency has branded him guilty and stripped his seven Tour De France titles. Big Debate asks, does he deserve the punishment?
NO: Joshua Barrett
This week Lance Armstrong has been shown to be a cheat and though I’m not denying this or trying to redeem this fallen hero, I believe the singling out of one man has overshadowed an epidemic which for years plagued the professional sport of cycling. Lance dominated the sport, in particular its centrepiece race, The Tour de France, for almost a decade with seven “victories” in the toughest race on earth, inspiring millions with his miraculous recovery from cancer. However, in the wake of the damning evidence from the US doping authorities this week, the miracle has been exposed as a lie. Armstrong’s sophisticated, organised ring of deceit was shocking, yet I disagree that removing his titles is the right choice for the broken world of cycling.
Cycling has an infamous and turbulent relationship with drugs which oddly began with the aspirations of a coal miner’s son from County Durham; Before Bradley Wiggins victory in Le Tour earlier this year, the most successful British road cyclist was Tom Simpson, an athlete whose untimely death during a Tour stage resulted in the initial banning of performance drugs in cycling. Tom’s desire for victory drove him to take a cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol to mask the pain climbing the gruelling 1500m to the top of Mont Ventoux, a journey which he never completed. The place where Tom fell is still marked with a memorial which thousands of cyclists visit each year to pay their respects, ironically to a man who was one of the first to cheat.
Simpson’s death occurred in 1967, yet thirty years later, when Lance was racing up the same mountains, the sport was still rife with drugs, though now a more complex, professional demon. It is widely accepted that to win the Tour, doping was the only option, and if you didn’t participate in the illegitimate activities you could not compete. As proof of this, the USADA report remarkably reveals that of the 21 riders who shared the podium during Lance’s seven victories, only one hasn’t been implicated in a doping scandal. Floyd Landis, a former teammate of Armstrong, himself stripped of victory in the 2006 Tour for doping and a key witness in the USADA report, said this when asked if his former colleague was a fraud:
“Well, it depends on what your definition of fraud is. I mean it — look, if he didn’t win the Tour, someone else that was doped would have won the Tour. In every single one of those Tours.”
This highlights that the problem was an epidemic, not just reserved to Lance and his team but to athletes that the authorities duly failed to control.
Many will argue that what Armstrong has done is unforgiveable and that stripping his titles is the only possible course of action, with the director of the Tour even suggesting results should be made blank for these years. I believe that such action will only add further embarrassment to a sport which is desperate to clean up its image, with the persecution of Armstrong merely hiding the real villain in this tale, the authorities who overlooked rampant drug abuse and left athletes no choice but to dope.
The evidence is so overwhelming against Lance that I’d personally like to see him confess but in the absence of this, stripping his titles is not going to change anything. Lance Armstrong is the greatest cyclist of a generation, but unfortunately this generation was one of drug abuse and blood doping. Cycling needs to forget this generation, learn from its mistakes and ensure that one man does hold back its progress.
YES: Tess Brumwell-Gaze
Whilst my sporting ability may match that of an infant, my knowledge of what it takes to be a successful participant in sport is not so impaired. In sportsmanship and fair-play Lance Armstrong has failed, and for that, to let him clutch on to his titles and any positive profile would be a disaster.
A recurrent defence I have come across is that Armstrong was not alone in the activity, that he was one of a countless number of cheating cyclists. True. A systematic programme of drug-abuse and concealment within the sport has been exposed by the USADA and by the sportsmen themselves. A string of eleven cyclists who rode alongside Armstrong have testified against him whilst outing their own culpability. However on what leg exactly is this argument hobbling on? Two options; Firstly this could imply that if everyone else was blood-doping too, and he won, he was – relatively – still the winner and therefore deserves his champion titles. Has the world gone mad? Is this a serious proposal that loads of people, taking drugs, conspiring to get hold of them and then concealing it from the public deserve a celebratory title? I’m not sure any inscribers will be able to fit ‘Number One fastest Tour-de-France cyclist when-under-the-influence-of-performance-enhancing-drugs-and-doped-blood’ on to all seven of Armstrong’s trophies.
The second implication is that Lance felt he had no choice but to partake in order to stand a chance? If everyone else was going to do it then he would too. Well this makes me sorry that poor Lance missed out on D.A.R.E classes, as I was definitely given a whole list of golden rules in primary school that could have gotten him out of that situation; ‘1. Give them the cold shoulder’, ‘2.Just say NO’. I could go on. Armstrong had the opportunity to play fairly and true to his physical ability, but he neglected this, favouring a career of falsity and deceit. All this while I feel I am reflecting on the behaviour of an avaricious schoolchild. Admittedly it saddens me that this once admirable man has fallen so hard. Any pity for Armstrong calling on his fight against cancer and his philanthropic effort since is simply no justification and really completely unrelated to the matter in question, which has been blatant cheating. Had the winner been another of his team, would there be such sympathy at this time of revelation? I doubt it.
Even more prominent a notion is that of the responsibility Armstrong has to defuse the situation. If the rhetoric of the twenty-twelve Olympics was not enough to emphasise the importance of sporting culture in bringing unity and inspiration to the masses, then I shall repeat it. Sport is taking a greater chunk of media coverage as the years go by. Sportsmen and women are not just watched for their ability and skill but their personas. How many young boys have wandered into a barbershop clutching a photo of Beckham’s ‘do? These sportsmen are idolised by impressionable minds. Armstrong owes it to future generations to disassociate himself with the realm of sport, of limelight and of prominence. His position is not one to be aspired to or longed-for, but to be shamed and wiped from the limelight.
If the future of the sport is to be a positive one, it must take the ‘Lance Armstrong’ case seriously and strictly. To tolerate his behaviour at all would be to vindicate future cheating and to accept the inevitability of doping in cycling, when that needn’t and must not be the case.