Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tour de Dope

As I was reading the news on Cadel Evans claiming the yellow jersey after the 10th stage of the Tour de France, I was wondering when the first allegation of drug abuse by Evans would surface, if it already hasn’t. The thought is no doubt quite pathetic, as Evans has probably performed admirably to win the honour of donning the yellow jersey, yet it is something that cannot but surface considering the present state of cycling as a sport. In my opinion, which I am sure most people would agree with, cycling has lost all its credibility; in particular after last year’s Tour de France which was ridden with doping scandals. Although Lance Armstrong, a seven time winner of the Tour de France has never been found guilty of consuming performance enhancing drugs, he has still had a host of doping allegations levied against him. There must surely be something wrong about a sport whose greatest champion has a multitude of cheating charges against him.

I am certain the Tour de France is a cracking contest and makes for enthralling viewing, not least for cycling enthusiasts. But a competition which is almost always subject to controversies that go to the very root of the performance of a participant, somehow fails to appeal to my interests. There are of course several arguments against my viewpoint, one of which is that cheating is prevalent in almost all sports. The question of how I can watch cricket, football or even tennis these days, with all the match fixing scandals is certainly valid. But somehow whilst cheating is perhaps prevalent in these sports, the overall impact that it has had on the sport doesn’t compare with what doping has done to cycling.

Even if Azharuddin is indeed guilty of match fixing, the beauty of his batting will never wear away in the minds of the viewers. But if a cyclist is found guilty of doping, however brilliant his performance was, the greatness of his very skills are put in doubt by the fact that he cheated. I am not too sure if my propositions are logically perfect, considering that I am more than a little confused about my whole standpoint. For instance, it might be argued that if cricket matches are in fact fixed, Azhar was able to bat so beautifully only because the bowlers bowled poorly on purpose. But I do believe that if cheating does exist in immense proportions in tennis, football and cricket, the data to corroborate the same is certainly inadequate. Whereas in a sport such as cycling, allegations of cheating are often in the forefront and this in my opinion is causing the erosion of the whole sport.

Doping and cycling somehow seem to go hand in hand and this leads to discrediting of the excellent performances of many clean cyclists in the eyes of cynics such as me. There is an urgent need for reforms within the sport if it wants to continue generating the kind of keen interest which it deserves. I am not entirely sure about the solutions to the crisis, as the problem as is evident to us is only the tip of the iceberg. There is apparently enough data to suggest that only a small percentage of cheats are being caught by the authorities. There is also however another interesting line of argument which suggests that ‘if you test, you find’ and that since cycling is the sport where the maximum amount of dope testing is carried forward, it contains the most number of offenders. Even if this is true, it doesn’t take away from the fact that a large number of cyclists are found guilty of doping every year, which does no good to the reputation of the sport. Authorities need to act fast to save the sport from declining further into the abyss of disgrace.


ayan said...

Lance Armstrong "claims" in his autobiography that it was the poor attitude of the French when they saw a brash American win the Tour de France that was responsible for the "false reports" of doping.

Rahul Saha said...

See the thing with cycling, especially the Tour De France, is that it is quite simply the most physically challenging athletic event on the planet. Believe me, I've climbed a few slopes and I can't for the life of me figure how someone could get himself to race up them. It is not possible to cycle these slopes for 21 days without some form of stimulant. Its just a matter of which stimulants are legal and which are not. Its a fine line and pretty easy to cross.

Further, dope is much less effective in sports like cricket and football when compared to athletics and cycling where one single burst of pace can win you the race. That is why testing and doping is higher in these sports.

While I do agree that any sports reputation is tarnished by doping scandals I believe that little more can be done to stop doping in such sports given that some surveys show that a majority of athletes would take a performance enhancing drug, even if it killed them in five years time, if it could guarantee success at the highest level.

Having said all that the crowds on TV and the talk on cycling forums only show me that interest in the Tour De France is only increasing.

A Couch-side View said...

@ Ayan: Thats true, but then there are so many allegations and his doctor has himself pleaded guilty to have administered drugs to his patients. So its really difficult to tell. But the point remains that the sport's foremost champion has so many allegations against him.

@ Saha: The crowds did strike me no doubt, but its just that I was wondering how interest can remain when every other day there are doping allegations against the cylists. But then of course as you say, it is only natural that such a thing exists in a sport such as cycling. But then this year seems to have been far better, hasnt it? Not as many allegations as the previous years if I am not wrong.

Rahul Saha said...

Well Ricco had to leave and he had already won a stage so that is pretty big. But ya, at least the leaders are all still there.