I’ve read a few articles over the last week or so talking about how cycling no longer has any credibility left. Performances which used to be celebrated can no longer be trusted. Whilst I understand these sentiments, I find myself viewing those participating in le Tour with more faith than I do in other top sports.
Cycling has a very public history of doping, the late 90s and early 2000s will remain tarnished. But the fact that doping is even part of the public discussion is part of why I am less cynical about cycling than I am about the likes of football and tennis. The many high-profile doping cases has meant that cycling’s anti-doping programme is one of the most thorough in the world. I’m not naive enough to think that a good anti-doping programme means no dopers. Testers will forever be behind those developing performance-enhancing drugs. But there appears to have been a real effort made to clean up the sport. Certainly it could go further, it’s worrying that those in charge of the UCI are some of the same people accused of turning a blind eye to rampant doping a decade ago. There is also the fact that people like Bjarne Riis, who doped, and ran doping teams, in the past is still allowed to own and manage a team competing. But all cyclists know that they are under a cloud. It clearly pisses them off, you only need to see Chris Froome’s reaction to being asked about doping after his win on Mont Ventoux to know that. His reaction is understandable, particularly when you look at Team Sky’s concerted effort to be a clean team, refusing to have anyone on their staff who has been associated with doping in the past. That’s not to say Froome could be doping on his own accord (or that Sky are just as full of lies as US Postal were), but it’s exactly the questions people should be asking, not just in cycling, but in all sports.
It is this lack of discussion of doping in other sports that I find particularly annoying. It seems that journalists are failing to do their jobs. If clean sport is important then these questions should be asked all over the world at the top-level. I mentioned tennis and football earlier, the smart money is on these two sports being the next to fall. Football’s history of doping is just as long as cycling’s, yet it is one that is never discussed. This article nicely summarises a number of high-profile cases from the last 50 years (if you have more time on your hands there is more detail to be found here with the help of google translate for non-German speakers). Though one might argue the fact that none of the cases in those links is widely discussed is just a sign that people football won’t be dragged into a doping scandal, people will just continue to turn a blind eye. FIFA have also been making noises at introducing a biological passport similar to the system used in cycling. If this happens it could aid in cleaning up the sport, though one wouldn’t put it past FIFA to sweep any findings under the carpet.
What passes for drug testing in tennis is particularly laughable. For those interested I would recommend this website dedicated to tennis’ doping problem. Under the current system only a few dozen out of competition tests are carried out each year. One of the most alarming thing about tennis is the quotes which come from those in charge of the sport which are essentially that there are do performance-enhancing drugs which would help tennis players because tennis is a game of skill. These are the some things that those in charge of Major League Baseball said when Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds were smashing home run records. At best it’s naive, at worst it’s deliberately covering the use of PEDs. Similar noises have been made by those discussing doping in football, there’s simply not that much benefit. Not that much benefit to being more fit than your opposition? Tell that to a middle-aged man playing a club match against someone half his age. If you’re still sprinting at 80% capacity in the 85th minute when your opposition is only running at 75%, you don’t think that will make a difference to the result. If, you can serve at an extra 5kmph, or chase down a ball that’s 20cm further away, than your opponent, you don’t think that will make a difference?
I’m not saying that cycling is now clean, it almost certainly isn’t. But the fact that there is a narrative of doping from the media, there’s suspicion, and more stringent testing, makes me less skeptical about cyclists than it does about other sports. Sports where there is hardly any testing (and no blood testing), where past scandals are never discussed, or it seems investigated, and where journalists don’t ask the questions they should be asking. Football and tennis (amongst many others) need a David Walsh.