Christopher Lee

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Toujours narcotique – just what the spin doctors & sponsors will be ordering soon

23rd October 2012

The International Cycling Union (UCI) has stripped wonder-pedal Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles. The UCI says it has to go along with America’s US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) claim that it has sure-fire evidence that Armstrong was involved in ‘the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme’ in the history of sport.

It doesn’t stop there: the evidence against Armstrong runs into hundreds of pages and so everyone from his shoe sponsors to the guys who supply his wrap-around sunglasses is dumping him. The latest plug pulling comes from a Texas insurance company demanding the return of $7.5 million worth of bonuses.

But hold on. Some of the wise folk in the sporting world (otherwise known as above-board betting and numbers) are getting to think the problem’s not as big as the world of committees and moralising pretends it is.

Start with the reality: the Tour de France, along with other sports, is full of performance-enhancing druggies. The go-faster stuff is so common-place that many of the runners up (bikers-up?) can’t take Armstrong’s titles in case it’s shown that they too were doing the same thing. In fact we know some were doing just that and they’ve already been clocked.

It doesn’t stop with pedal-power. We all know and have examples of track and field athletes who have been kicked out of competitions because they’ve been on the gymnastic hard stuff. It’s been like it for years.

At one period in international athletics, it was assumed that Eastern bloc athletes were all taking something – and the assumption was often proved as close as dammit correct. Remember those muscle-bound women putting the shot as high as the moon as makes no difference?

So the determination to clean up sport from drug users got tougher, the science got better (although not perfect) and the punishments more draconian. should be that. The occasional failed test. The occasional bust. Sport gets clean. But what’s clean? Why shouldn’t athletes take PEDs – performance enhancing drugs?

Go talk to the promoters and sponsors. Publicly, they would not want to be associated with any form of drugs and quite rightly – the stain on reps would be catastrophic.

But we are not talking Class A drugs. At the extreme edges of PEDs in certain sports which require enhanced muscles or stamina, then the results can be damaging to athletes and therefore terrifying to youngsters who would follow a role model.

But what if the secret additives were legalized and controlled? Maybe that’s when sponsors catch on. Why would that be? Because, records have to be broken to make sponsorship worthwhile in the future.

Times, speeds, heights etc. have to rise all the time no matter the personality of the athletes. If this doesn’t happen, then the sponsors will drift away or at the very least, lose interest.

The biggest PED is money for winners and the back-up organizations that run with them. But new extremes should be breached otherwise the spectatorship that sport needs is indifferent.

It is quite likely that the majority of the seven billion people in the world have never heard of Lance Armstrong. It is equally likely that of those who have and know his remarkable story, very few care if he’s on drugs or not.

Indeed, there is a fascination in the techniques of pumping in the stuff and even blood transfusing. But the real interest is the performance of professional athletes with superhuman bodies.

So we’ll not have to wait long before the backroom deals will let sponsors who want more of more every year will persuade sporting bodies to say that a new regime of tightly controlled use of minimum power PEDs is to be legitimized. Why not? Most countries are moving towards legalizing cannabis and more.

Give it a handful of years. Maybe as soon as the Olympics after next, and we will see legitimate PED taking.

Sponsors will be solemn. Drug companies will smile contentedly. Athletes will be superhuman and the spectators will delight in the eerie fascination of it all.

Too late for Lance Armstrong of course who in spite of the world-governing bodies is still seen by the public as the guy who won seven Tours. Cynically, most people don’t care about more than that.

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