It doesn’t matter whether or not he doped, Armstrong should lose his titles

A guilty look?

Lance Armstrong is back in the news this week as the United States Anti-Doping agency have brought fresh charges against him for doping. I argue that whether or not Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs is a moot point, as his team mates have admitted to doping and as the leader of those teams he directly benefited from the his team mates’ doping.

All for One, and One for All

Those who argue that doping is against the spirit of sport must conclude that dopers need to be punished for their actions, but they must also answer the much more difficult question of whether or not the team mates of those who dope should be punished for the actions of others. Take the example of Marion Jones, the US athlete who won three gold, and two bronze medals at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. In 2003 Jones, along with many other athletes, was caught up in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) doping scandal after a disgruntled US track coach tipped off authorities to athletes using undetectable steroids supplied to them by BALCO. As a result of an investigation into BALCO, Jones was stripped of the medals she won in Sydney. However, the matter is not as simple as merely striking Jones’ achievements from the record books due to the fact that two of the medals she won were as part of relay teams (bronze in the 4×100 and gold in the 4×400). As a result of Jones’ doping offenses, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped Jones’ teammates, who hadn’t been doping, of their medals too. Jones’ teammates then took the issue to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) who, in 2010, ruled that they should be allowed to keep their medals as they didn’t personally commit any wrong doing and conformed to the rules of competition.

Who is right in this situation; the IOC or the CAS? While Jones’ relay teammates did nothing wrong themselves, it cannot be denied that they benefited from doping. If Jones hadn’t been using PEDs she would have run her leg of the relay slower and the US team may not have medalled. While there has been some debate over the example of Marion Jones’ and her teammates, what has been largely ignored is the potential impact of this debate on the self-proclaimed “most tested athlete in the history of sport”, American cyclist, Lance Armstrong. Armstrong has won the most prestigious bike race in the world, the Tour de France, a record seven times. His feats are even more amazing given that, before achieving them, he overcame testicular cancer. In the world of cycling, success usually brings with it accusations of doping, especially as Armstrong achieved his wins during the late 1990s and early 2000s when cycling was in the grips of doping scandal after doping scandal, yet Armstrong has never failed a doping test. To those not familiar with cycling the case of Jones’ relay teammates and Armstrong may not seem compatible; cycling is a sport of individual honours. The winner of the Tour de France is awarded the Yellow Jersey for being the best individual rider. So, I will start by giving an outline of the basics of cycling tactics for the Tour de France.

The Tour de France is competed by hundreds of riders who are members of nine man teams. Each team has a leader and it is the leader of each team who is likely to be in contention for the Yellow Jersey come the business end of the Tour. It is the job of the other members of the teams (known as domestiques) to sacrifice themselves to get their leader in the best possible position. This means that at the beginning of big mountain climbs (where the Tour is generally won or lost) it is the job of the domestiques to ride as hard as they can to get their team leader into the best position possible. By allowing their team leaders to ride in their slipstreams and conserve energy, the domestiques give their teammate a better chance of capturing individual glory which will be reflected on the team. For their hard work it is traditional that the winner of the Yellow Jersey shares his prize money with the rest of his team.

As you can see, a great deal of team work goes into an individual winning the Tour de France, and this is where the problem arises. In recent years several of Armstrong’s former teammates, including Frankie Andreau, Floyd Landis, and most recently Tyler Hamilton, have come out and accused Armstrong of doping, while admitting that they themselves doped when they were his teammates. Setting aside their allegations against Armstrong himself, their admissions of doping alone should be enough to call into question the validity of Armstrong’s seven Tour victories. Without the help of good domestiques no cyclist has a chance of winning the Tour de France, as the team leader needs his teammates to help carry the burden of the gruelling race. So if Armstrong’s teammates have admitted to using PEDs then he gained an advantage from doping (Indeed, if Armstrong was clean while his domestiques doped then it seems the ultimate example of teamwork, one of WADA’s values in their definition of the spirit of sport, risking their own place in the sport to propel a team mate to victory). If his domestiques can climb faster, for longer due to the use of PEDs then he has gained an advantage over other cyclists in the same way that Marion Jones’ relay teammates gained an advantage from her having doped as she was able to run a faster leg of the relay. Which leads us to the question of whether or not teams should be punished for the offenses of an individual? And if the answer to that is yes, how many individuals are required to test positive for PEDs before their team is punished?

If it emerged that a substitute who played ten minutes in a World Cup match for a side who won the tournament had been using PEDs, is it reasonable to strip the team of the honours they achieved with little help from someone who doped? It seems in this situation the answer should be no. But what if those ten minutes were the last ten minutes of the World Cup final and the doper in question scored the winning goal thanks to his artificially enhanced pace? In situations like these it seems difficult to draw a distinction that a team should be banned if they have x number of players who played x number of minutes who were found to have been doping. There will always be those who object “Why x why not x+1?”

Armstrong has been dogged by doping allegations his entire career (EDIT: that is awful) (Me: who am I kidding, I don’t have an editor)

Peer Pressure and National Shame

I think the best answer to the situations outlined above is that teams should be punished if any of their members are found to be doping as it would increase self-policing. If someone has their own situation put at risk by someone else’s selfish behaviour then they will be more likely to stamp it out. Indeed self-policing could be the most effective way of fighting doping as it could lead to a change of culture within sports teams. Teammates often form strong bonds with each other, and the thought of letting down your teammates by getting them thrown out of a competition may be enough of a moral burden for most athletes to avoid any behaviour that might risk this; in the same way that the risk of losing a friendship will prevent most people from attempting to sleep with their friend’s girlfriend. This scenario works for incentivising those who dope without their teammates’ knowledge to stop, but I fear it may not be as straight forward for athletes who are aware of the benefits of their teammates using PEDs.

Let’s say that hypothetically Lance Armstrong was aware that his domestiques were using EPO to improve their endurance. Would he be more likely to turn a blind eye to it and let them get on with doing whatever they needed to do help him win? Or would he use his position as the senior cyclist on the team to stop them so that they wouldn’t jeopardise his chances of winning if they were caught? The latter might seem the obvious answer; why risk the accomplishment of your life’s goal just because others feel the need to cheat? Another way to view this scenario is that Armstrong may not think that he will win if his teammates don’t dope. If this is the case, the dilemma shifts to choosing between potentially having your title stripped and not having a title at all. When your life has be geared towards winning the title there may be athletes who would choose the first option. But those athletes take a massive risk in doing so, knowing that they will not just incriminate themselves but strip their teams of glory, and in the process alienate several countries, in the case of a multinational cycling team.

While it may seem unfair, teams suffering for the mistakes of individuals is part of sport. A comical own goal in football, a last minute penalty in rugby, a dropped catch in cricket, are all part of the what makes sport sport; it is part of doing your best not to let down your team mates. I think that this is why punishing teams for the doping infringement of individuals is the best policy for stamping out doping. A shift in the culture of sport is needed, not so far that competition is lost from sport, but far enough that the lengths that people will go to win are curtailed. If individuals put the team at risk they will be ostracised by their teammates, many of whom they will have strong bonds with, this would provide a much greater incentive not to cheat than an individual two year ban as is currently standard for many sports.

19 responses

  1. Compelling case and I agree with the outcome posited here. Zero tolerance policies should be applied more often than not. Case by case summations are more misleading from a regulatory standpoint and create ambiguity going forward, better to clean house with a big fuck off anti doping stick.

    • Your concept of a big fuck off anti doping stick intrigues me. There are important details you have left out such as the wood used in its construction, the size and shape of it, what varnish will be used (if any), and who wil wield it? Yours please.

  2. Well, there might as well be an end the the sport sooner, rather than later. Dopers or not, most will be too disillusioned to either participte or be spectators.

    • WTF? Have you heard of Jacques Anquetil?

      He won the tour five times and was an advocate for Le Tour supplying amphetamines to the riders.

      He became unpopular in the press and among promoters but he also said everyone he beat was on the same stuff, and if they weren’t he would have viewed not offering amphetamines to them as ethically questionable as attacking when an opponent has a flat tire.

      The concept of cycling without drugs only became serious to the event promoters when Tom Simpson died. Rider safety and fairness have nothing to do with the rules, only marketing.

      The idea that Lance Armstrong beat guys with hemocrits over 50 without using drugs is laughable.

      If you want to get a feel for the real Lance Armstrong watch how he treated his daughter after finishing a triathlon this year. Self absorbed ass.

  3. what happens to the guy who followed the US Post train up all of thos hills? He also got a benefit from the drug use. You need to find a cyclist that had not assistance behind any US post team member for the entire tour to justify your concept.

    If he is proven to have known his team was on drugs then he should lose his titles, but not if he is totally inocent of knowledge of this occuring.

    Great website!!

  4. a friend of mine said if this is the case, let all the athletes dope, and we can see who’s drug was better..
    If you can’t be a serious sportsman and perform to the best of YOUR ability then why compete and say you are the best when clearly you aren’t, the guy that came 2nd or 3rd that’s drug free basically out performed you!

    • I’m not saying that he is guilty just because his team mates used performance enhancing drugs. I’m saying that he benefited directly from others using performance enhancing drugs and as a result it could be argued that he is undeserving of his titles.

      I do discuss the problems of this leading to guilt by association (though I don’t use the term itself) when I discuss the prospect of a team being banned because a player who took the field for 10 minutes and didn’t contribute at all to their victory took performance enhancing drugs.

      • There is simply no way you could single out an individual who benefited from those that doped, from those that did not. As a cyclist I can attest that all riders in the peloton would benefit from some juiced up group doing all the pulling. I see the USADA’s action as nothing more than a witch hunt. Lance never once failed a test, who else in the Tour that did not test positive could have used what ever trick Lance had supposedly used to pass the test? Know one knows, that is why unless the USADA can prove he alone tested positive can they apply any punitive punishment. FYI not all juiced athletes are the pinnacle of their sport. So any assumptions that a cyclist who lost to Lance that tested the same as he did is clean simply based on results is of itself flawed for the same reason Lance finishing 1st seven times means he’s guilty.

  5. I am interested in Armstrong’s assertion that he never had a positive test. Does the same statement apply to his teammates — who now admit they were doping? Were they also tested during the Tour de France and if so where their tests negative? If so, then it would seem to describe the limitations of the testing methods at that time.

  6. I think we have to let this whole thing with Lance just go away. It’s not as simple as it appears.

    Let’s just consider the seven tour wins. For one thing, in the several books I have read and countless internet articles addressing the subject, there have been no positive tests in any of the tour wins according to WADA test protocols – the standard that all cyclists are held to. Also consider Lance fully complied with the UCI and WADA protocols requiring constantly advising them of his whereabouts – even in off season – and submitting to all the random, unannounced blood and urine tests they required; never mind the countless tests in season and during actual races. During his tour dominance, Lance was probably the most tested and closely monitored tour rider in history: he has posted numerous of these tests to respond to the suspicions; had clauses in his team and endorsement contracts that would rescind the contracts if he tested positive for PED’s; and has donated generously to the anti-doping cause as well as his cancer foundation.

    Also consider due process. Most of the allegations USADA alleges took place occurred in the 1998 – 2004 time frame – now significantly outside of the 8 year statute of limitations – WHICH MEANS THEY CANNOT PROSECUTE HIM FOR ANY SUCH VIOLATIONS THAT MAY HAVE OCCURRED WAY BACK THEN – today, many years later. The only blood tests that appear to be questionable come from the Tour of Switzerland in 2001, and some 2009 – 2010 samples. The 2001 test doesn’t comply with protocol procedures for a variety of reasons (one sample was lost or destroyed, and the other one was highly questionable and the doctor who administered the test says the result is unreliable and not necessarily positive). There are other questions about the 2009 and 2010 results, including the chain of custody and verification of results in BOTH samples that are required to confirm blood manipulation.

    After a 2 year Federal investigation, the U.S. Justice Department in February 2012 closed it’s investigation for lack of evidence.

    What I am seeing happening by USADA is a clear case of prosecutorial overreach : trying to prosecute a case – outside the statute of limitations – on primarily circumstantial evidence and hearsay; there is no provable evidence against Mr.Armstrong to strip him of his tour titles. Additionally, USADA has broken numerous WADA rules and protocols, as well as US Federal rules, all as laid out in a thorough rebuttal and posted on Lance Armstrong’s website:

    http://c7655228.r28.cf2.rackcdn.com/ad3baf7cb96d4487b720dbf8cbf3ac2f.pdf

    In summary: USADA has abused it’s power and process; not complied with discovery rules by supplying Mr. Armstrong with their alleged evidence; by refusing to disclose their alleged evidence they have denied Mr. Armstrong a chance to respond to the specific allegations; USADA has violated Federal rules and WADA protocols re: the procurement of witnesses; USADA has acquired material in violation of Federal rules of criminal procedure; the only two allegations with any specificity have no merit because they offer no conclusive proof; and USADA is clearly acting WAY outside of their mandate and jurisdiction.

    USADA is, in my opinion, a Kangaroo court that has reached a conclusion they cannot prove, and are hell bent on manipulating evidence, facts, and witnesses in order to win their case…..and how many times have we seen that? How many prosecutors have we seen who care only about their win loss record, and not the truth or justice ? I’ll give you a hint: look at how many DNA exonerees we have in Texas who are just now being released from prison because of prosecutorial misconduct; God knows how many innocent men have actually gone to teh chair. This is exactly what we have here: USADA trying to play God and hell bent on getting their notch in their belt

    I encourage you to read the detailed response on Lance’s website and draw your own conclusions.

    Full disclosure: I do not know Lance Armstrong, have never met him, and have not read his autobiography or any book he has written. I am a recreational cyclist and fan of the sport, who has ridden since the 1980′s and is well familiar with the history of the sport – good and bad.

    Remember many of the greats – including Merckx – have failed a test or two. The history of the sport unfortunately has always encouraged athletes to try new “training methods” or “supplements” to stay current with new “training methods” that their competitors may be using that will give them an edge.

    I am an anti-doping guy, and want stronger rules, tests, and enforcement procedures; and want a clean sport. BUT…. each era has to be judged in it’s own time, and it’s own bubble….we had many rules and tests during Lance’s Tour dominance, and he passed and survived the many blood and urine tests set up to detect use of PED’s during his time. Enough, case closed….stop wasting time and money and leave the man alone.

    Lance Armstrong was clearly the best rider of his time and generation, and one of the greatest in the history of the sport. In America, a man is innocent until proven guilty. Lance has constantly been proven innocent by test results administered during his Tour career, and we are now 8 years past his last Tour victory.

    Let it go and recognize the man for his iron will and incredible determination, even more remarkable given his well publicized bout with testicular cancer that metastacized
    and required brain surgery……

    I mean, really…..if Armstrong had been French, can you see French authorities pursuing this man to the ends of the earth – years after the fact, past the WADA statutes of limitation, and after he had passed something like 500 tests ?

    ENOUGH….LET IT GO !!!!

  7. A reasonable argument, but following this logic, who would you then give the stripped titles to? It couldn’t be any of Armstrong’s teammates, nor anyone on any teams with any individual athlete that was caught or admitted to doping. And what about the other riders, they haven’t been investigated as intensely as Armstrong. If they had been, I suspect similar results would be found. So no TDF titles to anyone for 7the years?

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