Last night, I finished reading USADA's report into the Armstrong matter. Not the press reports. Not the counterspin. The report. And it reads like a series of small streams that come together as a massive river -- it is beyond damning. And while the credibility of some of the witnesses has been questioned for years, that of others is unimpeachable. Confronted with this assemblage of evidence, I can no longer harbour doubts and claim to be rational. The story told by USADA would be fodder for Shakespeare -- with the notable absence of any redeeming hero (other than USADA itself).
When I was a boy in the 1980s, I would huddle with friends to watch the truncated, tantalizing coverage of the Tour de France available at that time in Canada. I would follow the exploits of Greg Lemond and Steve Bauer (both still the most admirable of sportsmen) and would want to emulate them, just as most of my peers wanted to be Wayne Gretzky. One of my clearest memories as a young teenager was watching the agony of Steve Bauer's near victory at the 1984 Olympics, nipped in the sprint by a competitor who later admitted to doping during his racing career.
I was a horrible bike racer. But the sport taught me discipline while others caroused. It made fitness a lifestyle that abated when other pressures of life pressed, but which has now been renewed. It gave me a sense of purpose while others in my peer group had none. It taught me honour.
And those attributes have made all the difference, if not in sport then in life.
And now as the father of a young daughter, I wish to guide my child to experience those same qualities. I want her to enjoy sport, to strive, to dream, to learn what it is to lose and even perhaps to win and to excel to the best of her naturally, ethically and honourably honed abilities.
Sadly, the Armstrong saga may re-ignite the siren call of voices that urge radical solutions like legalization in response to what they see is a losing war against doping.
But this saga and the fight against doping is about more than professionals or Olympians, although they are obviously on the front lines. Instead it is about allowing a kid to dream -- dream that he or she too can accomplish. Accomplish without a bag of blood stored in a Spanish refrigerator or a testosterone patch on the arm.
Dick Pound put it best in 2003:
Well, sports is so important to so many people, particularly young people, and it's a precursor to how you're going to behave in other aspects of social intercourse. You look around the world today and what have you got? The accounting profession is in the tank. You've got the business community in the tank. You've got the Enrons. You've got political shortcuts and all these kind of things, that it's very important to have some kind of activity where you can say to people 'this is on the level.' You respect the rules, you respect your opponents, you respect yourself. You play fair. I think that bleeds over into life as well.
I don't want my grandchildren to have to become chemical stockpiles in order to be good at sports and to have fun at it. Baseball, take your kid out to the ballpark some day and you say, 'Son, some day if you ingest enough of this shit, you might be a player on that field, too.' It's a completely antithetical view to what sport should have been in the first place. It's essentially a humanistic endeavour to see how far you can go on your own talent.
If we, like pro-cycling, let unprincipled, shadowy Italian doctors become the gatekeepers to realizing dreams, we put young people to an election, the same election that is said to have dominated the USPS team: put junk in your body, lose or quit.
No good parent would ever expose their child to that sort of culture. Better that they dream with the help off a Wii than enter a sporting world where, if they show any talent, the good doctor will make an appearance. I believe that to be true even if that good doctor were a fully licensed professional in a world of legalized doping.
Better that there be no sport at all than bipedal experiments in biologic engineering.
Those who wish to legalize doping imagine it as the answer to unethical behaviour; a "can't beat them, join them" solution. And in some other areas of life, legalization makes sense. But the fact of violations can never be the justification for legalization, absent compelling evidence that the social ills of the ban outweigh the social pathology of legalization. And there is no way that is the case in sport. Sport is by definition the humanistic entreprise that Pound describes. That it is sine que non, its defining element, its only purpose. Anything else, and it is mere entertainment (And there are "sports" that have obviously already cross that line. Not surprisingly, they are ones in which anti-doping is not even on the radar).
For all genuine, real sports -- the humanistic entreprise Pound celebrates -- anti-doping is not the failed prohibition of the 1920s. The analogy should instead be drunk driving: once socially acceptable, now the very definition of anti-social behaviour.
And so USADA and its equivalents fight a necessary battle, and the cheaters who have clawed their way to the top with sweat, tears and doctored blood should be hooted from the stadium. Just like a drunk driver and the bar that carelessly served him or her, those that dope and those that abetted them must be named, shamed and shunned. They are not wronged heros. They are frauds who dared us to dream of surpassing ourselves and turned out to be nothing more than artful conjurers of illusions.