Sport is such an integral part of Australia’s national psyche. As fans of sport, we watch it, consume it and in many instances we are obsessed by it. For many, sport is a way of life, whether it be through participation or viewing.
Often, we do not consider those who work in the administration of sports.
Often, we do not know who those people are until a scandal breaks, and those who spend their time running sporting bodies, are then thrust into the spotlight.
The last twelve months have presented a range of challenges for Cycling Australia and its President Klaus Mueller in light of the USADA findings against Lance Armstrong and the flow on effects this has had on cycling in this country.
The careers of former Australian riders Stephen Hodge and Matt White were put under the spotlight, with both men losing their positions with Cycling Australia and in White’s case, also being suspended from Orica Greenedge.
The question of dopers in sport and what to do with them is complex.
Muller is on the record as stating he believes in the criminalization of dopers in sport, a viewpoint that he articulates through his legal background.
“If for example you’re a top flight pro and as a result of doping you make millions of dollars a year, well you’ve obtained a financial advantage by deception.
In every other aspect of life, whether it’s in the commercial world or otherwise, if you obtain a financial advantage by cheating, that’s a criminal offence and I don’t understand why in sport, you don’t apply the same criteria’, he said.
The behaviour of American cyclist Lance Armstrong brings out Mueller’s ire at those who use drugs in sport.
“That conduct of not only himself doping to obtain advantage, but forcing others within his team to do the same, in order for him to get the advantage regardless of what ill effect it might have on their health, I just think it is extremely serious, reprehensible conduct which warrants not only criminal sanctions, but a high level of criminal sanction. It requires years and years in jail. I mean Armstrong now crying that he ought be forgiven, if he fesses up etc, I mean, that man ought to be in jail”, he said.
There are many who have argued, either through media outlets, on websites such as The Roar or through personal blogs that those who dope should be shown the door from their sport.
The debate is lively and passionate.
The complexities of what to do with sports cheats forces governments, sporting bodies and sports fans to question just what it is about sport that is so sacred and what it is we are trying to protect.
It’s not surprising that Mueller’s perspective is firmly entrenched in his background as a barrister.
“In every other avenue of life, if a person commits a wrong, they are not simply thrown on the scrap head and told that they are going to be vilified and sanctioned for the rest of their days.
We want to punish people in a way that even the criminal system doesn’t. The criminal system gives a second chance and equally, I think that people in sport ought to be given a second chance”, he said.
The media, including the Internet, is awash with voices suggesting that doping be criminalized. Mueller’s case is clear that dopers need to be caught and punished and there is no space in the cycling world or any within any sport for the Lance Armstrong’s of this world, but this is not a view point of banishment for those who transgress.
“Now after what period, under what circumstances, I think that it’s really a question of appraising everyone’s circumstances, how serious their conduct was, what harm it’s done to the reputation of the sport, what harm it’s done to the team.
Whether they inveigled others into doing the same.
They’re the things that add to the culpability then there are various things that might reduce the culpability, such as level to which you’ve been contrite, freely made admissions”, he said.
This argument of culpability reaches once again into his understanding of the law and how it operates to punish those who break it.
“Life’s not about black and white, it’s about shades of grey and the courts do this day in day out with criminal offences.
I mean the same offence which causes some people to go to jail for twenty years for stealing millions, if not billions of dollars, it’s the same offence as going into Coles and shoplifting but you’re not going to end up in jail in an act of shoplifting, but you will if you commit a high level of the same offence.
So, there’s a whole lot of factors that need to be taken into account”, he argues.
Mueller is clear of the role of the President of Cycling Australia in this.
“What you need to do is set the criteria of what ought to be taken into account and then you ought to leave it to an independent tribunal. It certainly shouldn’t be the President of Cycling Australia determining penalty”, he said.
As Cycling Australia is currently working through the process of setting up an integrity and ethics panel, Mueller is aware of the need for cycling as a sport to address its recent past in order to move forward.
“I think to some extend it’s (cycling) got to revisit, certainly the immediate past to ensure that people who have behaved, certainly at an administrative level, inappropriately, are excised from the sport, if they’re still in it and that doesn’t mean necessarily permanently, but they can’t be seen to have committed wrongs and go completely unpunished for them. I just don’t think that works”, he commented.
The role of the President of Cycling Australia, however, is not all doom and gloom. Whilst Mueller has had to defend certain decisions made by Cycling Australia in the last few months, his passion for the sport and for expanding the role of Cycling Australia is evident.
Part two of my exclusive interview with Cycling Australia President, Klaus Mueller will explore the many exciting developments coming up for Cycling Australia.
First published on the roar.com.au 12th June 2013