Another fallen cycling idol or should we just Keep Calm and Carry On?

Keep Calm and Carry On is a little known piece of British World War II propaganda that was given a new lease of life in the early 21st Century. The slogan’s modern appeal is its reference to an era long gone, but remembered as amongst the darkest times of the last century.

The slogan may be an invitation to bury our heads in the sand in times of uncertainty but it may also be just the antidote to the continued doping scandals that surround the sport of cycling.

A French Senate inquiry, earlier this week released a report from the 1998 Tour de France, naming riders who produced suspect samples during that notorious edition of the famed bike race.

In light of this and Stuart O’Grady’s admission to using EPO, the media has once again been ablaze with the topic, not of drugs in sport, but more specifically, of drugs in cycling.

Let’s be clear on this, so many of these reports and investigations in recent times have investigated a range of sports and yet it is only cycling that is under the spot light. There seems little interest in tackling drugs in other sports. Once again the authorities are only interested in exposing more scandals in cycling and once again, these said scandals bear a closer resemblance to dusty, emaciated skeletons than any genuine and relevant inquiry into cheating in top level sports.

What is clear to this writer though, is the need for everyone from authorities, to journalists, to sponsors and to fans to just Keep Calm and Carry On.

Before we bay for blood, proclaim we can never put our faith in cycling again and continue along some of the general hysteria of the last few days, why don’t we first of all, take a calm and reasoned approach to news that has been a shock, without a doubt, but should be digested in an aura of calm and reason.

What are we talking about with O’Grady’s admission about using EPO in 1998?

Is there anyone who is seriously surprised at this and I don’t mean this in a way that denigrates O’Grady. Quite the contrary. O’Grady remains for me an exceptional athlete and Australian, but there is no getting away from the fact that cycling has had a recent dark past and it is doubtful that anyone riding at that time was not involved in some level of doping.

Cycling faces many questions as it moves forward and I would strenuously argue that pointing fingers at the suspicious results of doping controls that took place 15 years ago, is not a move forward unless its purpose is to raise serious questions over the UCI, the body in charge of cycling, and its role or knowledge of these dubious test results.

Perhaps our collective attention should focus more intently on the role of the sporting bodies in the fight against drugs rather than focusing solely on the athletes.

The French Senate report also raises questions about the role of a statute of limitations in drugs in sport testing. It is unlikely that any of those mentioned in the report will face any sanction as the 1998 Tour de France was fifteen years ago.

So, why release such a report if it is not possible to punish those who have transgressed?

What is going to happen to the named riders?

Yes, their reputations will now be tarnished but this seems somewhat malicious to me. What is to be gained from this? How is this helping cycling to move forward and most importantly, is this the culture of the current peloton?

The release of this report does nothing to progress cycling as a drug free sport.

I for one hope not and believe that it isn’t. If it turns out that today’s peloton is as drug addled as the peloton of the 1990s, then yes, we will all have the right to feel duped and to give up on the sport that we all love, but until that time, I think we need to retain our collective common sense and rational thought.

Yes, the release of this report will send a very clear message to athletes competing today. That message is that you may be using a banned substance that we can’t test for today, but we’ll have a test for it in fifteen years time, so if you’re cheating you’d better watch out.

That really seems to be the sum of it and let’s be honest, if you’re a drug cheat, you’re already lacking moral credibility, so I don’t really see how this hollow threat will carry any weight with those already prepared to deceive their sporting publics.

So, what of Stuart O’Grady’s admission to having used EPO during the 1998 Tour de France? Does this admission really diminish his standing as one of this country’s great cycling pioneers? I seriously doubt that it does.

Realistically, would you have just spent the last three weeks cheering on Orica GreenEdge without the likes of Stuart O’Grady having paved a path through European cycling?

Can you all in honesty say that your admiration for him is now diminished?

There is no doubt that as a society we all have a part to play in combating drugs in sport and yes, looking to the past and learning lessons from the past is one way of defending ourselves from the insidious nature of drugs in sport.

There is, however, a big difference in looking to the past in order to improve our present and our future, and digging up skeletons that do nothing but damage the reputations of people.

It’s also a little high and mighty for those who sit in the comfort of their lounge rooms, with their laptops on their knees, lecturing someone like Stuart O’Grady on how he lacked the moral courage to not take EPO.

Would you have done differently?

Seriously?

I for one do not live in a glass house and as a result do not throw objects in the delicate structure that is life.

I congratulate those of you reading this who are perfect, have perfect lives and live in structures not as delicate as glass.

I suspect though, that there really is no one reading this who fits that description.

 

First published on The Roar July 26, 2013

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