Today, the International Cycling Union announced that it would not appeal the United States Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA) recommendation to ban Lance Armstrong for life from Olympic sport. The ICU waived its right to bring the case to arbitration, an action which strips Armstrong on the seven Tour de France titles he won from '99-'05. Amaury Sport Organization, which puts on the Tour, announced that it will erase Armstrong's name from its record books.
The USADA's 202-page report was released two weeks ago. You can read the actual text here. There have been numerous articles relating the general information in the text; colleagues, teammates, associates all came forward to testify that they had either doped with Armstrong or seen him do so.
The World Anti-Doping Agency is still reviewing the evidence and can appeal the USADA recommendation, though few expect that to happen. The International Olympic Committee is also reviewing to determine whether Armstrong can keep the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
There is additional review as to if (and how) Armstrong should repay any prize money won for those events. This gets tricky, as it is customary to divide up some winnings among the team. And there is also review to determine if those teammates who gave testimony and admitted to doping will also have to repay winnings. Estimates as to how much money may be recalled are firmly in the millions.
ESPN has a compelling article on the topic (click here to read it–I recommend it). I am glad that people who were involved in cheating have stepped up to testify and to take responsibility. Do I believe Armstrong cheated? Yes, but I don't think we'll ever hear this from Armstrong himself. To be honest, it doesn't matter to me if he admits to doping or not. I still think he did the right thing by refusing USADA arbitration. Do I have some mixed feelings over these issues? Yes, and they all come back to proper handling by authorities and personal responsibility in sport.
In the Austin American-Stateman's coverage today, Suzanne Halliburton wrote that the "USADA said that 20 of the 21 cyclists [at the Tour de France] who made the podium from 1999 to 2005 had been accused of using drugs." This was in reference to determining who, if anyone, should gain the title for those seven Tours. I hope that the USADA is pursuing each of these former Tour winners with the same zeal that they found for Armstrong's case.
The ESPN article stated that "(f)or years, Armstrong's critics depended on deductive reasoning and anonymous sources to peg him as a cheater." That's very true. While many people believed that Armstrong had cheated, there was not sufficient, hard evidence at the time to hold him responsible for this. Nothing was proven; no witnesses officially came forward. Ironically, many say that it was his return to cycling after retirement that opened the possibility for his behavior to be uncovered.
I do still believe that USADA conducted a witch hunt in the sense that it became more important to "get" Armstrong than to focus on fairly going after cheaters in the sport. He was too big, too egotistical, too good to let get away. Now that others have come forward, willing to officially testify, there is a case. Do the ends justify the means? I struggle with this. If you love the law, you say no. As I said earlier, I hope that all who cheated like Armstrong receive the same focus from the USADA that he did in their respective cases. Cheating is cheating, no matter whether you're the best at your sport or not quite so good or just downright suck. Unfortunately, I don't think the system has been applied fairly and that taints the results.
Much has been made of some of the "mastermind" techniques employed by Armstrong's team to avoid drug testing, such as avoiding answering the door and texting team members of USADA tester's presence. For any parent of teenagers, these are fairly common techniques, so I'm glad that the next generation is composed of masterminds. Much has been made of Armstrong's power in the sport. Again, from the ESPN article: "Everyone in their world [of competitive cycling] conveyed the message that doping was necessary to be 'professional' and that the field was level only if they played dirty." I will quote millions of mothers all over the world when I ask, "If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?" It's a gross simplification but it's the same bedrock. Whether it's peer pressure to wear certain clothes, get drunk at a party, have sex, or dope on a cycling team, it's all peer pressure. Armstrong had power because it was given to him.
The people who doped with Armstrong have no one to blame for their choices but themselves. We all choose, every day, the moral path of our lives. To say that "Armstrong made me do it" is passing the buck–what he had to offer outweighed whatever arguments his teammates and colleagues saw against doping. It's the age-old agreement that Faust made; they chose to dance with the devil in return for success.
To me, the bigger issue here is that our society created and demanded a dirty sport. We've pushed these people to perform at amazing levels, and we pay them exorbitant amounts of money to accomplish incredible athletic feats (and this isn't just cyclists). In no way does this excuse their behavior but it sure puts these athletes' acts in a different light. Think how difficult it was for protestors to peacefully sit down at all-white diner counters at the start of the civil rights movement, to go against everything the current culture told them was proper and true, to put themselves in harm's way for what they thought was right. It's hard to swim upstream against a current.
I'm no cycling expert, medical authority, or pundit on the topic of doping regulations. But I have my opinions. Here's what I'd do to "fix" cycling: I'd like to see a "death penalty" given to the Tour de France. I'd love to see amnesty offered to any cyclist who cheated in return for detailed information on what, where, how, and with whom he doped. I'd like to see the USADA compile this information and use it towards better testing with an emphasis on a reliable indicator of "clean" blood. And I'd like to see testing that required athletes to "maintain" that clean status rather than get caught being dirty. I'd rather see an emphasis on cleaning up and fixing and promoting clean races. And I'd love to think the sport was worth watching again.