Lance Armstrong, drugs, and skepticism

Even someone like me, who is not into sport at all, has heard about the whole Lance Armstrong saga by now.

In short, he cheated by doping with performance enhancing drugs.

Question: Is it not time for sporting bodies to simply allow athletes to dope with whatever they like and take the risks along with the glory?

What say ye?

The question of doping is chiefly an ethical one around perceptions. The athletics regulating bodies want to be seen to enforce fairness and transparency. Word from the underbelly of cycling (a well-known sports doctor) is that you simply can’t compete internationally unless you actually dope, and all else being equal, those who can afford better drugs will do better. The real question is how well it can be hidden from testing. It’s an ongoing battle where ever more sophisticated performance enhancers are developed to elude increasingly sophisticated testing protocols.

Besides the ethical considerations, the counterargument to uncontrolled use of performance-boosting drugs is, I think, similar to the practical aspects that motivate control of other drugs, namely widespread abuse resulting in health issues and incapacity.


Tour de Pharma and the yellow jersey belong to the thickest wallet.

All else being equal, those who can afford better equipment and training will also do better. It is not always clear to me why it is fair for an athlete to use the very best equipment and trainer and diet he and/or his team can afford, but when he uses the best drugs he can get hold of, it becomes unfair.

Besides the ethical considerations, the counterargument to uncontrolled use of performance-boosting drugs is, I think, similar to the practical aspects that motivate control of other drugs, namely widespread abuse resulting in health issues and incapacity. 'Luthon64

Well, I can see the problem here: one does not want to create a situation where those willing to take the greatest risks to their own health get an advantage. One has to keep in mind though that even without drugs, athletes today take significant health risks and often inflict significant long term harm on their bodies. I’m not sure the drugs are uniquely dangerous.

It also seems to me that the whole anti-doping thing has a generous dollop of old-fashioned moralism mixed into it. E.g. marijuana is also on the list of forbidden drugs; it is by no stretch of the imagination a performance enhancer. I.e. to some extent the sporting bodies have now descended into a moral crusade instead of just ensuring fairness. In the meantime the list of forbidden substances has grown so long that ever more and more athletes find themselves doping by accident.

As for the health concerns, it seems to me that if one can do the doping in the open, under supervision of a trained doctor, it might well be safer than the way it is done now, with many athletes dosing themselves with stuff they ordered over the web, based on information they got on the web.

Last but not least, it is noteworthy that this doping thing became a serious problem only when significant amounts of money got involved. One seldom heard of such things in the “good old days” when athletes were amateurs and competed for personal glory rather than potential millions in remuneration. It is as if a certain ugliness has crept into sport now that athletes are paid: the competition has become merciless, and little is left of old-fashioned “good sportsmanship” in which people behaved with dignity and generosity of spirit both in victory and in defeat.

Well, as I said, I am not really into sport and thus I couldn’t really care less whether athletes dope or what they dope with. Just an interesting theoretical question. :slight_smile:

Perhaps Mr. Armstrong should simply start his own sporting body, which will work exactly the same way as any other except that no drug testing will be done. Then they can arrange the Tour de Dagga if they like, and those who want to dope can do so in peace.

Definitely time to allow doping. The restrictions are arbitrary and incoherent. It’s the subject of my Wednesday Daily Maverick column, for those interested.

Do post it here if copyright law allows. (I am of course also in favour of the repeal of copyright law… :))

Couldn’t care less about cycling, but one thing does strike me.

Athlete is accused of doping, he denies, no evidence (as far as I’ve heard) is brought forward, he’s found guilty anyway and stripped of all titles.

But his woes don’t end there, people just won’t let this go and the whole world demands he comes clean and apologises and basically makes his life a living hell.

He comes clean and apologises.

Hmmmm. Doesn’t sound legit.

Who really knows, but I can see reason for a guy in that position to “come clean” even if he’s innocent. And that, dear people, is the problem with pressuring someone into a confession: you don’t know if they really meant it.

Guess all will be disclosed in the next biographic installment, It’s not about Oprah :wink:

At the end of the day he raised over $500 million for cancer research! Dope on!

What I don’t understand is the justification for stripping him of his titles and giving them to the person who came second, and almost certainly also doped.

the guy who came second is no-one and was not copped as far as I know: Lance was/is a celebrity who got caught. He must pay the price.

I don’t think celebrity is relevant–according to those who know cycling everyone who competed at the top level was guilty of doping. Armstrong didn’t ‘get caught’ either, until his confession the evidence against him was hearsay and circumstantial. He never failed a dope test.

Anyone else ever wonder if he got cancer because of drugs?

I think the gist of it is a slippery-slope argument: Where exactly does one draw the line between what constitutes the athlete’s own unique efforts/talents, and what would give him/her an unfair advantage over competitors? With the very best equipment and trainer and diet, it is not hard to see that the athlete’s performance during an athletic event is very much his/her own unaided effort, whereas the situation with doping is less clear.

Moreover, athletes are aware of doping restrictions (we’ll ignore their pettiness and arbitrariness, which I agree need revision), whereas no similar restrictions apply to training and/or diet, and athletes respect the rules about equipment for fear of disqualification. But athletes still dope in defiance of the ban thereon because the risk of discovery is worth the win. In motor racing, there are restrictions on engine sizes, tyres and fuel, etc., and any team that, say, fits nitrous oxide boosters to its cars is obviously not playing fair and violating the rules of the game.

The situation of blade runner Oscar Pistorius is somewhat analogous. When an independent German consultancy declared that Pistorius’ artificial legs gave him a mechanical advantage over able-bodied athletes, the stink of nasty finger-pointing and cheap character assassinations rose high, and even now one still hears dissatisfied rumblings from certain quarters. The point is that able-bodied sprinters could in principle have had their own lower legs amputated and replaced with blades so as to gain a similar advantage. Oddly, I don’t know of any who followed that option, even from the ranks of the most clamorous complainants, but if they had, races would then have become more and more about who has the best blades. Taken a few steps further, should more extensive cyborgs compete against able-bodied athletes? How about power-assisted cyborgs or even task-specific robots? Because that’s the slippery slope the regulators fear. And it should be clear enough that whether assistance or enhancements are mechanical or chemical (or both or other), the same underlying objections apply, the only real difference being that the chemical route is much easier to conceal.

Another aspect lies in the considerable amounts of money involved in many sports, not just the prize money but also indirect funds from advertising and sponsorships and such. The winner takes the lion’s share, including personal glory, which together are a powerful motivator to prevail, even if it is at the cost of a little bit of cheating. Armstrong’s case is just one of many examples.

Thus, it seems to me that the main intention of the regulating bodies in respect of doping is to prevent their sport being publicly drawn into any actual or perceived disrepute, and to preserve their own credibility so that the sport and its practice should not carry the least hint of shadiness about it. As I said earlier, the whole thing’s mostly about perceptions, and your point about “a generous dollop of old-fashioned moralism” is one of its more noticeable dimensions.

It’s entirely possible but any link would be almost impossible to prove. Epidemiological risk factors are hardly ever straightforward, and human anatomy and physiology are hugely complex.


I don’t think it was just pressure. A paper is claiming 1 million pounds of him now. He got that in a libel case against them when they accused him of doping. Now they want it back.

If my memory serves me correctly he didn’t 'fess up until investigation into the US Postal team:

The evidence of the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team-run scheme is overwhelming and is in excess of 1000 pages, and includes sworn testimony from 26 people, including 15 riders with knowledge of the US Postal Service Team (USPS Team) and its participants’ doping activities. The evidence also includes direct documentary evidence including financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results that further prove the use, possession and distribution of performance enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong and confirm the disappointing truth about the deceptive activities of the USPS Team, a team that received tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding.
Statement released 10-10-12 by USADA

These allegations were strenuously denied by LA until he had no choice to confess (for what it’s worth)
That makes him a liar and cheat in my book regardless of whether other cyclists also doped. From what he admitted via Oprah he also pressurized team mates to use drugs and being a bulley…not a hero IMO.

And this is likely why there are such fights about it: it’s all about people subjective perceptions of things, rather than about testable facts. In my experience, people shout the loudest when they are the least certain of their facts, because that is also when they are most likely to feel threatened by contrary opinions. :slight_smile:

I agree largely with Mefiante’s assessment above (although I’m not too sure what "old fashioned moralism means). Sport has rules, whether professional or amateur and all participants are familiar with these rules. So too do coaches, administrators and even the medical profession. When these rules are bent/broken/discarded the athlete exposes him/herself to some form of sanction. This has nothing to do with perceptions: you break the rule you suffer the consequences…period.

How the rules are applied however is often subjective, unfair and plain stoopid.

In LA’s case he knew full well that doping was wrong: the ends NEVER justify the means and to argue that doping should be allowed merely corrupts the sport and as Mefiante posited “where do you draw the line?” For example for those of you who have children active in sport: would you permit your 9 year old daughter to take steroids to swim faster? (Of course there are many would, regardless of the consequences but that does not justify the dangers you may be exposing your child to).

It’s where a dictatorial someone feels entitled to unconditional subservience from others by virtue of a delusion of moral superiority. Any suggestion that dares call this assumed entitlement into question is, of course, by definition immoral. (Cf. Pope, Bishop, Rabbi, Imam, Ayatollah, Zuma, etc.)


Well, I’m not sure what is meant by “corrupting the sport,” or that allowing athletes to dope up would corrupt the sport. But I have to say, I am not really passionate about sport, so I suppose it is sort of natural for me not to really care much one way or the other.

That Armstrong broke the rules goes without saying, but then, arguing that the rules should be changed is not the same thing as breaking them or even encouraging anyone to break them. The question that sporting bodies and sport enthusiasts should perhaps ask themselves is whether all the anti-doping measures are worth it. There seems to me to be a certain analogy here between doping in sport and the war on drugs in general.

Most progressive thinkers nowadays agree that the larger war on drugs has been a failure and indeed something of a disaster, and that drugs should be legalized. I think it is only a question of time before they will be legalized. And perhaps it is only a question of time before sport authorities decide that the war on doping is simply not worth it. But maybe they won’t.

Time will tell. In the meantime, the riders that will now get Armstrong’s trophies almost certainly ALSO doped, by the looks of it.