|ESPN.com: Endurance||[Print without images]|
|What would have happened if Lance Armstrong's former teammates stood up to him at the start?|
The U.S Anti-Doping Agency and World Anti-Doping Agency were created for the purpose of returning fair play and integrity to competition. Due to the handling of Lance Armstrong's recent USADA investigation, however, I can't help but wonder if these organizations' very existence, along with their persistent efforts to dissuade the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport, is as honest and effective a means of curbing cheating as we once thought. I question whether the function they serve is a reflection of their understanding of what it is they're trying to fix? Even though these organizations were created to help athletes, it seems as though they're doing more harm than good. Who are the athletes supposed to turn to if the system created to protect them is wreaking havoc on their livelihood? I believe the real (and possibly only) solution lies more with the athletes themselves than with these external agencies that were created to help them.
There's a line to cross for both testers and athletes before the latter can be labeled cheaters. These agencies seem to be moving that line, without the consensus of those who have to abide by their rules, in order to get convictions to stick.
USADA's and WADA's tactics against Armstrong remind me of the efforts being taken by those they're trying to catch. Relying on the testimony of witnesses rather than test results to validate claims of Armstrong's use of drugs is contradictory to the ideal of fair play that these organizations promote. With their actions in the case against Armstrong, they've made it rather difficult to tell who the real "bad guy" in sports is because the cheaters and testers are starting to look a lot alike.
The circus that has been the case against Armstrong reminds me of George Orwell's "Animal Farm," a story in which farm animals, led by the pigs, overthrow their human owners and take over the farm. By the end of the book, the other animals, having entrusted the pigs with the power to lead their revolt, find the pigs having become just like the humans they just overthrew. In fact, the pigs became like the humans not just in their actions but even in their appearance, which had taken on human features. There's a line to cross for both testers and athletes before the latter can be labeled cheaters. These agencies seem to be moving that line, without the consensus of those who have to abide by their rules, in order to get convictions to stick. I don't think that's fair.
The truth is that athletes cannot rely on these agencies to re-establish and maintain fair play in sport. One significant reason is that the anti-doping agencies will always be at least one step, if not more than one step, behind the cheaters. Former WADA spokesman Robert Weiner admits that "[t]here was nothing the science could do" to change what it missed in the past and what it might miss presently. And, in the situation of guys like Armstrong, this would always be the case since "top athletes like him [will] continue to use masking agents to beat the science of drug testing." The USADA and WADA resorting to "trying hard enough" in order to keep up and stay ahead of the cheaters will only make things worse. In fact, this tactic has proved to only exacerbate the problem.
We can't expect science to beat its toughest competitor, namely itself. The scientists working for the anti-doping agencies are competing in hopes of just keeping up with the scientists and doctors working for the athletes who are cheating. It's far from a fair competition. Due to the great deal of variables that exist, creating the right formula for testing seems like a crapshoot for the testers. Unfortunately, due to the high rate at which drugs are being created, the odds will remain in favor of the cheaters continuing to beat the tests.
So, if the anti-doping agencies can't stop cheating in sports, who can?
I believe it's those who are cheating and/or being accused of cheating who will make the best crime stoppers. If Lance Armstrong's former teammates stood up to him and his influence in making them (allegedly) dope alongside him from the beginning, he might not have had to experience the embarrassment of being stripped of seven Tour de France titles. USADA and WADA weren't in the room when all of the cheating supposedly began, but his teammates were, according to their testimony. And like anyone who has to face a choice in life, whether the athletes chose to participate in a doping program was up to them. Armstrong's teammates were in a position to discourage and possibly even prevent him from cheating at the time, but most of them chose to keep quiet and join him. They've proved this to be true because they're now the ones who are being used to uncover Armstrong's cheating.
No one is going to understand an athlete better than another athlete. The experiences athletes go through day after day create a bond that will last a lifetime. It's those experiences that allow an athlete to have insight into the thought process a fellow athlete may be experiencing when he is tempted to cheat. Sometimes all it takes is one conversation to help alter a person's path. I know this sounds too simple to be effective, but the alternative -- saying nothing at all -- is definitely ineffective. Silence only helps the killer, never the victim. Athletes will continue to fall prey to drugs if they can't find someone they can trust. Who can athletes turn to if not each other? Who will hear us cry wolf?
It's not up to USADA or WADA to end cheating in sports -- it's up to us, the athletes. Only we can stop the cheating before it starts -- no anti-doping agency anywhere in the world can do that. Stopping the cheating before it starts is the only way to end doping in sports. USADA's and WADA's existence would better serve as a reminder that doping doesn't exist in sports -- not that it does, as is presently the case. In fact, it would be great to have USADA and WADA report no positive drug tests next year -- through neither science nor hearsay -- and give every athlete the peace of mind that everyone they're competing against is clean.
It will be a great day in sports when the greatest performance-enhancing drug known to mankind is rediscovered by athletes around the world. This product doesn't come from inside a lab, but rather from deep within our mind, body and soul. It's called belief.
Jon Rankin is a world-class miler with a personal best of 3:54.24. He is co-founder of The Run Project, a website that was created to establish a sense of community amongst runners throughout the world by asking thought-provoking questions about the sport of running and how it's making a difference in their lives, their communities and their countries.