by Kate Smart
“Cheats never prosper” is one of my old man’s favourite sayings.
Along with the universal “If everyone else is jumping off the Westgate [or any other] bridge, would you too?”
Bless fathers, the world over.
But as we grow older and experience more of the world we begin to see that these sayings just aren’t true.
Cheats do prosper and ‘everyone else was doing it ‘appears to be the chief defense of cycling’s dopers.
Last week many cycling news websites marked the 40th birthday of German cyclist, Jan Ullrich.
The news agency, AFP took what I read as a dig at the German by headlining the article with the quote, “The life I now lead would be a holiday for many people.”
Ullrich’s message is loud and clear. Being labeled a drug cheat is not a punishment.
A career built on lies has paid off very handsomely for him.
His ‘holiday lifestyle’ sees him living on the shore of Lake Constance in Switzerland, a lifestyle that has been paid for on the back of cheating.
These days he spends his time with fans who pay to ride with him.
In a statement that lacks any remorseful sentiment he says, “I live with it [doping] comfortably, I have my life back on track”.
Of course he does, because there will always be those who are either blinded by the cult of personality or who just don’t care that people like Ullrich cheated his fellow competitors and cheated the fans who lined the streets or sat up watching the telecast or bought the merchandise.
Not everyone sees the bigger picture and I can’t help but get the nasty feeling that cheats do indeed prosper.
Dad, you were completely wrong.
Ullrich doesn’t seem too adversely affected by his decision to cheat his clean competitors out of a fair competition.
Lance Armstrong is another example in what is a very extensive list of prospering cheats.
Armstrong may be fighting law suits from companies wanting their payouts back, but the reality is that he netted enough money over his career to still be financially well ahead.
According to a report on Bloomberg.com from Feb this year, Armstrong made more than $218 million from his cycling ‘career’, a career that he later confessed to Oprah Winfrey as being nothing more than ‘one big lie’.
Cheating, as you can see, is lucrative.
It is especially so when you consider that with sound financial advice and good investments, Armstrong could probably pay back all of his prize money and sponsorship dollars and still be ahead.
Keep in mind that his one time sponsor Nike has weathered many naughty sports star storms by dropping said naughty person. They have responded to these scandals by not enduring the indignity of seeking to reclaim money through protracted and nasty court battles.
Rather, it appears their strategy is just to sever ties with the fallen hero, effectively leaving the likes of Armstrong still quite well off.
Any punishment for cyclists who dope should at the very least take the form of a very prolonged period away from the sport.
By prolonged, it should be more than just two years away, or else we are just sending the message to young cyclists that cheats do prosper. Thankfully, new UCI President Brian Cookson has said on his website that he supports of extending first-time band from 2 years to four.
It has been recently reported in the Australian media that Stuart O’Grady is in talks with the Australian Olympic Committee’s athletes’ commission about speaking to young Olympians about his experiences of using EPO in 1998.
O’Grady says he only used it during a two week period prior to the 1998 Tour de France. His use of EPO occurred 15 years ago, and as such he cannot be given a formal sanction.
This is only part of the issue though.
O’Grady did not admit this transgression when interviewed by Nicki Vance in the wake of Matt White’s ban as a result of the Lance Armstrong, USADA reasoned decision.
He only admitted to doping when he was about to named by a French Senate hearing.
O’Grady was then forced to hasten his retirement from professional cycling. The only real punishment O’Grady seems to have experienced is he no longer has the luxury of enjoying a year long farewell, like his former colleague, Jens Voigt.
In this respect, it is his ego that is being punished, but little else.
Let’s not forget this all only happened at the end of July this year.
Yes, he cannot be given a ban, but less than six months out of the spotlight hardly seems like any punishment at all.
O’Grady may be truly sorry for his actions and he may feel that he has suffered since his drug confession but the reality is, he still took a banned substance and has essentially received no punishment at all.
For 15 years he continued to ride. Continued to make money. Continued to live a life most only dream about.
It’s far too early for him to be talking about reentering the sporting fold.
Once upon a time I was much more sympathetic towards arguments that former dopers could have a role in cleaning up the peloton. I bought the argument that there are lessons to be learnt from those who have chosen to cheat their competitors and then suffered their punishment.
And this is true.
Any cyclist who has been banned or admitted to using performance enhancing drugs can most certainly educate young cyclists of the dangers associated with this choice.
They can give their time freely, without payment.
They can also be banned from competing in their sport again and from earning a living within a sporting team. Cycling fans can also do their bit by not buying the tell-all books of former drug cheats.
This sends a much more powerful message to young cyclists about the dangers of cheating.
We all know athletes make enormous sacrifices to reach the top of their sport.
One of the first things to be sacrificed is often education.
It’s hard to earn a good living without a decent education. It’s harder still if your only skill is riding a bike and you can no longer make money from it.
There is no incentive to ride clean, if, after a career of cheating, you’re still living the high life.
The only message here for young cyclists is ride dirty, cheat, get the money, girls, cars and the party lifestyle. Don’t worry if you get caught. Lie low for a couple of months, and pick up the glamorous, post cycling lifestyle you were always destined to have.
There are far too many examples out there of former dopers continuing to make a healthy living from the sport they’ve ripped off.
Until we change this, and put some meaning back into the saying, ‘cheats never prosper’, doping will remain an attractive option.