Why Asking, “Should Lance be Banned?” is the Wrong Question

So, after all the manoeuvring, posturing and words the end game has finally begun: The US Anti Doping Agency (USADA) has opened an investigation against a group of shady doctors, coaches and managers. Under normal circumstances this would be of interest to cycle sport nerds only but for one thing: the 6th name on the list is one Lance Armstrong.

Needless to say there has been a huge amount of comment, both objective and insightful. But, I suspect that the bulk of the outpouring of blogposts, column inches and comment are neither. The problem is that the question of “guilt” as to whether Armstrong doped or not has become an article of faith for most.

I’m not going to rehearse all the arguments and counter-arguments here, there are plenty of places to go and find them if you are interested. Instead I’ll focus on the impact that the investigation has had on Armstrong’s nascent triathlon career. Much of the comment is based around the so-called “ban” that Lance has received preventing him from competing in World Triathlon Corporation races (WTC are the owners of the “Ironman” brand). There has been much howling about “Innocent until proved guilty”. But of course, Lance hasn’t been banned from anything by USADA, he has merely been suspended from competition under a WTC rule that prevents athletes from competing in their events while they are subject to an ongoing anti-doping process. And WTC have done this before, Michael Weiss was suspended from competition while the Austrian anti-doing authorities investigated his alleged ¬†involvement in the blood enrichment program that Michael Rasmussen, among others, was involved in. He never failed a dope test either. So to refer to the title of this post. the correct question is, “Does the WTC have the right, as an independent sporting body, to have a rule that suspends athletes from competition while subject to such an anti-doping investigation?” The obvious answer is, “Yes.” In fact suspension from competition is routine in sport and anyone who has failed a dope test will automatically be suspended despite the fact that the possibility of a false positive result is far from negligible. I can hear all those bleating about Lance’s infamous 500 dope tests and not a single failure (kind of depends on who you believe), but the question then rests upon whether you believe that USADA has sufficient evidence to open an investigation, or whether they are kite flying. I would ask this question, do you really believe that USADA would risk its credibility by opening an investigation against one of the most powerful and revered figures in world sport unless it felt it had a solid case to present?

To sum up, I don’t believe in conspiracy theories and I don’t believe that anti-doping authorities engage in victimisation. I also think that the WTC is right to protect the integrity of its competition by having the rules in place that it does. I’d go so far as to say that if it wasn’t one Lance Armstrong that had been suspended then no-one would be even questioning the rule.

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A few of the more illuminating posts on this subject:

Gerard Vroomen, previous owner of Cervelo and the Cervelo pro cycling team (the comment thread is worth a read as it includes comment from the infamous Joe Papp)

The Inner Ring blog has some good background.

Andrew Messick, CEO of Ironman on the suspension

 

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