The Tour de France has been on the televisions in the U.S. Ski Team’s Center of Excellence lately. I used to love watching the Tour. In the early 2000′s (when I was in middle school and high school) I watched every stage. My father and I would tape (on VHS) the live coverage on the Outdoor Life Network (OLN) so we could watch it at a reasonable hour and fast forward commercials. It would ruin my day if somebody told me the results before I watched it. I would only watch OLN’s live coverage because I wanted the “authentic” commentary of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, not the human interest stories of prime time. I was engrossed in every rider, every climb, every sprint and every crash. I picked my favorite riders and felt for them every step of the way.
Now, I am disgusted by the Tour. Every time I walk by the screen I see an update on Alberto Contador.
I cannot say conclusively that Alberto Contador used illegal performance enhancing methods. I have read through some of the 2012 decision from the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) which stripped Contador of one of his Tour titles and banned him from the sport for two years. The evidence that Contador cheated seems overwhelming to me.
The anti-doping system in sport is not perfect, but I hope and believe that innocent athletes rarely get convicted. It seems to me that this story-line recurs often: people are suspicious of an athlete-athlete gets caught-athlete denies wrongdoing-athlete eventually admits to cheating.
With an understanding that it is possible for innocent athletes to be convicted of cheating, a justice system is necessary to allow sport to exist in a fair and reasonable way. As long as I am dedicating my life to being the best cross country skier in the world, I must have faith that the justice system is doing all it can to keep the playing field clean and fair. If I don’t believe in the system, I cannot believe that I am competing on a fair playing field and consequently cannot believe in my ability to accomplish my goals.
With this faith in the justice system, I believe every convicted athlete should be banned from international sport for life. Competing in sport is a privilege, not a right. There should not be second chances. Cheating undermines the foundation of sport. Sport is an activity that brings passion, camaraderie, entertainment and happiness to the people involved in it, from the athletes to the coaches, the trainers to the managers, and especially the fans. Cheating athletes make the entire sport meaningless. Sport is defined by arbitrary rules. The race or competition is held to see who can perform best within the given guidelines. Doping in a cycling race is no different than showing up on the starting line on a motorcycle. If the athletes are not following the rules, there is no reason to hold the competition.
No sport needs any single athlete. When a sporting event allows a convicted doper to compete, even an athlete that has served their two year ban, the rules are degraded to mere suggestions.
A two year ban in an endurance sport is nothing. Athletes take years off all the time for injuries or illness or to pursue their business interests or studies. For a cross country skier, a two year ban that doesn’t include an Olympic Games could be viewed as an advantage because it is an opportunity to focus on training without the distraction of racing. A two year ban is not nearly a big enough deterrent to cheaters.
I considered Austrian cross country skier Johannes Deurr a friend. On the world cup circuit he was friendly, kind and engaging. During the Olympics in Sochi, Duerr was caught for and later admitted to using the banned substance recombinant erythropoietin (EPO). Duerr is suspended for two years. If he returns to the World Cup circuit after his ban, I will be angry and sad for the sport. His participation would do to World Cup cross county skiing what Contador’s participation is doing to the Tour de France.