Musings: Race to the Bottom


 “I view this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times. I know the truth. The truth isn’t what was out there. The truth isn’t what I said.”

           – Lance Armstrong

Cycling’s golden boy had the longest way to fall. But he’s by no means alone. Doping isn’t uncommon. It’s just so difficult to detect, much less admit to. And one of the most celebrated sportsmen of all time finally couldn’t bear the weight of his cross. He poured his soul out in an interview with TV’s queen mother Oprah Winfrey in 2013. Naturally, the masses crucified him.

People have a way of turning quickly against fallen heroes. Maybe it has to do with the unrealistic expectations built up around them. But ironically, that’s often what brings the titans to their knees to begin with. It’s easy to stand and point fingers, but the amount of gruelling pressure a star athlete has to withstand is often beyond our comprehension.

It’s been 5 years since Lance Armstrong’s epic coup de grâce. But the situation has not improved much. Anonymous surveys conducted recently suggest a third of athletes take banned substances when preparing for international competitions. Yet, just 1-2% fail a test each year. Mr Armstrong himself doped on 250 occasions, but was caught only several times. Even then, he attributed the results to anti-inflammation drugs.

These days, the new drugs are designed to be undetectable in blood and urine samples, making cheats that much harder to catch.

In their zeal for glory and victory, these athletes often overlook the irreversible harm these substances wreak on their bodies. Russian athletes who have used steroids were more likely to commit suicide, miscarry or have a disabled child. Blood doping (transfusion of blood to improve red blood cell count and hence stamina) causes heart attacks.

So, what’s the problem here? We can’t change the amount of pressure athletes face. It’s just the nature of their work. So the answer lies in regulation. Sports governing bodies lack funding to conduct thorough checks. They’re also too dependent on existing officials who are either too overworked or may turn a blind eye. A major overhaul or restructuring is definitely in order if any change is to be made.

Athletes shouldn’t have to consider permanently destroying their bodies to keep up with cheats. More needs to be done, and in record time. The clock is ticking.

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