Michael Farrow's sports blog

A collection of new and old writings

Sport will never be clean until there’s nothing in it for the sports themselves

leave a comment »

After the publishing of the Usada’s findings in the Lance Armstrong case, the most worrying aspect for me is that the Union Cycliste International has continued to pursue a lawsuit for libel against Irish journalist Paul Kimmage. Kimmage, along with David Walsh, was at the frontline when it came to questioning the validity of Armstrong’s claims to be clean, even from his very first Tour de France victory in 1999. One would think that Kimmage would be vindicated by the Usada report, which supports the claim that the UCI covered up a suspect test during the 2001 Tour de Suisse. However, the governing body are continuing with the case. I guess it’s a question of pride for them, though Kimmage maintains they are seeking to silence him.

The problem is that cycling is still in a precarious position. Looking at the UCI’s 2011 financial reports show that shrinking TV contracts and a diminishing number of races are big threats to the sport. Interest is still high, the question is whether the corporations are willing to pay for it. I suppose they’re now paying for the era that precedes this one. Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour wins helped cycling immensely and the UCI needs the stink to come off or else it will not be able to sustain the pro cycling it has right now, let alone expand the sport. However, the stink will come off and the sport will expand because it seems to me that the paying public don’t care enough about drugs cheat to actually stop watching. There’s not enough of an incentive to change.

I think back to 1998 and the home run record chase which is widely considered to have reinvigorated the sport of baseball after the controversial and costly player’s strike that saw the cancellation of the 1994 post-season. Let’s face it, much of it made for excellent copy and it’s easy to be moved by Sammy Sosa’s personal narrative or Mark McGwire’s story of touching Roger Maris’ bat before breaking his record. Sosa claimed under oath at a Congressional hearing that he’d never taken performance-enhancing drugs and McGwire was evasive and vague. However, the later discovery of a failed test in 2003 for Sosa and McGwire’s admission of steroid use in 2010 show the whole thing to be an utter sham. For a sport which has supposedly cleaned itself up, punishments for steroid abuse are still laughably small, usually just 50 games.

Unfortunately, there’s just no incentive to eradicate it from the sport when steroids can make such a difference to baseball’s bottom line. Players get bulkier, they can throw harder and hit further.
Better play means more clicks through the turnstiles and more merchandise sold to the fans. More beer is sold, more hotdogs are eaten, more tweets, more column inches; essentially a positive feedback loop that’s stuffed with cash. The “irreperable hole in the game’s fabric” caused by the strike was healed by the way most injuries seem to be, with steroids. The public’s love of the long-ball and the willingness to ignore PEDs has led to all-time highs in revenues and players salaries. In 15 years, through the height of the steroid era, revenues
increased 400%
. Clearly, the public has no problem with PEDs and thus why really do anything?

Which I suppose brings us back to the sport of cycling. The nature of a pro tour sport, unlike a professional sports league like Major League Baseball, is that its fortunes are inextricably linked to sponsorship. The UCI always has its lips on the teat of corporate patronage as cycling-related cash can only go so far. This week, the Dutch bank Rabobank pulled out of sponsoring its pro cycling team, though commitments will see the team continue for one more season under another name. The withdrawal is curious, given they stood by their team through a scandalous 2007 where team leader Michael Rasmussen dropped out of le Tour in disgrace after repeatedly avoiding random drug testing. Then-team manager Theo de Rooy subsequently claimed that doping was an accepted practice in his four years at the top of the team. If not then, why now? Is this the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

As this scandal spreads and inevitably more sponsors walk away or negotiate down their financial commitments to cycling, will we see a genuine incentive emerge for this sport to get clean and make sure it stays clean? If the UCI, whose image has been tarnished, wish to take the first step then I think the first step is clear; end this lawsuit against Paul Kimmage. If you didn’t do anything wrong then it certainly looked wrong. Talk of a “truth and reconciliation” period in cycling has to start with the UCI taking full responsibility for what they did and didn’t do.Sport will never be clean until there’s nothing in it for the sports themselves

After the publishing of the Usada’s findings in the Lance Armstrong case, the most worrying aspect for me is that the Union Cycliste International has continued to pursue a lawsuit for libel against Irish journalist Paul Kimmage. Kimmage, along with David Walsh, was at the frontline when it came to questioning the validity of Armstrong’s claims to be clean, even from his very first Tour de France victory in 1999. One would think that Kimmage would be vindicated by the Usada report, which supports the claim that the UCI covered up a suspect test during the 2001 Tour de Suisse. However, the governing body are continuing with the case. I guess it’s a question of pride for them, though Kimmage maintains they are seeking to silence him.

The problem is that cycling is still in a precarious position. Looking at the UCI’s 2011 financial reports show that shrinking TV contracts and a diminishing number of races are big threats to the sport. Interest is still high, the question is whether the corporations are willing to pay for it. I suppose they’re now paying for the era that precedes this one. Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour wins helped cycling immensely and the UCI needs the stink to come off or else it will not be able to sustain the pro cycling it has right now, let alone expand the sport. However, the stink will come off and the sport will expand because it seems to me that the paying public don’t care enough about drugs cheat to actually stop watching. There’s not enough of an incentive to change.

I think back to 1998 and the home run record chase which is widely considered to have reinvigorated the sport of baseball after the controversial and costly player’s strike that saw the cancellation of the 1994 post-season. Let’s face it, much of it made for excellent copy and it’s easy to be moved by Sammy Sosa’s personal narrative or Mark McGwire’s story of touching Roger Maris’ bat before breaking his record. Sosa claimed under oath at a Congressional hearing that he’d never taken performance-enhancing drugs and McGwire was evasive and vague. However, the later discovery of a failed test in 2003 for Sosa and McGwire’s admission of steroid use in 2010 show the whole thing to be an utter sham. For a sport which has supposedly cleaned itself up, punishments for steroid abuse are still laughably small, usually just 50 games.

Unfortunately, there’s just no incentive to eradicate it from the sport when steroids can make such a difference to baseball’s bottom line. Players get bulkier, they can throw harder and hit further.
Better play means more clicks through the turnstiles and more merchandise sold to the fans. More beer is sold, more hotdogs are eaten, more tweets, more column inches; essentially a positive feedback loop that’s stuffed with cash. The “irreperable hole in the game’s fabric” caused by the strike was healed by the way most injuries seem to be, with steroids. The public’s love of the long-ball and the willingness to ignore PEDs has led to all-time highs in revenues and players salaries. In 15 years, through the height of the steroid era, revenues
increased 400%
. Clearly, the public has no problem with PEDs and thus why really do anything?

Which I suppose brings us back to the sport of cycling. The nature of a pro tour sport, unlike a professional sports league like Major League Baseball, is that its fortunes are inextricably linked to sponsorship. The UCI always has its lips on the teat of corporate patronage as cycling-related cash can only go so far. This week, the Dutch bank Rabobank pulled out of sponsoring its pro cycling team, though commitments will see the team continue for one more season under another name. The withdrawal is curious, given they stood by their team through a scandalous 2007 where team leader Michael Rasmussen dropped out of le Tour in disgrace after repeatedly avoiding random drug testing. Then-team manager Theo de Rooy subsequently claimed that doping was an accepted practice in his four years at the top of the team. If not then, why now? Is this the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

As this scandal spreads and inevitably more sponsors walk away or negotiate down their financial commitments to cycling, will we see a genuine incentive emerge for this sport to get clean and make sure it stays clean? If the UCI, whose image has been tarnished, wish to take the first step then I think the first step is clear; end this lawsuit against Paul Kimmage. If you didn’t do anything wrong then it certainly looked wrong. Talk of a “truth and reconciliation” period in cycling has to start with the UCI taking full responsibility for what they did and didn’t do.

Written by Michael Farrow

October 20, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 453 other followers

%d bloggers like this: