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Exposing The Gap In Attitudes & Culture

Oct 21, 2012  - Craig Lord

On this issue of culture in sport:

As pressure mounts for swimming federations to revisit the biographies of their best swimmers and reconsider entries that list disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong as an "inspiration", further details are emerging about the gap in culture between the professionals charged to fight doping and the blazers who hire them to do so. 

Anne Gripper, the woman who ran the anti-doping unit in the International Cycling Union (UCI) between 2006 and 2010, has told the media that UCI President, Pat McQuaid - a man busy suing reporter Paul Kimmage when his energies surely ought to have been directed to a wholly different aim - "may have wavered" in his attitude to doping.

Gripper, who worked for the UCI before returning to Australia in 2010, told The Age: "The UCI may have failed to take some actions that we should have taken at the time but since 2006 we have been really committed to this issue."

Asked if she felt McQuaid faced a limited future at the UCI, she replied: "I don't know...I know his commitment to this was very strong while I was there. It may have wavered a bit. I heard Pat say the other night: We test and test and test as much as we can and send all the samples to the labs and that's all we can do. Well it's not, Pat, there's a lot more that can be done. It's not just about testing because we know in many ways testing is the most ineffective way of eliminating doping...there are so many more things...the UCI can do.

"The issue for the UCI is communication. It is time to stand up and acknowledge some of the past."

She criticised McQuaid's comment that "we test as much as we can and that's all we can do" and noted the weakness in official attitudes as a contributory factor in a sport that let a doping regime prosper in its midst. 

When Armstrong made a comeback at the 2009 Tour Down Under, he did so 13 days before his eligibility to compete should have kicked in. The UCI simply turned a blind eye "because it was Lance".

Gripper told the Age: "I have always said that Armstrong's influence was a danger in the sport. He was allowed to ride in the 2009 Tour Down Under, he shouldn't have been. Once again, for Lance, special consideration was provided.

"The justification was that [former South Australia Premier] Mike Rann and [race director] Mike Turtur had announced to the whole people of South Australia that Lance was going to be there. For the UCI to say: Sorry, he can't, would have appeared churlish and mean-spirited and really what difference does 13 days make?

"For me it was a case of, well, sure, 13 days may not make a lot of practical difference, but the perception of once again rules being different for Lance than other riders shows his influence was so great he basically told the sport how to administer its rules."

Those attitudes and the power they granted Armstrong allowed him to bully people into silence and submission, says a New York Daily News report. It reads: "Doping might sometimes be a victimless crime, but not in the case of Lance Armstrong, whose drug abuse and illicit blood transfusions created a phony empire of wealth, adulation and power that had to be protected at all costs.

"The Armstrong myth was so lucrative that suppressing the truth came to require an endless behind-the-scenes campaign to bully and intimidate people into silence. Some of it bordered on gangsterism. Some of it was dressed up in the respectable wardrobe of elite law firms. But mostly it was just hot air - a fact that by 2010 had become clear enough to Floyd Landis that he stepped up and burst the bubble, blowing the whistle on the whole big fraud.

"In 2008, when the Daily News started reporting in earnest on the growing evidence that Armstrong had cheated, we found that paranoia struck deep in the cycling world. It’s a small industry, and Armstrong was a transcendent figure, so powerful inside his sport that people feared for their livelihoods and reputations if they crossed him."

You can read the whole article here.

Many have been duped by Armstrong, it seems. Here's an example of one of many folk who will surely feel they've been taken for a ride.