Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It must be all this talk about cycling is the new golf

If you Google “PGA Drug Testing” you will find many conflicting views whether professional golf should, or should not test for performance enhancing drugs.

One thing is clear, to the top officials of that sport; “de Nile” is not just a river in Egypt. Or is it denial.

To hear PGA officials talk, golfers apparently do not cheat they play by the rules. After all, they keep their own score cards, and if people cheated the whole system would break down.

PGA Tour Chief Tim Finchem said if he had any indication a player was using illegal drugs, he likely would confront the player. All righty then, that takes care of that problem.

I know sod all about golf, in fact I have little interest in any sport that involves a hitting a ball, running after a ball, much less searching for a ball in the long grass; so why am I even writing about this?

I am tired of reading articles by sports writers who hold up cycling as the worst case example of a sports organization failing to control the use of illegal substances.

Pointing the finger and saying, “We are not like those guys.” It is easy to pick on cycling because it doesn’t have the fan base of say the NFL, Baseball, or for that matter the PGA.

I believe the fan of cycle sport is actually more concerned about the use of illegal substances than NFL or Baseball fans, most of whom could care less. The reason being most cycle-race fans, at least in the US and the UK, actually ride a bike, whereas fans of the major sports are mostly non-participating spectators.

The nature of the war on illegal substance use is the same as the war on crime, one side trying to detect, and the other side avoiding detection. A war that is ongoing with no winner, and no clear end.

It seems logical to me that illegal substances used in cycling would be basically the same as those used in other sports. So if cycling does not have control over the issue, then neither does any other sport that has a drug testing policy in place. This would include the PGA, if and when they start testing.

Implementing drug testing does not immediately stamp out the problem; I doubt there is one sports controlling body that has a complete handle on the issue yet, and there won’t be. Professional sport is big money, and so too is the manufacture of illegal substances.

It used to be just about dope, stimulants that give more energy; now it is body-altering chemistry. Not just bulking up like a football player, but lower, often-undetectable doses of human growth hormones, building lean body mass, enhancing the strength of the athlete.

I have written about this before, but it stands repeating. I believe there has always been dope use in all professional sport throughout history since performance enhancing drugs have existed, for this simple reason. Professional sport is entertainment, and the greater the athletic performance the greater the entertainment value, which translates into more money for sports promoters, the athlete, and the people managing the athlete.

When big money is involved, unfortunately, it is human nature in some to look for an edge in improving performance, and professional golf is definitely big money. Are cyclists any less human than golfers, or vice-versa? Or any other professional athlete for that matter.

No one can convince me that lean body mass, and extra strength would not help a golfer hit a ball further. Professional golf officials need to get their head out of their ass and get with the times. Denial of a problem is not a cure for a problem.

In addition, sports writers need to back off, and give the sport of cycling a break; at least officials of the sport are trying. The UCI was criticized in the past for doing nothing; now there is large scale testing and a few offenders are getting caught, they are still criticized. They find themselves in an unenviable no win situation.

Cycling happened to be one of the first to be exposed for doping; most other sports have since had to deal with the same problem.

Just because cycling was first, doesn’t make them the worst, any more than thinking because professional golf is one of the last to implement drug testing, makes them squeaky clean.

The picture at the top is from an article in the Wall Street Journal, called “Golf, Drugs and Denial” by John Paul Newport.


brother yam said...

Yeah, and the accounting world kept track of itself until Enron showed what happens when entities police themselves.

VintageSpin said...

Drug testing won’t eliminate the problem of athletes using illegal performance enhancers any more than the “War on Drugs” has stopped drug sales.
The few victories (Landis, Hamilton) are supposed to justify the attempt; however, did Ullrich, Basso, Rasmussen (Armstrong) fail any drug tests? Yet they aren’t racing anymore.
Here is something to think about: most of Big Pharma’s future is in biology, not chemicals. Drugs used today will be gumdrops compared to the biotech products in the pipeline.
And forget about catching them. Already most abusers aren’t caught (nor their sources), and that isn’t going to change as long as there’s money to be made, kind of like the Drug War.
If there’s a market the need will be filled.

Anonymous said...

It definitely is an interesting world we live in today. As a born, raised and current resident of San Francisco, it's amazing how many fans of the Giants have turned a blinds eye towards Barry Bonds, as well as the Giant's management. As long as he was chasing Hammerin Hank's record and seats were being filled, both in SF and on the road, no one cared. Perhaps the same could be said for cycling. No one cared until young riders, supposedly in the prime of their life, starting dropping dead due to heart attacks...or by simply going to the dentist. Drugs in the sport were accepted, as they were in baseball, football, track, etc. Lord knows how many baseball Hall of Famers took pills to help them endure their long seasons. Football? Hah...does the name Lyle Alzado mean anything? But Dave, you are correct in saying that cycling seems to be mentioned with every drug test given in any sport.

As a golfer, I was watching the golf channel in the clubhouse a few days ago with my golfing partners. On the tube was Tiger Woods giving a training session to a number of kids. We all commented on how it looks as though he is on the "juice." It's now gotten to the point where if anyone does anything exceptional, we start to think there is a drug involved. At least when I ride and golf, no one will think that of me!!

spokejunky said...

You hit the nail on the head with big money being involved there is going to be temptation to improve. Having said that attitudes have to change such as Michael Ball from Rock and Republic to Rahsaan Bahati:

Or Bjarne Riis waiting until everyone else showed their hand before he admitted to doping. Patrick Lefevre screaming about doping while he was in charge of Quick Step during its 1999-2003 doping involving 'hard man' Johann Museeuw. I may not like the thought of Audi, T-Mobile and Tailwind sports yanking their sponsorship, but it does get the point across that either clean up or lose your cash cow. Imagine what'd happen if Taylor Made or Titleist yanked their sponsorship? Big money walking away from any sport means big changes.

Anonymous said...

Nice post Dave, you've been on a roll lately.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I used to call my wife Cleopatra, because when it came to sex, she was the queen of denial. :^)

Pretty timely with this blog that Major League Baseball (MLB) came out with the Mitchell report this morning (west coast time). It's pretty interesting listening to same sports talk show bozo's, who ripped Tyler and Floyd, now can't figure out how MLB can test their players on a contiual basis. "Do you mean if you are on vacation, you have to let MLB know where you are going in case you are to be tested?" Welcome to the cycling world, gents.

Everyone knew, from the top on down, that steroid use was (is) rampant in baseball and everyone chose to look the other way as long as the tills were loaded with cash. greed. And a bunch of lying bastards, to boot.

You know what? My hero is my old man who came here from Europe without a cent in his pocket and made a good living for himself by working hard every day and keeping his nose clean. He would have a glass of wine at dinner, but I never, ever saw him even a bit typsy....ever. Yeah..he was tough, but honest as the day was long....and clean.

Anonymous said...

"I believe the fan of cycle sport is actually more concerned about the use of illegal substances...[because] most cycle-race fans, at least in the US and the UK, actually ride a bike, whereas fans of the major sports are mostly non-participating spectators."

Right ON, brother!

mark worden said...

I say, "Let the best doper win!"