National and international governing bodies responsible for keeping their sports clean often have other considerations, if not agendas, that affect their decisions. Critics say the global anti-doping framework, which has largely been established since 2000, has an interest not only in cleaning up sport but in exaggerating doping in order to justify its existence and secure more funding.
Armstrong has long portrayed himself as the victim of a “witch hunt” by this system. He vigorously and unequivocally denied having taken performance-enhancing drugs. He highlighted the fact that he had never tested positive for such substances.
He apparently distrusts the system so much that this summer he refused to agree to a hearing where he could have cross-examined the former teammates and other witnesses who testified against him. Yet they described him as not only someone who used the performance-enhancing drugs himself, but who created a team culture in which it was virtually obligatory to participate in a similar doping program in order to ensure Armstrong’s success year after year at the Tour de France.
By opting out of the channels afforded to him, Armstrong made a powerful statement about perceived shortcomings in the anti-doping system. These should be examined carefully and not dismissed out of hand just because Armstrong has fallen from grace.
And while Armstrong fans have been rightly disappointed by the results of the investigation, it is important to remember that he was competing in a sport where nearly all his top competitors were very likely doping as well.
The Oct. 10 USADA report notes that from 1999 to 2005, when Armstrong won a record seven consecutive victories at the Tour de France, 20 of the 21 cyclists who finished on the podium (i.e., first, second, or third place) during those years “have been directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations” or exceeding the threshold for hematocrit, which tends to indicate the use of EPO, a popular drug for endurance athletes.