On Doping – We Need To Calm Down
I’ve been reluctant to write anything in regards to the Lance Armstrong scandal, mainly because I don’t want to add fuel to the fire. But it seems the blog posts and articles on whether tennis is doing enough to prevent doping aren’t going to cease anytime soon, if anything, they’re becoming more outrageous in their claims. There haven’t been many articles taking a calm and reasonable approach to the subject; it seems we are all willing to point the finger and cry witch based entirely on our own suspicions. Those suspicions are growing more and more hysterical.
It isn’t that I believe tennis is an entirely clean sport. The Wayne Odesnik case showed us that it isn’t, and no doubt he isn’t the only one. Neither do I believe that the testing the ITF currently employs is strict enough – if Roger Federer and Andy Murray are calling for more blood tests, then they’re probably needed. What concerns me more is how quickly fans have lost faith in their sport, in their heroes, considering Armstrong is famous for cycling, not tennis. Novak Djokovic is no longer the spokesperson for a gluten-free life-style, but a doping fiend due to his increased fitness and hypobaric chamber. Never mind that he’s gradually improved as he became older – 24 is considered a tennis player’s peak, Djokovic is 25 – and that using a hypobaric chamber alone is not illegal. In fact, accusing him of doping because of it is a little like accusing me of making meth because I bought some Codral. It isn’t just Djokovic who’s surrounded by doubts – Rafael Nadal isn’t the sympathetic victim of knee tendonitis anymore, but an EPO-pumping freak who takes long breaks to escape mandatory testing, (his loss in the 2nd round of Wimbledon was a deliberate ploy, nothing more). And Roger Federer doesn’t sweat as much as the others because he, too is taking some sort of drug, (although that sounds like a Botox problem, not a HGH one). And while I admit it was a little concerning to see top-ten names associated with Luis Garcia del Moral, it doesn’t actually mean anything. There is no evidence that those associations were anything malicious. God knows what the response would have been if that list of names had included Rafael Nadal.
What surprises me even more is that this mass hysteria (and it is that, until someone substantial is found guilty) has come after a cycling incident. Cycling. The sport I have never shown any interest in because it is infamous for doping. Cycling already had a reputation as a corrupt sport and I for one wasn’t at all surprised when Armstrong was finally convicted. In fact, I think my first response was to roll my eyes. We already knew cyclists doped – theirs is a reputation comparable to that of the East German swim team. And many people already suspected Armstrong wasn’t all that innocent. So why Armstrong’s conviction has led to the entire tennis community wringing their hands and fretting that their stars could also be doping is beyond me. Has there been a similar response in other sports that have good reputations? Is golf flipping out that perhaps Tiger’s break from the sport after a messy divorce coupled with knee issues was actually a cover-up for a positive drug test? Is badminton doubting their stars? Is netball?
It’s a good thing that Armstrong’s case has prompted the ITF to consider adopting the biological passport system. It’s fantastic that journalists and players are letting the authorities know that they want more transparency in drug testing programs and they want those programs to be stricter. Armstrong’s conviction will force every single sport to look harder at what they are doing to ensure their sport won’t suffer a similar fate. But it’s nothing but a shame that fans and bloggers no longer believe in a sport they’ve loved so much. It’s worrying that a man from a sport already so corrupt can cause fans and bloggers to lose faith in their own heroes, in their own sport. Are we so pessimistic? So paranoid that we start looking for evidence in every injury time-out, in every puff of an asthma inhaler? I even saw a fan comment that he ‘wants’ a scandal to happen in tennis, he is so convinced there is one.
There are lessons to be learnt from the Armstrong case. Perhaps none so strong that fandom can be fickle and that people are naturally cynical.
We need to take a deep breath and calm down before this becomes tennis’s version of the Salem Witch Trials.