Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons?

September 28, 2012
Marathon runners close in on the finish line.

Recently, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) asserted a number of anti-doping rule violations against Lance Armstrong and proposed the appropriate sanctions for these violations as provided for under the World Anti-Doping Code. Mr. Armstrong had the right to contest these assertions and the proposed sanctions at an independent hearing conducted by three independent arbitrators certified by the United States Association of Arbitrators. Mr. Armstrong chose to waive his right to this hearing. Mr. Armstrong’s decision to waive his right to the hearing meant that he would be subject to the violations and sanctions asserted by USADA. The sanctions against Mr. Armstrong include a lifetime ban from participation in all sporting activities that fall under the jurisdiction of the World Anti-Doping Code. In the United States, this would include any sporting event which occurs under the auspices of a World Anti-Doping Code-compliant sport governing body.

We saw this play out recently when Mr. Armstrong sought to participate in the Chicago Marathon. The Chicago Marathon is a sporting event certified by USA Track & Field. Hence, the organizing committee for the Chicago Marathon were obliged, under the terms of his lifetime sanction, to deny Mr. Armstrong entry as a participant.

Mr. Armstrong has now sought to enter the Half Full Triathlon of Maryland on October 7, 2012. The Half Full Triathlon of Maryland is an event certified by USA Triathlon – whose events are subject to the World Anti-Doping Code. Therefore, as with the Chicago Marathon, the Half Full Triathlon should deny Mr. Armstrong entry into their event. If they choose to allow Mr. Armstrong to compete in their certified event, they may be subject to discipline imposed by USA Triathlon.

The Half Full Triathlon of Maryland has chosen to become a non-certified event to allow Mr. Armstrong to compete. The loss of the certification by USA Triathlon appears to be of little consequence to the Half Full Triathlon, while the added revenue generated by having Mr. Armstrong compete is of great value to the event. The mission of the Half Full Marathon is to raise money for cancer. Mr. Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation has raised millions of dollars for cancer research and Mr. Armstrong himself is a cancer survivor.

No one is against raising money to fight cancer. But, by finding a way to skirt the doping sanction that Mr. Armstrong is under, is the Half Full Triathlon potentially doing more harm than good? The reason doping is banned in sport is simple. The use of banned substances is potentially harmful to the health of athletes who choose to use them. If athletes, who choose to take this health risk by doping, are allowed to do so with impunity, then this places pressure on all athletes to use doping substances and methods and to place their own health at risk. The overwhelming majority of athletes do not want to take that risk. They want clean sport and they want to compete against clean athletes. Perhaps even more disturbing, is the impact on young children if doping is seen to be implicitly condoned by athletes and event organizers. Young children would understand that doping is one way to succeed in sport. And being young, they would not have the necessary maturity to be able to make their own informed decision to dope or not. The health consequences of doping for young children can sometimes be even more catastrophic than they are for adult athletes.

By allowing Mr. Armstrong to compete in their event, the Half Full Triathlon is putting the extra money they will take in (admittedly to help in the fight against cancer), ahead of the health and welfare of the children of their state and country.