Lessons from Lance

January 23, 2013
Water colour painting of a bicycle race

What, if anything, can we learn from Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey last week? When it comes to doping in the sport of cycling, the answer is: nothing we didn’t already know. But, are there any lessons we can take from Lance’s public admission to Oprah that he did indeed dope all those years he was denying it? Perhaps.

Lesson one: Lance didn’t believe doping was cheating (when you believe others are doping as well, it isn’t cheating). Two wrongs apparently do make a right in Lance’s world.

Lesson two: Lance only tells the truth when everybody – and I mean everybody – no longer believes his lies. In Lance’s world, it is okay to lie as long as you don’t get caught.

Lesson three: Lance believes his punishment for doping is too harsh. Now that he has been caught, he thinks the penalties are unfair – even though he was educated countless times on the rules about doping and the penalties for doping offences (which clearly stipulate a lifetime ban from sport for the kind of doping he was involved in). In Lance’s world, there are the penalties for everyone else and more lenient penalties for him.

Lesson four: Lance believes the best defense is a good offence. In Lance’s world, it is okay to bully people if it helps you get your way, even if your way is based on lies and cheating.

Some of the real lessons we can draw from the Armstrong cycling scandal are the following:

  1. Clean athletes need to step up and speak out about competing clean because some athletes buy into the myth that all athletes in their sport are doping and use it as a rationale or justification for their decision to dope.
  2. Sport governing bodies, like UCI, cannot be left to police doping within their sport. Test planning, sample collection and results management must be outsourced to an independent anti-doping organization. Sport organizations that carry out their own anti-doping work in-house are fraught with conflicts of interest.
  3. Investigations are very effective in catching dope cheats. Whether its police and other public authorities providing information to anti-doping agencies or eye witness sworn testimony from athletes and others within the athlete’s entourage.
  4. The biological passport does deter and detect doping in athletes who choose to cheat.
  5. It is easy to be misled by celebrity heroes. There are many real sports heroes that go unrecognized, but who are much more deserving of our attention and gratitude. Clara Hughes, Joannie Rochette and Alex Bilodeau come immediately to mind.
  6. Corporate sponsors should build significant financial penalty clauses for doping into their agreements with athletes.
  7. Doping is an ethical issue. It is about making the right choice. We need to make sure that in sport, the easy choice for an athlete is to not dope. The lure of fame and fortune and the willing support of doctors, trainers and other hangers-on made the doping choice the easy choice for Lance.
  8. A strong foundation of values, built from an athlete’s earliest sport experiences, is the ultimate defence against doping in sport.