Scandal Over Blood Doping Hits Cycling
By Staff News & Analysis - May 21, 2010

Report: Landis admits doping, accuses Armstrong … Disgraced American cyclist Floyd Landis (left) has admitted to systematic use of performance-enhancing drugs and accused seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong of involvement in doping, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title for doping but had always denied cheating, sent a series of e-mails to cycling officials and sponsors acknowledging and detailing his long-term use of banned drugs, the newspaper said. The report said Landis wrote in the e-mails that he started doping in 2002, his first year racing with the U.S. Postal Service team led by Armstrong. Landis also admitted to doping in an interview with Landis also accused American riders Levi Leipheimer and Dave Zabriskie and Armstrong's longtime coach, Johan Bruyneel, of involvement in doping, the Journal reported. Armstrong is currently competing in the Tour of California and couldn't be reached for comment. Neither could Bruyneel, Leipheimer or Zabriskie. – Houston Chronicle

Dominant Social Theme: Sports are corrupt and those who take illegal drugs must be rooted out.

Free-Market Analysis: In the 1960s, radical elements of the youth movement were impassioned about sociopolitical issues but, as we recall it, often went out of their way to exempt sports – certain sports anyway – from their arguments. It wasn't that sports didn't partake of the same kinds of problems and manipulation, but the idea was that there ought to be a corner of the world that was free from the rhetoric of Struggle.

Not anymore. Today, sports are politicized as any other area of modern, Western life. The powers-that-be have continually ratcheted-up both the rhetoric and the penalties involved, thus increasingly using sports doping as fodder for a series of dominant social themes. At root, the main fear-based promotion may be summarized thusly: "Taking drugs or utilizing physiological therapies that enhance performances is dangerous, life-threatening and unfair."

Sports in the modern world of Western regulatory democracies increasingly exists as a kind of cautionary – educational – tale. There are coaches (authority figures), the athletes themselves (entrepreneurs and corporations), and the referees (purveyors of good governance). Each sporting event is therefore a metaphor for Western sociopolitical organization, with a satisfying outcome being achieved via the interplay of the various competing power centers. The final piece of the puzzle of this elaborate story-telling has been the development of a certain level of criminalization that has now involved the policing and intelligence apparatuses of Western societies.

The (mostly Western) campaign against performance enhancing drugs has enmeshed the entire sporting world. It has been both fascinating and unsettling to watch it build. In the 1960s and 1970s, complaints were made by Western countries against the Soviet Union and its allies regarding the use of drugs by athletes to gain strength and expand endurance. By the 1990s, the allegations had become more generalized and the problem was seen as one, generally, of gaining an unfair (and potentially life-threatening) advantage over others.

But it is the early 21st century that can be likely characterized as the golden age of the War on Performance Enhancing Drugs. In Europe, revelations have centered around track and field and the Olympics. In America, the good fight has been waged against both professional and amateur athletes with many of the headlines coming from major league baseball. Here a veritable litany of the best and brightest have been accused of taking drugs that may enable some of them to hit the ball farther and more consistently than in the past. The literature is replete with secret grand jury testimony and FBI agents sorting through garbage bins to find evidence of the substances in question.

As with the drug war, the language itself has grown lurid and pejorative. The practices themselves are seemingly arcane and therefore all the more horrifying when catalogued by the sports press. "Blood doping" … "designer drugs" … "stacking" … "anabolic steroids" – the nomenclature is both lurid and mystifying. There must be something wrong with these practices given that they are both secretive and hard-to-understand. Here's some more from the article excerpted above on the Landis confession:

The Journal said it had seen copies of three e-mails sent by Landis between April 30 and May 6, and that he had copied in seven people on the messages, including officials with USA Cycling and international governing body UCI. Landis served a two-year ban after testing positive for elevated testosterone levels at the 2006 Tour. He was the first rider stripped of a Tour de France title.

"I want to clear my conscience," Landis told "I don't want to be part of the problem any more." He also said he was speaking out now in part because the World Anti-Doping Agency's eight-year statute of limitations was close to running out. "If I don't say something now then it's pointless to ever say it," Landis said.

In the interview, Landis detailed extensive use of the blood-boosting drug EPO, testosterone, human growth hormone and blood transfusions, as well as female hormones and a one-time experiment with insulin. He said the doping occurred during the years he rode for the U.S. Postal Service and Swiss-based Phonak teams.

In one of the e-mails seen by the Wall Street Journal, dated April 30, Landis said he flew to Girona, Spain, in 2003 and had two half-liter units of blood extracted from his body in a three-week interval to be used later during the Tour de France.

According to the newspaper, Landis claimed the blood extractions took place in Armstrong's apartment. He said blood bags belonging to Armstrong and then-teammate George Hincapie were kept in a refrigerator in Armstrong's closet and Landis was asked to check the temperature of the blood daily. When Armstrong left for a few weeks, he asked Landis to "make sure the electricity didn't go off and ruin the blood," according to the e-mail quoted by the Journal.

Will Landis' accusations have legal repercussions for those involved? It would seem to be one man's word against another, so the real result may be that the sport of bicycling will simply be more factionalized and participants and fans made angrier and more accusative. It is likely there will also be more draconian testing standards put in place, in bicycling anyway as a result of Landis' tale. But the trouble with such testing is that it is reactive. Those who wish to "cheat" will develop new techniques that the authorities will not catch. And it is likely that many of the users will be among the more successful athletes that have the connections, wealth and motivation to self-medicate with performance enhancing programs.

After Thoughts

Sports has never been anything but an unequal playing field. There is the uneven natural allocation of physical ability itself; and also the disparity between rich and poor when it comes coaching and training facilities, the availability of funding and national, regional and local programs and resources, etc. Performance-enhancing drugs and their ingestion do perhaps involve yet one more layer of inequity, but surely it is only one among many. The safety argument is no more convincing – as free-market thinking tells us that if the taking performance enhancing drugs were legal and above-board, the ingestion of such drugs would become relatively safe. Various programs would have been developed to maximize performance while minimizing risk. That's how it works in a free market: Those involved with a world-class athlete have every incentive to care for the athlete's health even as they strive to gain a winning edge. And from our perspective they have every right to do so.

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