Tour de Farce

The demise of David Warner reminds me somewhat of Lance Armstrong. Warner didn’t cheat to anywhere near the same extent as Armstrong, but it’s interesting to see how people have reacted in each case.

Many cyclists have been caught doping, but few have faced the same levels of opprobrium as Armstrong. If you look at the rest of the field during the Tours that Armstrong won, they are chock-full of cyclists who’ve been caught doping; given how prevalent it was at the time, you’d probably need to go a long way down the standings to find a cyclist who was clean. This is why the UCI, the sport’s governing body, decided not to award the 1999-2005 tour victories to anyone when Armstrong was stripped of his titles (it normally goes to the runner-up, as it did in 2006 and 2010 when the winner was found to be doping). With luck, the sport is now a lot cleaner than it was and we’re not going to learn in future that Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali were doped to the eyeballs during their winning tours, but back then they were all at it.

I saw a good documentary a few years ago about the use of EPO in cycling, which concerned a newly-created team in the late 1990s or early 2000s hiring a coach who would absolutely insist there would be no doping. The trouble was, the team could barely make the qualification cut-off for each stage, and at one point were cycling as if they were time-trialling just to stay on the back of the peleton. The coach knew it was hopeless trying to compete in a field in which almost everyone was doping, so they started too. As they explained, they had no choice in a sport where the use of performance-enhancing drugs was the norm. It’s for this reason that I still believe Lance Armstrong was the best cyclist of his generation, and quite probably in the history of the sport. Having watched him win several of his tours, I was extremely disappointed to learn he was doping the whole time.

So why did he fall so heavily, when others managed to rehabilitate themselves? A friend who follows the sport said there were two reasons. Firstly, Armstrong had a habit of suing anyone suggested he’d been doping, which for those who knew all along would have been a bit hard to swallow – especially if it was they who were being sued. Secondly, Armstrong did not simply use performance enhancing drugs to give himself a boost, but he was active in promoting its use throughout his team, and would bully and threaten anyone who showed reluctance to participate. As the story unravelled, it became clear that Armstrong wasn’t just a cyclist who doped, he was responsible for doping becoming so much more embedded in the sport. By all accounts, it sounds as though Armstrong was a nasty, bullying, vindictive piece of work. This is why, when he fell from grace, few people were willing to stand up for him and many delighted in his comeuppance. Had he simply been a cyclist who doped along with everyone else and got caught, he’d have had a good chance of re-ingratiating himself with the fans and public.

David Warner is in a similar position now. Sure he has his defenders – as did Armstrong – but his past behaviour (which has been discussed on this blog in detail, so I won’t repeat it) is catching up with him. If he takes this to court, which is looking likely, we might find witnesses being called which will make him look considerably worse and we’ll see the past 5-10 years worth of dirty laundry being aired in public. As Bardon rightly points out, this will be a lot more interesting than your average test match.

Warner’s appeal was that he was a bogan from the wrong side of the tracks who done good, but the fairytale rather depends on the bogan actually turning good. Warner’s done the opposite, and I suspect there are plenty of powerful people within the Australian cricketing setup now saying “I told you so”. A few months ago I wrote the following criticism of the English Cricket Board following another Ashes humiliation:

[Ben Stokes] is rough and tattooed and aggressive, and what the ECB really wants is a team full of fresh-faced goody-two-shoes in blazers who granny would like tea with. The fact that they can’t bat for shit doesn’t seem to matter; preserving the squeaky-clean image of the ECB is apparently their top priority.

Someone at the ECB needs to pay the price for this, and his replacement needs to adjust priorities such that sending a decent, prepared side into a test series ranks higher than virtue-signalling.

In light of this ball-tampering fiasco, the publicity surrounding Warner, and the potential damage a court case will do to Australian cricket, I might have to revise that. Perhaps there’s a reason why the ECB appoint nice people in blazers like Strauss and Cook rather than battling thugs who try to win at all costs. I guess we’re going to find out which approach works best in the long run.

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31 thoughts on “Tour de Farce

  1. I agree about all the points you make about Armstrong, he certainly demonstrated sociopathic traits during his cycling career. The bullying, suing and attempts to destroy his naysayers’ careers, all point to an extremely unpleasant human.

    But…. listen to his recent interview with Joe Rogan and tell me you wouldn’t want to have a beer with him and shoot the breeze for a few hours.

    Maybe the situation brought out the sociopath in him or he’s very good at hiding it now.

  2. But…. listen to his recent interview with Joe Rogan and tell me you wouldn’t want to have a beer with him and shoot the breeze for a few hours.

    A former neighbour of mine went to high school with him, said he was a good bloke by all accounts. He also said he was absolutely astonishingly good at cross country running, which didn’t surprise me much.

  3. I really don’t know why they don’t just drop this whole doping detection thing, why not take the best herbs that man can make, take human endurance to higher levels and entertain the fans. It is quite obvious as well that the guys that run the doping policy were the type that never got drunk or had a root and were probably monitors at the school canteen and are singing the west hymn sheet. They banned the Russian paraplegic team, who are they to say what a paraplegic can or cannot take, I am dead serious here. How the fuck is depriving a paraplegic their crack at the title something we need to countenance.

    On Warner I see that the union has quite rightly called out for sentencing reduction of the Cape Town Three. This was always going to be heard in the court of workplace relations, I am sure CA were well aware of this and might even consider a sentence reduction now. The thing about employment law is that innuendo cannot be tabled, this will work very much in Warners favour, as they don’t have that much on him when it comes to employment law or any other matter that is based on facts. If he plays his cards right, he gets the sentence reduction now to say 1.5 months, doesn’t go them, continues to bat many centuries for his country and everybody lives happily ever after. The wingers well they will move on and find someone else to whine about. Kerry Packer has proved this.

  4. I really don’t know why they don’t just drop this whole doping detection thing, why not take the best herbs that man can make, take human endurance to higher levels and entertain the fans.

    That’s been mooted by the wilder ends of the libertarian movement for a while now.

    If he plays his cards right, he gets the sentence reduction now to say 1.5 months, doesn’t go them, continues to bat many centuries for his country and everybody lives happily ever after.

    Perhaps, but this isn’t really how organisations work: the blazers in CA – like any employer – will not take such an appeal lightly, things will get personal, and one way or another they’ll take their revenge (probably just by not selecting him). Don’t underestimate how vindictive some people can be, and Warner doesn’t seem to have many people backing him right now.

  5. But if he plays his cards right and calls CA’s bluff, they may reduce his sentence first thus negating the need for an appeal. This little Aussie battler may yet turn the tide and the most important backer that he needs and has right now is the Australian Cricketers Association which have announced today that they are going into bat for him.

    There is a definite chance that CA will now move to avoid an appeal, an appeal that they will definitely lose and also keep hidden the other dirty deals and shenanigans that they have done over the years that a disenfranchised Warner could publicise.

    Game on.

  6. The argument for allowing doing is reasonable: after all, the edge between gaining an advantage through optimum nutritional science and doing is getting as almost as blurred as the one between therapeutic and performance enhancing drugs. The arguments against other than fairness are based on drugs harming athletes’ bodies but, let’s face it, training for to level sport leaves a body pretty shattered in the long term.

  7. I don’t think the ECB dislike Stokes. Certainly not as much as CA now dislikes Warner. (They didn’t used to, of course. It was CA who took Warner on and championed him when NSW wouldn’t give him a game.)

    Bardon is right in one respect: there is a lot of dirty laundry in cricket, and Australian cricket, that Warner may expose now. James Sutherland himself, the CEO of CA, although he presents a very upright modern-corprorate image, comes from the Victorian reverse swing culture about which there have long been whispers, and his son is now a promising swing bowler who has already played for Victoria.

  8. > If you look at the rest of the field during the Tours that Armstrong won, they are chock-full of cyclists who’ve been caught doping; given how prevalent it was at the time, you’d probably need to go a long way down the standings to find a cyclist who was clean.

    I saw an interview with Jens Voigt a while back in which he claimed to be the highest ranked non-doping rider on the Tour at the time, with a best ever overall placement in the mid-teens.

  9. I saw an interview with Jens Voigt a while back in which he claimed to be the highest ranked non-doping rider on the Tour at the time, with a best ever overall placement in the mid.-teens.

    Yes, from what I’ve read you’d need to be looking well outside the top 10 riders.

  10. “Yes, from what I’ve read you’d need to be looking well outside the top 10 riders.”

    I think (in that interview) he reckoned it was more like the early 20s.

    Warner may well win the battle but lose the war. The workplace laws might allow him to continue his employment but national team selection is going to be based on a range of factors including “cultural fit”.

    Anyway, should be fun viewing.

  11. Breaking news, australian test selector Mark Waugh says he is keen to see the Cape Town Three back in the baggy green as soon as possible, he went on to say that they have paid the price and we now need to forgive them and he would pick them for sure for test cricket and he also added that he rejected outright any notion of a toxic culture.

  12. A thought about the prevalence of cheating in sport…

    Wrestling doesn’t even try to pretend it’s a sport anymore, but for many years it did. And, alright, by the end they weren’t fooling anyone… but the thing is, it did start as a legitimate sport. So there’s a period of time when wrestling was fake, but still believed to be legitimate.

    How many other sports are in that intermediate stage? Not so obviously fake as wrestling was, but still fake all the same, and believed by us to be legit?

    I mean, we find out that all the best cyclists were doping, and the baseball teams are all on steroids, and boxing’s rotten too, and now cricket, etc, etc…

  13. Hi Bardon,

    The same Mark Waugh who coined the phrase “mental disintegration” or a different one?

    Yes, that review of culture is going to go well….

    Bill

  14. he went on to say that they have paid the price and we now need to forgive them and he would pick them for sure for test cricket

    Blimey, that was fast! So the punishment was, what? A week and one test match. That’ll learn ’em!

  15. Never underestimate the resilience of the Aussie battler, or do so at your peril.

    Kerry Packer was the product of an Australia that has all but disappeared. I doubt he’d have blubbered on television and hidden behind his family.

    One should also note that Packer’s son got taken to the cleaners by Mariah Carey after only being engaged(!), who apparently didn’t even put out because she was “waiting until they were married”.

    So yeah, a different generation.

  16. “Mariah Carey after only being engaged(!), who apparently didn’t even put out because she was “waiting until they were married”.”

    Really?

    Christ, that’s got to burn. No wonder he’s got Beyond Blue on speed dial these days. What an incredibly rich (through inheritance; the Aussie way) failure.

  17. @Bardon,
    I can think of 20M Aussie dollars worth of reasons why Warner won’t be wearing the baggy green any time soon

    Link here.

  18. There is a strong liberal argument in favour of doping control – it effectively allows athletes to contract with each other not to do pharmaceutically damaging things to themselves in order to fight a drugs arms race. Without doping control, the best the athletes can do is have a “gentleman’s agreement” but one that is unenforceable, and the incentive to dope (victory, fame and fortune) will push people to break it. En masse, if it is seems that “everybody is doing it” and it becomes essentially compulsory if an athlete wants to remain competitive (and retain their contract and sponsorship). And to whose benefit is that? The top athletes will still dominate – as Tim says no doubt that Armstrong was an incredible cyclist. Perhaps it suits those who have a particularly strong physiological response to the drugs or those prepared to be more chemically adventurous on the risk/reward spectrum, but at the end of the day it does mean dozens of athletes filling their bodies with drugs that they would rather not be taking. Doping control makes an agreement not to pump themselves full of drugs enforceable.

    Of course athletes can also contract with each other in a different way – go form an alternative tour in which all kinds of enhancements are legal or at least swept under the carpet. The (non-Olympic) wrestling or World’s Strongest Man kind of ideal. But I suspect most would prefer to compete clean, provided they felt there was some guarantee of a level playing field. I also suspect that for most sports, most of the audience and the sponsorship would be for the “clean” version if there were parallel clean and enhanced tours. But expect “clean” to always contain some grey areas, as explained well by Alex Bowden in the blog link above.

  19. “Blimey, that was fast! So the punishment was, what? A week and one test match. That’ll learn ’em!”

    Not yet, but there is an ever growing support for the punishment to be proportional. I think that all the spurious stuff that was spewing out around the joint is now starting to die it’s natural death, it’s all about the crime and what is a fitting punishment now.

    I think that all the old wives tales about how evil and cuntish he was are now starting to shrivel up in the cold light of day as being completely irrelevant to the case at hand, nothing has changed yet but anything more than a ban for a test would be viewed as heavy handed by an impartial expert.

  20. @Bardon: odd that you are prepared to invoke employment law in favour of Warner & Co, yet were very dismissive of the idea that the law might want to get involved in the actions of players on the pitch. Surely ‘real Aussie battlers’ would take their lumps as given, not go crying to the lawyers that they’ve been harshly treated?

  21. He is evil and cuntish. No-one said that was why he was banned, so I don’t know why you keep going on about that. As I said earlier, Steve Smith got the same ban and he is reasonably well-liked. And on what basis do you claim that the punishment was not proportional? One year seems pretty light to me. He was lucky not to get more.

    >The same Mark Waugh who coined the phrase “mental disintegration” or a different one?

    That was his brother.

    I like Mark Waugh but he’s not the sort of guy you’d trust any character reference he wrote.

    And Mark Waugh might want them back in the side, but that’s not to say the fans will. If these three cop it sweet and serve their sentences all may be well, but if they lawyer up and challenge it all in the courts (as it is rumoured they will), the fans will turn on them. Test cricket cannot afford that.

  22. Talking about ‘clean’ sports, here are the three secret rules (allegedly) followed by NBA referees:
    1. Keep the game close.

    2. Don’t let the stars foul out.

    3. Make sure big-market teams are in the playoffs.

  23. Mark Waugh is another example of Australian hypocrisy at work – he took money from an illegal bookmaker while a player, and now is a selector. His moral compass is as off as Warners.

  24. anything more than a ban for a test would be viewed as heavy handed by an impartial expert.

    *sound of bemused derisive laughter*

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