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.