By Professor James Skinner
Head of Tourism, Hotel and Sport Management
In recent years there has been a constant procession of cases in which celebrated individuals – and even whole teams – have been found to have used banned performance-enhancing drugs, a procession that has eroded public confidence about athletic performance.
In 2004, shortly after two of Major League Baseball’s biggest stars, Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi admitted using steroids, a Gallup Poll of 533 baseball fans in the USA was conducted. Those polled were asked, among other questions, ‘What percentage of Major League Baseball players do you think have used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs in the past five years?’ The mean estimate from those responding was 33.4%. A follow-up question found that 61% were ‘less enthusiastic’ about baseball after the admissions by Major League Baseball players.
The Lance Armstrong case has, perhaps, the greatest potential to further erode public confidence in relation to the true use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. High profile athletes and players who initially denied taking performance-enhancing drugs and who have subsequently admitted to using these drugs have perhaps reduced the willingness of the public to accept such statements on face value. The cases of Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez and Mark McGwire are prime examples.
As such, critics of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong would suggest just because Armstrong has not tested positive to performance-enhancing drugs does not mean he has not engaged in doping. Irrespective of whether the public believe Armstrong was using performance-enhancing drugs, the reputation of cycling has again been tainted.
As Ettore Torri, a magistrate and head of the Italian Olympic Committee’s legal commission on anti-doping, said of the Italian cycling team: ‘All the riders are taking drugs’. Similarly the use of EPO by Festina riders caused a major scandal in the 1998 Tour de France.
It is, however, the systematic and overtly planned aspects of Armstrong’s alleged drug use that causes most concern. Not since the BALCO scandal have such damaging claims be made.
For many years Marion Jones denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs but in the aftermath of the BALCO affair came clean when the evidence presented left her with no alternative. Documents from the BALCO case included doping calendars with “MJ” on the top and letter codes for what to take on which days – L for the clear, C for the cream, G for growth hormone, I for insulin, E for EPO. Ex-husband CJ Hunter told federal agents how packages of drugs would arrive in the mail under a phony name, and how he sometimes injected Jones himself into the folds of her stomach because she was squeamish of needles.
In 2007, Marion Jones admitted taking steroids before the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics and acknowledged that she had lied when she previously denied steroid use in statements to the press and to two grand juries. Although the evidence became too much for Jones to deny any wrongdoing, it seems Armstrong is holding firm despite what seems overwhelming evidence against him. Time will tell whether the public believe him or see this as just another example of an athlete saying one thing and doing another.
James Skinner is a Professor of Sport Business at Griffith University