Opinion

Armstrong on the highway to hell

Andy West

Andy West is a sports writer originally from the UK and now living in Barcelona. He has worked in professional football since 1998 and specialises in the Spanish Primera Division and the English Premier League. Follow him on Twitter at @andywest01.

JAN 22 — So, Lance Armstrong believes his lifetime ban from competitive sport is a “death sentence” and too harsh a penalty.

Sorry Lance, I’ve got bad news: if the religious believers among us are right and there is such a thing as an afterlife, you’ve got far worse than a simple lifetime ban heading your way. For the lies that you’ve told and the lives that you’re ruined, you’re going to hell for eternity.

Armstrong’s despicable story of cheating and deception has firmly established the Texan as one of the world’s most hated men. In case you missed it, Armstrong finally confessed his long history of systematic performance-enhancing drug abuse during a long television interview with Oprah Winfrey that was aired at the end of last week.

On the one hand, perhaps we should shrug our shoulders and remember he’s only a sportsman who overstepped the line in his quest for success. It happens all the time and isn’t that big a deal, is one conclusion we could reach.

Furthermore, one could argue that it would be right to show sympathy towards a man who gained a huge deal of public affection, far transcending his sport of cycling, for his heroic efforts in overcoming cancer and subsequently raising millions of dollars for charity.

And maybe we should even take into account the likelihood — alluded to by Armstrong during the Winfrey interview — that many of his fellow competitors had been following a doping programme of similar magnitude, thereby creating a “level playing field”. They were all doing it; why shouldn’t he?

But... no. Armstrong deserves every syllable of the abuse and condemnation he is now receiving. There are no excuses and he deserves no sympathy. He should never be given forgiveness or redemption, and he should never again be allowed the opportunity to fulfil any kind of role in public life.

For years, Armstrong was one of the most admired men on the planet. He was the real-life superhero who completed his battle against cancer by winning the Tour de France, one of the world’s most gruelling sporting events, on seven consecutive occasions. His story was a genuine inspiration for millions.

Now, in Armstrong’s own words, we know that his story was “one big lie”. Throughout the whole dirty, degraded, sordid affair, he was using performance enhancing drugs in a regime that required intelligent and sophisticated design and execution to avoid detection.

There’s a big difference between an instinctive, one-off act of cheating that is later regretted and repented, and a systematic and long-term planned programme of moral degeneracy. Armstrong knew for years and years that his whole act was an illusion but, it appears, he never showed any remorse or considered changing his ways.

To know that you are committing evil yet still continue to commit evil is the biggest sin of all. Armstrong committed that sin day after day, year after year, and has only finally confessed because he got found out — not because he chose to repent.

The worst thing about the whole sorry saga, in my eyes, is Armstrong’s complete disregard for the responsibility of his position as a global superhero. He knew full well just how highly he was regarded by millions of fans; how much inspiration thousands of fellow cancer sufferers had derived from his story. How betrayed must they feel now?

Armstrong knew that he was not just an ordinary sportsman competing against other ordinary cyclists, all of whom were on drugs and therefore he had to do the same. He was entirely conscious of his status of an extraordinary man doing extraordinary things. With great power comes great responsibility, and Armstrong’s life of lies betrays a chilling contempt for the compassion of other people.

If anything good can come out of the situation, it will be a rigorous and wide-reaching strengthening in drugs-testing policies across all sports.

Although we like to think that cases like Armstrong are the exception rather than the rule, the scale and scope of his abuse, and the number of drugs tests that he passed with flying colours, means that we can no longer be certain about anything.

Sadly, the one thing we can be sure about is that there are more undetected drugs cheats out there. Who knows who they are? Post-Armstrong, it’s difficult to look at any elite athlete without the suspicion nagging away in the back of your mind: “Are they doped?” We should probably accept that some of them are.

I hope it’s not Roger Federer, whose effortless grace around the tennis court has given him an almost mystical air and a record number of grand slams; I hope it’s not Lionel Messi, whose dizzying goalscoring feats set him miles apart from his contemporaries; I hope it’s not Sachin Tendulkar, the master batsman whose feats of concentration and endurance are unmatched. I hope it’s not Mo Farah, the distance runner who won double gold at the London Olympics despite not even qualifying for a final in Beijing four years earlier.

I don’t believe — and don’t want to believe — that any of those four sporting superheroes are drugs cheats. But let’s face it: they might be. And whoever the dopers are, they deserve to be exposed.

If we have to thank Lance Armstrong for anything, it’s that his loathsome career should end up making it harder for the cheats to hide.

But he can still rot in hell.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

 

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