Thought I would start the year with a nice gentle blog, just to ease back into it, so hence am taking on the subject of cheating... oh yes! Should be plain sailing.
Let's start with the furore around 'Bloodgate'! At first it was exceptional for me, in that there was genuine surprise and shock in some quarters that there was cheating in rugby! I had comments that people were staggered, appalled, because they believed rugby was a sport played by gentlemen, good chaps, who played fairly, played in a wholesome way, unlike that horrible grubby game football.
And now there illusion had come crashing down around their dream world - they could no longer look down their noses at that grubby sport football! My view on the whole episode is quite simple; sportspeople will push the envelope as far as they can in order to win, it is in their nature, their make-up, and if it wasn't, you wouldn't be reading about them because they would not be at the top of their sport.
The use of blood capsules in rugby had been known about for quite a few years before Bloodgate, the difference was that they were usually broken in the hair, secretly, and that player was then taken off for 'stitching of the head wound'. It was a procedure often used to capitalise on the rule allowing 'blood' substitutions, not correct, not honest, but just yet another example of sport/rugby, searching for any advantage possible, any loophole in the rules that could be taken advantage of.
Bloodgate itself became such a focus due in my mind to the attempted cover-up, and in the sheer blatancy of the substitution and blood spitting in the first place. The tragedy is in the careers that have been ruined; the cloud that hangs over some because of a few minutes of hot headed behaviour that does not reflect the true nature of the people involved. Under intense pressure, and in moments of rabid desire to win, characters react and behave in extraordinary ways, and ways that you would never expect.
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that Bloodgate is a hard luck story, and that all the culprits have been cruelly dealt with. What they did was wrong, no doubt there, but there are a couple of issues that still stick in my throat. The first is that Dean Richards ended up being hung out to dry, for three years, when on investigation it was soon apparent that there was quite a long line of coaches/ players/ managers that could be similarly treated.
But oh no, rugby could not really look at itself, I mean really really look at itself, honestly and thoroughly, instead there was slight panic and the classic and easy option of blaming just the one man, and brushing everything else under the table whilst coughing loudly - spineless!
The other issue I have is with the people who sit firmly on their arses, often large, soft, useless arses, and judge in hysterical, moral and indignant tones on the people who make these errors, make these mistakes. They really piss me off!
In my mind anyone who has the courage to go out onto their sporting stage and compete has admiration from me. Now some will lose, some will win and some no doubt will cheat in the pursuit of winning. And it is very easy to judge those that cheat, to look at sport as black and white, as right and wrong, and to totally forget the emotion, the investment, the drive, the focus, the desperation for success that so many athletes have. It is easy to forget that sports men and women dedicate their lives to their sport, it is their world and affects every decision they take every day, from what to eat, to when to sleep, when to rest, when to drink, when to be alone, when to relax, when to focus etc.
I will get myself in even more trouble here by raising the name of Armstrong. A cheat, a liar, the lowest of the low, apparently, because he took performance enhancing drugs. Which of course is hugely different from the vast majority of his contemporaries! Who by the way do not seem to have attracted anywhere near the same vitriol and abuse as Armstrong himself? Why? Because he has been portrayed at the big bully, the enforcer, the man who led, who masterminded and drove the drug taking culture? Bullshit ! It is because he won! Seven times!
Again I am not defending him, far from it. I was a huge fan, I thought his achievements were just amazing, and in terms of sustained achievement in about the hardest endurance event around, I still do! No, my issue is again with those lard arses that pour such toxic acid on him you would have thought that he was a mass murderer!
He cheated, as did Dean Richards, and have many many athletes along the way, but I suppose my reticence, at out and out damnation, lies somewhere in my own unease. Have I ever cheated in sport? Of course I have, in fact I am so sad I still do in order to beat my kids! How sad is that! But it is ingrained, not the cheating, but the need to win! And hence on a serious level, I look at these guys who have been exposed and wonder would I have been any different?
If since the age of seven I had dreamt of being a cyclist, if it had consumed my life, had been the single most important focus in my world, and I had then achieved my first goal of being signed up in a team, what a great moment that would be. If I then slowly came to realise that all the guys who were winning in my world were taking EPO, or whatever the drug might have been, and if I came to realise that I did have the talent, the ability to win, but would never be able to achieve that unless I too took those drugs, what would I have done?
Would I have been strong enough to think, no, I am going to go through my whole career as a cyclist without winning, without standing on the podium, I will live my dream, but a much reduced dream with no amazing memories, medals or cups, but my one consolation will be that I knew that I was clean. Would I have been strong enough to have turned down those drugs, to have stayed true to my desire to be honest, to be clean? That would take one hell of a strong man, a really really bloody strong man! And for a 46 year old man that still pushes the envelope when playing against his kids and still even gets really pissed off when they beat me at racing games on the Xbox! I am just not sure that I would have been strong enough.
And that is my point to all of us. Take a deep breath and think honestly about ourselves before we judge. Would we have been strong enough not to cheat? And yet my stance in drug bans is far stronger than is currently in place. My belief is that drug bans should be for life. Why? Maybe because I know how weak we are, or more honestly how weak I might have been, that I think the ban should be so final, that all athletes have to really consider their decisions, and a couple of years ban or thereabouts, is just not the deterrent that I think we need.
So what am I saying? Well that sportspeople are only human, obvious I know, but sometimes in the hero worship that so many receive, we do still need to remember that. And when the next one falls, as undoubtedly someone will, before joining in the chorus of moral indignation, maybe take a few minutes to think about yourself, your life, and the times that you have crossed the line, pushed the envelope, bent the rules and maybe then we will get a slightly more realistic perspective on sport and the animals that play it.
Because let's be honest, we all want to see them achieve amazing results, we want to see them go faster, go further, hit harder, hit further, be stronger, be fitter, be faster, and that will always come at a price. So let's accept that there will always be this friction between the administrators and the competitors, between the animals that are striving to win and the people that are running the sports and defining the rules, and maybe slightly less naïve when these animals that we cheer, encourage, admire, love, exhort to even greater efforts and achievements sometimes let us down with their humanity...
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