Editorial: Armstrong was not the only culprit


Click to follow
The Independent Online

The 1,000-page report on seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong is a hammer blow to the reputation of the man who fought his way back from cancer to become perhaps the most dominant cyclist in history.

With relentless detail, the US Anti-Doping Agency makes the case that Armstrong cheated by taking performance-enhancing drugs throughout the 1990s. The former champion's lawyers have attacked the report as "a one-sided hatchet job". But Armstrong's refusal to contest the report cannot but look like an admission of guilt and the reputation of a man who was once a sporting titan is in tatters.

But the problem goes far beyond one person. The report also shows up deficiencies in the crackdown on the abuse of drugs in top-level cycling. Consistently the sport's authorities failed to keep abreast of the latest techniques and technologies used by athletes, and their doctors, to avoid testing positive – such as injecting the banned blood booster erythropoietin (EPO) directly into veins and using hypoxic chambers to reduce the efficacy of drug tests. The administration of testosterone and blood transfusions were crafty, too.

Admittedly, combating such tricks is not easy. Cheats are always one step ahead of regulators, in sport as they are in other walks of life. But it is fair to ask why the authorities did not apply greater scrutiny when the US team unaccountably began to win the world's greatest race over and over again.

The Usada report uncovered what it calls "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen". The conspiracy was widespread, involving doping doctors, drug smugglers and a small army of individuals inside and outside the US team and the wider cycling fraternity. Someone in the testing authorities was also passing inside information to Armstrong et al as to when tests were to be made. Excoriating one individual will not be enough to give cycling a clean bill of health.