Annemarie van Gaal: Fallen hero

Annemarie van Gaal thinks it’s hypocrisy, not EPO, that has brought Lance Armstrong down 

After years of digging – and spending millions in the process – it looks as if Lance Armstrong has been pimping his red blood cells in order to cycle faster. Oh dear.

The doping authorities were positively glowing with pride when they announced the results of the investigation. The Dutch doping authorities were ‘shocked’ but will not investigate further because of the statute of limitations.

Now people are falling over themselves to condemn Armstrong because he very unsportingly pimped his blood. But are they right to do so? All his team mates were doing the same while the coach and the team leader looked the other way.

Finishing and winning the Tour remains a fantastic achievement but the real achievement was not to get caught out by a drug test.

So his doctors thought of some clever drugs that would not be detected.

Level playing field

I really don’t understand what the fuss is about. Doping improves results. What’s wrong with that? Doesn’t everyone do whatever it takes to get the best results? Unfair and unsportsmanlike, I hear everyone cry. But top sporting achievements are seldom determined by fairness.

Those who can afford to buy the best sailing equipment or the most advanced car and hire the best mechanics increase their chances of winning the race. A football team with rich sponsors can hire the best trainers and buy the finest players. If you happen to be a footballer in a country where banks lend hundreds of millions to football clubs, which guarantees wins over clubs which have to pay their own way, how fair would you say the game is then?

Don’t cycling teams also hire the best mechanics to make sure the bikes are in tip-top condition?


They do the same for the cyclists. The best cooks prepare their meals, the best masseurs pamper their bodies. And the cherry on the cake is the team doctor. The better the doctor, the smaller the chance the drugs will be detected and the bigger the chance of winning.

And win Armstrong did. He won the Tour seven times. His body was able to withstand the drugs seven times to win the most difficult cycle race in the world. I salute Armstrong, his team mates, his coaches and, first and foremost, his doctor.

Now this man who has survived cancer and who over the last fifteen years has earned €400m to help combat cancer is being pilloried. He has devoted his life to helping cancer sufferers. He’s a hero to those who want to vanquish the disease. Why bring him down?

No ban on doping

If you can’t eradicate doping, embrace it. Let the doctor and the cyclist share the honours on the platform. Make the medical reports accessible to all: maybe the medical world can learn something from the use of drugs in top sport. Who knows, the battle against cancer and the research funded by Armstrong’s Livestrong foundation may benefit from the techniques used by the team medic. A win-win situation.

We mustn’t ban doping. It wouldn’t do any good. Avoiding detection will always be the number one sport. The only thing we need to get rid of is our own hypocrisy.

Annemarie van Gaal is head of publishing company AM Media. She is also a writer and television personality.

This column was published earlier in the Financieele Dagblad


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