As a point of full disclosure, I ride a lot… and plan on riding for many years to come. I ride road bikes and still race mountain bikes and find it to be a fabulous low impact, big fun way to stay fit. I help with trail work, donate money to trail development, and also help support a U23 (under 23 years old) team. I do these things because it serves my rational self-interest to do so – it makes the sport and activity I love to engage in better and I personally benefit from it (so do others, but that is merely a by-product of my self-interest). I have also been a big fan of the toughest race on the planet – the Tour de France. It places into the crucible of sport individuals forced to place there bodies and minds into levels of exertion very few of us will ever experience. Moreover, it showcases new technology and equipment that trickles down to rolling hacks such as myself.
I love to ride and I don’t use any performance enhancing drugs. I don’t need to, or want to, because I simply enjoy the fitness and fun of cycling and I implicitly assume my competitors and cycling buddies don’t dope. If I get beat to a “Stop Ahead” sign in a fun sprint, or get my ass handed to me in a cross country event I assume firstly that my competitors are all playing by the rules. If I were to find out differently, I would approach the person in person and tell them to fess up or I would personally do it on their behalf…
So, it is with some distress that I am hearing an awful lot of blame and innuendo being laid at the foot of money. As if money in sports (cycling in this case) were the root cause of cheating by individual competitors in world-sized events such as the Tour de France. What is left for the unthinking among us is that were it not for the money in sport, there would be no cheating or cheaters. And, goes the non-thinking, certain sporting events are soooooo damn important that it would be “catastrophic” to the rest of us if the other shoe drops. So, it is this axiom that money drives illicit or immoral behavior that I am here to debunk. In fact, the degree of moral convolution in such a suggestion is stunning, yet it’s apparently pervasive.
As an athlete or any other participant in the marketplace, when you accept money in payment for your efforts (cycling skill, home building skill, event marketing skill, bike mechanic skill, insurance salesman skill, physician skill, steel manufacturing skill), you do so only with the full understanding and commitment that you can exchange your effort, your skill, for the product of the honest effort of others. It is not the cheaters, the government bureaucrats, the organizers of a bike race, ski race, or an Olympic Games who give value to money. Not an ocean of dope can magically transform the currency in your (or Ricardo Ricco’s) wallet into the food you will need to survive tomorrow. Currency (money) is a token of honor. It is your claim upon the work of the others who produce the articles and items you need and want to fill your stomach and fulfill and pursue your goals and dreams – whatever they may be. Your bank balance is your statement of reason that in the world around you there are others who will not default on that moral principle. The common thread among such men is not the exchange of suffering, the trading of cheats and slaves, but rather the exchange of goods and services to mutual benefit in their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness!
Money requires that you sell not your weaknesses or immorality to other’s ignorance, but rather your honest best efforts and talent to their objective valuation – you don’t buy the most inferior that others produce, but rather the best quality your money can afford! When a professional cyclist uses dope to artificially enhance his inherent physical capacity, and thus cheating his rivals who do not use chemicals, he is committing a fraud and any gain he or his sponsors may receive as a result of such fraud can have no real value to anyone who has a scintilla of moral virtue. The fact that companies who support teams with dopers react quickly to any allegations is testimony to their virtue. To the extent that there are teams for whom the sponsor(s) look the other way is testimony to the opposite. And you and I have the power to punish these people, and the event, by removing our sanction.
Money is not the problem here, money is clearly the ultimate solution…
When people take direct personal responsibility for their own individual actions, within the realm of competition and external to it, the degree of doping will approach zero. You will have no sponsorship for professional athletes when the general consuming public rejects the very sponsors and or the events who support or enable the dopers. We do not need government intervention here, but one thing is certain: doping and cheating will never approach zero if governments and their bureaucratic minions are the ones responsible for catching and punishing these moral degenerate cheats. Money is, fundamentally, the code of the men of goodwill because it requires honest trade. When money fails to be the means of dealing with others, then men WILL become the tools of men – and that is a subjective realm of coercion and deception far far worse than removing all restrictions on drug use.
What is the worst thing that could happen to cycling, that we find out that Lance Armstrong, the sports most recognizable and famous of all, was actually a doper? The proverbial other shoe? Personally, I don’t believe he was a doper but even if that were to be proved it still doesn’t take my bike out of my garage, deflate my tires, or decrease my desire to pursue fun and fitness on a bike. At the end of the day, we’re talking about riding bicycles…
The principle force at work right now serving to clean up this partially doped sport is the morality of money. It will serve to clean out those who cheat as those who sponsor the riders, push the bike technology, and provide to the mass market some truly innovative and remarkable cycling products realize that there is far more money to be made with a reputable professional race without cheats, than there is the other way round.
Drugs or dollars. Take your pick – there really is no other real choice.