Opinion: A forgiving lot

POSTED: 07/22/13 11:57 AM

Sport journalists are a forgiving lot. After all the commotion surrounding dope-king Lance Armstrong, followed by a host of confessions from other cyclists, one would think that the Tour de France would have been dead as a doornail. One would have thought that the reporting about the century edition of this classic race would be poisoned with biting criticism from the get go.

Cycling is a dirty sport and everybody knows it. Now that a number of participants have been publicly put to shame, it is suddenly again business as usual.

Dutch journalists could not get enough of the amazing performance by one Bauke Mollema in the first (or was it the second?) week of the Tour. The guy stood second in the general rankings and he was destined for a place on the podium in Paris. Even when Mollema told journalists “wide-eyed” about his heroics, nobody thought anything about it. Why stir up a hornet’s nest?

Writing about the Tour de France remains every sport journalist’s wet dream, so it really does not serve anyone’s purpose to kick a fuss. Right?

The truth is of course that nobody cares much about the ‘Tour de France anymore – outside of the people that make a living off it.

The last thing we read was a plea for letting doping in at the backdoor, not say anything, and just enjoy the show.

From a spectator’s point of view that makes sense. We want to see Usain Bolt run faster, we want to see guys on bicycles storm up those mountains, and we want to see world record after world record in any sport we fancy.

That there are limits to what human beings are able to achieve hardly ever enters anybody’s mind. Sport is entertainment, and entertainment is big business. The show must go on and athletes be damned. They have become the new slaves of a modern society that is seemingly unable to live without its heroes, even if those heroes have to shoot themselves up to the moon to deliver the performance that is expected of them.

How long will it take for the Tour de France, its organizers and its participants, to reflect once more on July 13, 1967, the day Tommy Simpson lost his life on the Mont Ventoux? Simpson was the most successful British cyclist of his time. This is what Wikipedia says about the end of his career; “In the 13th stage of the 1967 Tour de France, he collapsed and died during the ascent of Mont Ventoux, aged 29. The post-mortem examination found that he had taken amphetamine and alcohol, a diuretic combination that proved fatal when combined with the heat, the hard climb of the Ventoux and a stomach complaint. A memorial stands close to the spot where he died and has become a pilgrimage for many cyclists. Simpson was known to have taken performance-enhancing drugs during his career, at a time when there was no doping control. Despite controversy, he is held in high regard by many cyclists, for his character and will to win.”

This is top sport in a nutshell: Athletes cheat, they’ll do anything to win, and they are admired for it. The goal justifies the means. If this is so, we may as well do away with all those doping controls and let athletes have their way, dope themselves past the point of no return and give the hapless masses the entertainment they apparently need to pretend they are leading a meaningful life.

If only there was a drug that could inspire our politicians to effortlessly climb their own Mont Ventoux. Nobody would complain.

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