Armstrong doesn't deserve our sympathy

MICHAEL DONALDSON
Last updated 05:00 20/01/2013

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OPINION: So, what have we learned from the greatest public confession since Tiger Woods admitted he was a serial sex-pest?

(1) NEVER believe anyone who says "I've never failed a drugs test".

This now has to be the most pointless defence ever mounted in sport. It was Lance Armstrong's refrain throughout the years he was questioned on doping. It can be said about any number of proven, fessed-up cheats such as track star Marion Jones and her bad news husband, Tim Montgomery.

Anyone who falls for this line at any time in the future is, in the words of Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly about himself, a chump.

Which brings us to:

(2) Media need to be stronger and more relentless than ever in pursuing information about alleged drugs cheats even though it means having to put up with tall poppy syndrome accusations.

Reilly was one of the many Americans who faithfully played the role of Armstrong defender. In fact, nearly everyone in major sports positions in the US is culpable in the cover-up. Reilly, one of the most venerated sports journos in the US, took Armstrong at his word and dutifully railed on Armstrong's behalf against the naysayers.

On the other hand, French and British media, most notably Sunday Times writer David Walsh, relentlessly pursued facts that people like Reilly spat upon.

As a journalist, it's very easy to interview someone and report their denials - it's a damn sight harder to track down evidence, especially against one of your compatriots.

So if an occasion arises where a suspicion is raised about a New Zealand athlete using drugs, or doing something else underhand, our media should put patriotism to one side and dig a little deeper. And the public should hold back on the cliched tall poppy accusations. Yes, we all like heroes, but the more we adulate these heroes the easier it is for them to put themselves beyond accountability.

(3) How do we work out who's clean and who's not? Can we ever?

Armstrong didn't say it directly as he didn't want to implicate anyone else in his confession, but basically he ended up saying "I had to take drugs because how else was I going to beat all those other dopers".

This is his actual quote: "I just looked up the definition of cheat and the definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don't have. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field."

In other words, once all the dope was taken into account, Armstrong was still the best.

Is this what we want as sports fans? To never know what's really going on? We look at winners like Olympic double-double sprint champ Usain Bolt and assume: a) he must be cheating b) they're all cheating. We hardly ever assume they're all clean.

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Do we want clean contests or do we want entertainment? Do we even know any more?

(4) Armstrong still wins, but only if we let him.

By describing himself as "flawed" and "scared" Armstrong has given himself an excuse, wriggle room for sympathy from his hordes of fans: he was a victim of a relentless and overwhelming system and it's not really his fault.

It's like when he was fighting cancer - he's a victim again and victims deserve our sympathy, right?

Don't fall for it. Don't let this man, who must win at all costs, win again by giving him your sympathy.

He's a bully, a liar, a cheat, a man who is prepared to ruin lives, including his own perhaps, as long as he ends up on top.

(5) And anyway, drugs give you cancer, so don't do it, kids.

This was one message entirely glossed over by Oprah: that Armstrong admitted doping since the "mid-90s" before he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. This is not a hero. This is the true definition of a dope.

- Sunday Star Times

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