Seven Shades of Shit

6 01 2014

I’m convinced being a tennis analyst is the easiest job in the world.

~ Andy Roddick

With the Ashes done and Cricket Australia more likely to sell the replica Waterford Crystal urn on the Sale of the Century gift shop than an ODI ticket, it’s time to swap the meat of the bat for the sweet spot on the racquet. For those of us lacking the means or motivation to make it to Melbourne Park, it means one thing: Seven’s Summer of Tennis.

I know. Still in recovery from the sphincter-busting introduction of James Brayshaw to Test cricket commentary and the very existence of ‘The Cricket Show’, we millions, we lazy bunch of remote hogs, are all bound for Bruceyville. Ian Healy’s on the rack, elongated and speaking with an American accent. Spin the lazy Susan of hosts and experts from Warnie, Tubs and Chappelli to Fitzy, Stubbs and Bradtke. All tied in a bow by Eddie Everywhere Johanna Griggs. If the following don’t have you thumping seven shades of shit through the swingball set by week two, you should consider supplements.

1. My Nemesis

A picture of the lesser of the Two Woodies should be on the cover of every ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ class in the land.* I don’t know why Todd Woodbridge annoys me so much. He’s a bit shit? Yes, that’s it. How shit? Put it this way: I look forward to Lleyton Hewitt getting knocked out early for the perspective he brings to the box. Hewitt’s impending retirement must keep My Nemesis™ awake at night. Bwahahahahahahahahaha.

* Read some Aristotle, philistines.

2. ‘Straya

Ranked 639 in the world? Got a wildcard after finishing runner-up at the Dandenong Invitational? No wuckers, mate! You might be playing on an outside court at Melbourne Park, but you are guaranteed to feature on Seven’s Summer of Tennis, especially if the laydeez are on Rod Laver Arena. I call it McAvaney’s Law: if there’s a ‘Strayan playin’ to the strains of ‘let’s go Aussie, let’s go!’ then that ‘Strayan will be playin’ on Seven (or 7Two). Then there is the not inconsiderable issue of The Fanatics. One chant in 15 years? World’s shittest supporter group/people too stupid to get to Oktoberfest by themselves. Case closed.

3. The ‘Laydeez’

If you remain in any doubt as to where Channel Seven ranks the WTA, check out the Yahoo!7 Sport tennis galleries. ‘Hottest WAGs of the Australian Open’ takes top spot, just edging out ‘The Sexiest Women’s Players of All Time’. No, ‘Terrible Tennis Dads’ doesn’t even the score. The flipside is the commentary team includes women who know what they’re talking about. Wait. Why is <INSERT LITTLE MALE AUSSIE BATTLER> on TV? Never mind, pet: there’s always Rachael Finch to interview <INSERT TEENAGE SOAP STAR> about their outfit. The Herald-Sun printed an Australian Open media release reports that Brad & Angie Jo could grace Melbourne Park with their presence this year. Prepare to shit yourselves twice & die, people.

4. Fango

The Australian Open has one of the best Twitter accounts going in world sport, IMHO. Informative, engaging and fun. The players tweet. The fans tweet. We all tweet. Where is Channel 7? Polling the 14 people who use Fango about Rachael Finch’s interview with <INSERT TEENAGE SOAP STAR> about their outfit.

5. The Curious Case of Henri Leconte

Leconte has delivered his special brand of semi-orgasmic Gallic cray to the commentary box since 2010. Bruce must have got the hump, because Henri now calls the ‘no way the French player wins even if he’s playing another cheese-eating surrender monkey’ match and pretty much disappears to the Siberia of mixed doubles after that.

6. The Megawall

Fuck off. Just fuck off already. A four-way split screen is for flies and forex traders, not tennis.

7. Cross promotions

Seven are the masters of this teeth-grinding blight on televised sport. Winners and Losers is not a doco about great tennis rivalries. My Kitchen Rules’ story arc will be sketched out. Every ad break will feature two promos for Today Tonightmare. Every return from an ad break will feature a ‘who shot Emily?’ banner ad. You will want to watch none of it and curse yourself for doing so in the dark weeks between tennis and football.

The draw takes place on 10 January, after which I will make up some bullshit about who will win. And remember, tennis lovers: it can always be worse. Tennis could be pay TV-only. (like the actually interesting upcoming cricket tour of South Africa). Worse: Channel 9 has the rights to the Tour Down Under. Quelle horreur.





On sport, and identity | Part II

3 01 2014

‘Everyone has at least two flags.’

Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future

11 June 2012

For many Australians, dual citizenship and ancestry provisions to European countries are a flag of convenience, a way of avoiding the tiresome business of obtaining visas on a three-week holiday or enjoying the privileges a global economy entails for the annual exodus of 18-27 year olds we now label ‘gap years’ (a very British term). It’s de rigueur for young Australians to see how far the old countries will strain and stretch to accommodate us – ‘is one of eight great-grandparents good enough for me to get a jammy European Union passport?’ – yet we love to argue the toss about the national identity of English cricketers. Replying to tweets from cricketing commentator David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd defending the foreign-born players wearing the Three Lions of England on their shirts, I was struck by the vociferous negativity the subject generates. What makes someone ‘English’ enough to wear the blue cap in our green and gold bucket-headed minds?

‘The English squad for The Ashes has 3 South Africans, a Zimbabwean, a Irishman and a Kiwi.’

~~~

‘… a changing-room comprising, say, six Englishmen, two West Indians, two South Africans and a New Zealander…’

Dennis Carnahan describes his song, ‘That’s In Englandas a poke at the Barmy Army over the English Cricket Board’s selection policies. The usual suspects – Pietersen, Trott, Prior – feature, presumably for squeezing the tits of a universal system which places the thirst for first above immigration policy. The problem with questioning the ‘Englishness’ of these white, South African-born players is not knowing where to stop. Carnahan went on to tell an Indian outlet that players should spend more time in the country they choose to represent. How much more? Ben Stokes spent the first 11 years of his life in New Zealand. Should he pull a Gordon Greenidge? Born and raised in Barbados, Greenidge’s family moved to England when he was a teenager. He played county cricket and was eligible for selection in England, but chose to return to the Caribbean, as detailed in this Wisden entry on its 1977 cricketer of the year. As Peter Wilby noted in this excellent piece from 2006, racism clearly plays a part in the declining popularity of cricket among young Britons of Afro-Caribbean and Asian descent, and pressured the-then Immigration Minister, Brendan O’Connor to approve Fawad Ahmed’s previously ‘groundless’ asylum seeker bid, yet Cricket Australia has no problem promoting Carnahan’s YouTube clip, which includes a line on the history of ‘non-English’ England players:

they’ve rolled out ‘Englishmen’ whose blood was not quite blue’

 over a montage of former cricketers including the late Basil D’Oliveira and Colin Cowdrey; Nasser Hussein; Gladstone Small; Devon Malcolm as well as Allan Lamb and Derek Pringle. Geraint Jones (no, not a rugby player from the Valleys but a PNG-born, Queensland-raised Ashes-winning wicketkeeper) took the song in his stride, tweeting, ‘at least i am mentioned with some greats for one thing!’; but when those greats include the mixed-race D’Oliviera (banned from playing first class cricket under South Africa’s apartheid regime, died in 2011) and not the most instantly recognisable ‘non-English’ England captain to most Australians (the late Tony Greig), it begs the question: is Greig off limits because he spent 30-odd years working for Kerry Packer in Australia? Geraint Jones might not have a problem with the song, but given Malcolm settled out of court over Wisden Cricket Monthly’s publication of Robert Henderson’s infamous 1995 essay, Is it in the Blood?, I wonder what his reaction would be to once again having his patriotism questioned – even ‘casually’, ‘playfully’, in a song by an Australian satirist, or in the Australian press? As this piece by Derek Pringle (another furriner in an England cap) for The Independent notes, why should he have to put up with it? Why do we care about cricketers who up stumps and question the depth of their identity with the country they live in? Instead of facing our own questions on sport and identity, we frame a faux ‘debate’ over ‘Englishness’. The UK gutter press does a sterling job of the ‘Plastic Brits’ nonsense already, as British Future’s Sunder Katwala elegantly sums up here. Everyone’s got at least two flags. How difficult is it to understand?





On sport, and identity | Part I

31 12 2013

“… culture isn’t something that people exist and work within, but something that they are inextricably part of and contribute to, for better or for worse … You are the culture, so are you going to be a force for good or bad? “

Philip Darbyshire

The Australian, 25 June 2013.

“Kimberley, a bit of PATRIOTISM please.”

I received this admonishment via Twitter direct message for my vocal support of the English cricket team during the Brisbane Test.

It’s a question posed fairly regularly whenever cricket is played. You’re Australian. How can you cheer for the other side?

The answer is twofold.

I was a cricketing child of the late 1970s and 1980s and I loved watching the West Indies play. I loved the relentless pace attack, a production line stretching from Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Joel Garner through to Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose. I loved the devastating panache of one I.V.A. Richards. I loved the immutability of the best opening partnership in Test cricket history: Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. I had a ‘C’mon Aussie C’mon’ World Series Cricket beach towel, but I always put my hand up as ‘Big Bird’ in the daily matches played in the wide, grassy areas at Moby Dick Caravan Park, Pacific Palms. I loved the game, and the Windies captivated my soul.

I shared the love among individual players from all nations. Dennis Lillee, Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan, Sunil Gavaskar, David Gower. I loved the genuine contest between the cricketing nations of my youth. That seemed to disappear with the resurgence of Australian cricket under Allan Border. Border was the captain Australia needed after the DLP-style schisms of the Packer years and rebel tours of South Africa, but I just couldn’t warm to the ‘hard-edge’ mentality. As Border himself warned in 2005, Australia’s dominance became a negative. The brilliance of Lara disguised the Icarus-style plunge of cricket in the Caribbean. Post-apartheid South African sides including Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock under performed. New Zealand? I don’t remember anything about New Zealand cricket apart from Daniel Vettori and the change from brown to black one-day colours. For a shining hour, I cheered on Zimbabwe until the Mugabe regime’s fuckwittery made the country (never mind the cricket team) a horror show of hyper-inflation and internal displacement. I became more interested in the cricketing fault lines on the subcontinent, as the Pakistan of Wasim and Waqar gave way to the slumbering, lumbering Inzi and the crazily-gifted laziness of Shoaib Aktar. Sri Lanka, relatively new to Test cricket, delivered the doosra, Jayasuriya and Jayawardene; but the treatment of Murali Muralitharan in Australia was abject. A great of the game labelled a ‘chucker’ by our Prime Minister and viciously attacked by spectators who could not or would not entertain the thought that we were privileged to witness two very different masters of spin bowling. Wiser heads shook in disgust. Andrew Symonds was subjected to disgraceful racial vilification on tour in India. The Barmy Army booed Ricky Ponting in England. Bottles were thrown at Australian players on the pitch in Jamaica. For every event, there had to be a repulsive comeback. On field hostility and the sheer ugliness of cricketing crowds across the world were enabled by the dismissiveness of the cricket establishment. Perhaps naively, I never imagined I would witness it first hand, but I did in the summer of 2003/04. That’s when I fell completely away from Australian cricket. India’s batting line up was the first to rival the West Indian pacemen for a place in my heart. Sehwag, Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar. They were individually astonishing, but the Sydney Test was something special. Sehwag swashed and buckled. Laxman’s lyrical big ton. Ganguly’s refusal to declare until day three. Dravid’s elegant, unbeaten 2nd innings They weren’t just raining on Steve Waugh’s parade, they were dancing in the Australian captain’s place, on his home ground, in the match he had dictated would be his final Test.

And then there was Sachin.

I saw Sachin Tendulkar at the crease for hours, plowing his way to his highest Test score. Not so much a pretty innings, but character writ on his bat. It should have been everything anyone who loved cricket could hope to see, regardless of your allegiance. Sitting near me on the boundary in the Noble Stand, a group of Australian men sprayed racial abuse at Tendulkar, to the obvious distress of Indian families around them and the oblivion of the titan at the crease. An Australian fielder turned his back on play, and laughed with the men. ‘Little Master? He’s a fucking little curry muncher!’ A pantomime shake of the head. Roars from the drunks. The player resumed his attention to the game, too late to hear me stand and spit venom at ‘my fellow countrymen’. I copped an earful, of course and gave it back until a friend dragged me away. The behaviour of the spectators was appalling, and the player joining in took the biscuit. I didn’t go on Day 5. There was no joy in my heart for what had become the Steve Waugh Show.

I am reminded regularly that other teams and other crowds behave just as poorly, if not worse. I don’t yearn for a time when cricket spectators the world over sipped cups of tea and clapped politely regardless of the team they support. It never existed. Everyone sledges, ‘patriotic’ fans stick it to the enemy, and we’ll just paper over the cracks by serving mid-strength hops-flavoured water and ban beer snakes and beach balls. ‘Everyone else does it,’ is the excuse of squabbling siblings in the back seat of a car. Grow up. I’m not English, or South African or Indian. I have the privilege of an Australian birthplace and passport, but I choose not to be part of a culture which does not strive to lead on and off the field. I’ll congratulate Australian players on their milestones even if boorish, sulky English players don’t. That’s my code. I’m not asking your permission, or for you to join this club of one. I’ve watched plenty of cricket, from the NSW Country Cup, T20, one-days and Test matches and not seen anything else remotely like it, but the memory of that January day a decade ago feels like a tattoo of an ex-boyfriend’s name. From reports and images of crowd behaviour in Bays M1-M10 at the MCG during the Boxing Day Test, it’s not getting better. Not yet.

PS: I’m crazy for the Southern Stars, but you know, they’re just ‘ladies … looking good as always‘.





The self-preservation society

4 06 2013

It’s a very difficult job and the only way to get through it is we all work together as a team.

And that means you do everything I say.

‘Charlie Croker’ (Michael Caine)

The Italian Job (1969)

The news came through early this morning (4th June): Mauro Santambrogio of Vini Fantini Selle-Italia had returned a positive sample for EPO on the first day of the 2013 Giro d’Italia. The former BMC-teammate of Cadel Evans was the second rider on the Italian squad to be busted for doping, with Danilo Di Luca caught for an out-of-competition test returned during the race. Santambrogio is reportedly in ‘disbelief’ about his positive result, and wants a B sample analysed. Yeh. Denial is a river in Africa.

I’m not surprised; I don’t think anyone is ‘surprised’ that Santambrogio returned a positive sample. I was surprised on stage 14 of the Giro, when the glowworm emerged from the gloom to take line honours ahead of the maglia rosa, Vincenzo Nibali. ‘Where were these legs when he worked for Cadel!?!’, I tweeted. The win, & 20-second time bonus took Santambrogio to fourth overall, just one second from the podium. That was dashed three days’ later, with the Italian cracking on the road to Ivrea, eventually finishing ninth on general classification.

I’m not surprised, but I am angry. That Santambrogio was close to a podium place is one thing. That Nibali gifted him a Grand Tour stage win is another. It’s not uncommon – the magnanimous race leader handing out a sweet to a compatriot – but in the context of these tweets, it’s sick:

             David Millar on Santambrogio         Nibali's gift

I feel more let down by those who say they are in the know and do nothing than the dills who dope. Don’t get me wrong: I think Santambrogio and Di Luca are scumbags from the planets Ignorant and Stupid. Ignorant for daring to piss on their home country’s Grand Tour and stupid for … everything? EPO? Hello? 1993 called and it wants its latest advance in doping back. The Tweetfosi rumour mill is whirling about Nibali himself. For me, the problem is beyond doping. It’s culture. If Vini Fantini were the talk of the peloton, and no one in the peloton called the WADA/UCI hotline to report their suspicions (as Alex Oates says, that’s why it exists), then nothing has changed. ‘The past is the past’ … ‘truth & reconciliation’ … ‘we’re needle-free’ … ‘WHAT? SOMEONE I JUST RODE A GRAND TOUR WITH HAS BEEN BUSTED? SHOCKED I TELL YOU I AM SHOCKED!’ Bullshit. You are bullshit artists and oxygen thieves. The omertà remains strong, so strong that the athlete wearing the leader’s jersey will deliver you his imprimatur, boost your palmares, your profile and offer you a possible place next to him on the podium. All of science could be focused on developing newer, better tests, but unless the brothers of the chemically enhanced members of the pro peloton avail themselves of the whistleblower mechanism afforded them, they defile the sport, and dishonour good people like these …

Santambrogio celebration





A great fortnight for people who aren’t racist

29 05 2013

Disclaimer: I am a privileged white female who loves football, football and cycling.

Last week, Captain Kangaroo – the late, great Johnny Warren – would have turned 70. I couldn’t help of thinking, ‘WWJD’ if he’d heard GWS Giants coach Kevin Sheedy’s comments about immigration officers recruiting fans for his cross-code football rivals, Western Sydney Wanderers.

The paltry crowd that gathered at Skoda Stadium to witness the Mother’s Day clash between Essendon and the Giants may frustrate Sheedy. My feelpinion is he’s embarrassed. A man used to being feted or hated for his every utterance in Melbourne has come to Sydney to start a new club and no one really cares what he says, unless he’s starting faux hostilities with the Swans or needling Melbourne clubs.

It was never going to be an easy task – something the Sydney Swans’ retiring President, Richard Colless, had warned Sheedy. For every Johnny Come Lately AFL convert like me, the Swans have, at its core, a group of supporters who have stuck with the club through the razzle-dazzle of the Edelsten days and been there financially when the club almost folded. The Swans also had the head start of being a relocated Melbourne club with a rich history it refers to at every opportunity; but enough about my team.

What I found jarring was the number of people who came out to support Sheedy. He’s not a racist. He’s done more for multiculturalism than anyone else. He’s not a racist. He said the wrong thing but people who are objecting are really blowing it out of proportion. Yep, Sheedy said the wrong thing. On the scale of wrong things, it was a lazy throwback to the ‘sheilas, wogs and poofters’ view of football (at least):

“That’s what happens when you channel a lot of people into a country and put them into Western Sydney.”

Seriously? This from a fella who thought he could drag in the leaguies by recruiting Israel Folau? When that didn’t work (embarrassingly), turns his attention from competing with rugby league as the game of the Western Suburbs to whining about the success of the Wanderers in building a club – yep, pretty much overnight. I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how big an impact Wanderers would make on the A-League. I have a hometown bias towards the Newcastle Jets. Having paid to see A-League games in Sydney, I don’t go anymore. The reason? The worst racism from a crowd I’ve ever witnessed from the cheap seats in any sport. I’ve heard Australian cricket fans call the greatest player I’ve ever had the privilege of watching an, ‘Indian takeaway delivery boy’ – much to the mirth of an Australian player fielding on the boundary. I stood up, full of drink, and abused them in some florid and foul language. I think I got more daggers from the Indian fans around me for swearing in front of their children.

Back to the A-League, and why I won’t go again. A Brisbane Roar player, Kosovar-Albanian international Besart (Mark) Berisha, was taunted (if that’s what you can call, ‘die in a gas chamber, Gypsy’) by a group of low-life Sydney FC ‘supporters’ whose pea-brains use the worst excesses of 1970s terrace action as their template. Oh, the irony of their club’s owner being a Jew who escaped the Holocaust. This time, I said nothing. I’m ashamed to say I was scared of them. A few weeks ago, I had it ‘splained to me that I didn’t understand Berisha’s ‘history’ with Sydney FC. Whatever. I was intimidated, and saddened by what I heard. I’m ashamed that I didn’t say anything, more ashamed that I stayed.

A few weeks ago, I tweeted this. The source was at the game and saw the incident first-hand. I had no reason to doubt his word. An AFL journalist retweeted me, and I am proud to say that the response was 95 per cent positive. Unfortunately and infuriatingly, I was accused of making things up. Interestingly, few of the people having a pop at me went for the person who said he saw the incident. Nothing came of it, unlike previous (and jaw-droppingly) continuing reports of racist abuse targeting North Melbourne’s Majak Daw. UPDATE: while Goodes may not have heard it, but as per the original tweets, it appears Swans staff did & the club reported it to the AFL. We await its response … or not.

The most infuriating thing is being seen as biased or overreacting if you object to racism. I’m biased because Goodes is ‘a protected species’. Well, that explains this, I guess. It is as ugly as the day when St Kilda’s Nicky Winmar pulled up his guernsey in front of a section of Collingwood supporters, defying their idiocy in a gesture which screamed, ‘yes, I am proud of the heart beating under my skin – and yet all you see is the colour of my skin.’ Fast forward to last Friday. Watching the Swans-Collingwood game on TV & live tweeting it, it was very evident late in the game that someone had said something that made Adam Goodes stop in his tracks. He didn’t ignore it. He stood tall, he stood proud, and he pointed out his abuser. That she was a 13 year-old girl makes the point that ‘casual racism’ breeds ‘overt racism’. This tweet sums it up for me.

Today, Adam Goodes woke up to the news that Collingwood President, Eddie McGuire, had tried to riff off last Friday’s incident in his morning radio show. Not funny, Ed. Not even remotely amusing. Harking back to ‘ye olde days’ when talking about King Kong subtly perpetuates the worst of the eugenics argument: that black people are somehow less evolved. As Richard Colless said today, the best thing that can be said is the whole thing is ‘bewildering’, particularly as McGuire had been widely praised for his fast and emphatic response on Friday night. The AFL is ‘dealing with McGuire under its racial vilification policy. Goodes’ message on Saturday – that the 13 year-old needed education, support and to take responsibility for her actions – was the mark of the man. Eddie McGuire would have been well served to take notes before his press conference.

I’m a privileged white woman. I don’t know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of racism, ‘casual’ or not. I’m over the ‘casual racism’ tag. It’s starting to sound like a cheap way out of for people who don’t think what they say or do is racist. Like Eddie McGuire or Kevin Sheedy. Is this racist if it’s preceded by this? Nah, totes casual. I saw this and felt uncomfortable, but I said nothing. It’s not enough. Twenty years’ ago, Nicky Winmar pointed to himself. Adam Goodes pointed at all of us and said enough. Watch the vision of AC Milan’s Kevin Prince Boateng walking off the pitch after he was racially abused by fans of fourth division team, Pro Patria, during a friendly. Then watch as his teammates follow in support. Hear Adam Goodes’ pain trivialised by a radio host. Read Harry O’Brien’s response – to HIS club President. You can be sickened and heartened in a few minutes and reminded that all of us can be better – at a football match, on social media, when our Dad’s 1960s worldview deserves public challenging, on a bus. We are all capable of following these simple words, and standing up – not for people, but with them.

Racism. It stops with me.





Kenrick Tucker, tactics and the Malvern Star Kid

14 05 2013

In 1982, my 5th class Social Studies assignment was on the Brisbane Commonwealth Games. We had to choose an Australian team member, write a story about their sport and glue newspaper clippings into a project book. ‘Kenrick Tucker’, Dad said. ‘All the other kids will choose swimmers. You should learn about track cycling’. I didn’t like getting help with my homework but I didn’t know who Kenrick Tucker was, so Dad watched the races with me and answered my questions. Why are they riding so high? Why do they swing up and down? Why aren’t they going fast from the start?

‘A kilo sprint isn’t just about going fast, Kimberley,’ he said. ‘It’s a game of chess on wheels’.

I liked playing chess with Dad. I would watch his face as my fingers hovered above the board, and wait for his pantomime expressions. ‘It’s not about getting to my side of the board fastest. Think about the next move, and the one after that,’ he said. ‘That’s how you win. Tactics’. If ‘kilo’ sprinting was like chess, Kenrick had to see the next move, and the one after that. He might be the fastest, but he would be knocked out without ‘tactics’. He’ll ride on the bank, or swing up and down the track, and then he’ll go, Dad said. ‘He’s smarter and faster than those other bastards. Wait.’ Then Kenrick went, and Dad was saying go, go, get in there, yelling at Kenrick Tucker like he did at Kingston Town. I jumped up and down on the lounge when he won and Dad didn’t even notice.

I don’t remember what I got for my assignment, but I thought about what Dad said about tactics. I had a yellow bike with gold glittery handlebars, a glitter stripe on the seat and spokey dokes, but I was getting too tall for it. My Dad had a big bike, a Malvern Star. It looked like the one Kenrick Tucker used, and my gangly legs could touch the pedals if one was at the top, or they were both even, and I didn’t move when Dad helped me up on to the hard ‘saddle’. Big bikes didn’t have long seats like mine for doubling someone behind you. If Mum was at work and we were going to my grandparents’ house after school, my Pop would meet us on Collier Street near the bike racks and double my sister on the flat handlebars, my brother and me riding behind. I could have had a double off ‘Old Arch’ or sometimes with Dad, but I was too scared to sit on the handlebars and keep my legs away from the front wheel. I was always cranky at how fast Old Arch would go, because it meant my sister would get a glass of lemonade and a scone from Nan before me.

Dad always put his bike in the garage after he knocked off from work, and walked over to the club for a drink. When we came home from Nan and Pop’s, we were supposed to put on our play clothes before we raced all of the other kids to the edge of the gully above the creek. I couldn’t go as fast as the kids with BMX bikes, even my brother. That’s when I remembered what Dad said. I wasn’t the fastest, but I had a plan. I put a milk crate next to Dad’s bike, moved the right pedal until it was at the top and held onto the edge of the garage while I swung my leg over. I tapped at the pedal and rolled down the driveway.

I hit the unsealed road on the thin tyres and turned left, towards the creek instead of riding up to the start line at the top of the hill. As the pedals ticked over by themselves, the boys started yelling at me to brake. They were riding after me and I knew I had to push the pedals back to make the bike stop or I was going over the edge and all the way down the gully. I looked down for the left pedal to come up and pushed my foot down. That’s when I learnt big bikes didn’t work like mine. The back of the bike started to slide on the dirt road and down we went. While the boys rode down on their BMX bikes I lay in the dirt, my left ankle caught on the pedal, its teeth clamped into me like one of Pop’s rabbit traps. I cried as they pulled the bike and me out of our own private dust storm, ankle, knee and elbow bleeding, school uniform and a sandal strap torn. The boys wheeled the bike home while I hobbled, crying, snotty with a big, googy egg bruise starting to rise on my temple. Mum came down the drive and yelled at me to get inside.

That was when I wished I had headed straight down the gully.





Great expectations

8 02 2013

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence.

In other words, it is war minus the shooting.

 ~ George Orwell

I’ve written about doping in sport several times on this blog (here and here), mostly about procycling, but also what I consider the sporting crime of our times: State Plan 14:25 – the East German ‘diplomats in tracksuits’, approximately 10,000 athletes (including children) doped by the State with performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). The scale, the cruel consequences, the ‘win at all costs’ regime makes Lance Armstrong look like a kindergarten bully.

The release yesterday of the Australian Crime Commission’s Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport report – the result of a 12 month investigation, aptly code named Project Aperio (a Latin verb meaning ‘uncover’ or ‘open’), hasn’t surprised or shocked me. Not the scale of its findings, not the scope of the investigation, or that the coercive witness powers of the ACC were used – and I love sport. I love it because I can’t run out of sight on a dark night. I can swim a bit, and play tennis. That’s it. Oh, I can leg press 180 kilograms (hardly surprising; I have long, strong muscles attached to metre-long legs). I love people who are good – brilliant – at their jobs. If those jobs involve a football, a tennis racquet or swimming caps, all the better.

Orwell captures the essence of my take on the last few days in those few sentences above.

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play: don’t give me piffle about Don Bradman, or golden ages forever tarnished by a 40-odd page report and a press conference. Sporting organisations and their products have traded on the notion of ‘fair play’ since the first Olympics. You don’t need to use elite athletes to test ‘undetectable’ drugs to make a mockery of an ideal. You can throw tacks on the road in front of cyclists racing aerodynamically down a mountain. You can use your elbows to cause your opponents to fall over in a distance race. You can punch someone below the belt. You can bowl a ball with the intention of hitting a batsmen, instead of the stumps, or roll a ball down the pitch against a valiant, disgusted foe. You can field a below par team to pick the cream of the next crop. You can employ wrestling techniques to slow play.

Serious sport is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness: You can grunt, dive for a penalty, taunt an opponent so tastelessly that they head butt you. You can threaten to rip a man’s heart out, rip his children’s hearts out, bite, gouge, brawl, engage in ultimately deadly rivalries, label yourself the greatest and another man an ‘Uncle Tom’, king hit a player for doing nothing more than marking your patch. You can smash racquets and abuse officials. You can, without proof, label someone who swims faster than and sets world records an ‘obvious’ drug cheat. You can call yourselves leaders in drug testing, and be revealed as a sham. You can lie to yourself and courts, fool millions of people and foully degrade and discredit anyone who dares stand up to you. You can choose to become part of a code of silence instead of speaking what you know to be the truth, or pursue a lead on a story. You can choose to be a cheerleader, ingratiate yourself with athletes, managers, clubs, administrators because you are so close to glory you can taste it.

Serious sport is bound up with a disregard of all rules: you can set a pathetic policy where your players, your product, aren’t subject to the laws that apply to every other citizen, where recreational drug users you catch out are rarely named or reported to police. You can surrender your place in an Olympic team to someone who hasn’t qualified, and watch them win a gold medal. You can handle a ball to score a goal instead of your feet, and win a place or a game in the ultimate exhibition of the joga bonito and blithely admit it in a post-match interview, or claim divine intervention. You can break salary caps and make dodgy deals. You can tweet garbage  ohberniebecause you are witless. You can bet on or against your own team or race, consort with criminals, paint a horse so it resembles another, poor performer. You can insist drivers race on unsafe tracks, and take action only when one life too many is lost.

Serious sport is bound up with sadistic pleasure in violence:  We, the stadium fillers, bay for ever-harder, brain-rattling tackles, celebrate the spilling of claret or a knockout in the boxing ring. Our games may not be violent, but they become sadistic. Rule changes push athletes to, and beyond, the limits of pain and endurance. We find intermediate stages of three-week races boring, and thrill when tour organisers announce brutal stages. Players who miss penalties never live down the ignominy. We take pleasure in hating rival teams, rival codes, rival sports, other countries. We bait rival fans and rely on other fixtures so we ‘win’ at the expense of another’s loss. We resort to racial abuse and defend those who practice it. We, the fans, have voices. We choose to silence ourselves and demand ever-greater performances. We buy pulp peddled by pundits who self-censor and allow the brave to be damned.

Sometimes, we bear witness to horror, and react with every ounce of human kindness and concern, sorrow at the loss of athletes dying young or stretchered off a ground with broken limbs or hearts which have ceased beating. We remember serious sports bear serious risks and consequences. We remember, and try to right wrongs. We can think, call, write, refuse to pay for memberships, support the outspoken against the omertà. We can accept losses with good grace, instead of crying with indignation that ‘we wuz robbed”. We can be better, act with integrity and ask the same in return.





The Big Texan’s Telenovela, Pt II

18 01 2013

In which I delve inside the mind of The Big Texan after the airing of the first chapter of ‘Oprah’s Next Chapter’: Oprah Winfrey’s new series of interviews with people looking for publicity on a network seeking people desperate for publicity: ‘Lance Armstrong admits to doping’.

Lance Armstrong admits doping: well knock me down & colour me purple, Oprah. It’s why he’s there. As an aside, one of the more interesting diversions was a Twitter exchange between Leigh Sales (@leighsales), Tracy Grimshaw (@tracygrimshaw), Monica Attard (@attardmon), Jenny Brockie (@JenBrockie), Wendy Carlisle (@wendycarlisle) & Mia Freedman (@MiaFreedman – who famously ‘didn’t care’ when Cadel Evans won the TdF, but was all over Oprah like a rash) over Oprah’s interviewing technique. I highly recommend you check it out. Personally, I’d prefer Lance to be in a courtroom, but hey, I’ll take what I can get. Oprah didn’t do a ‘bad’ job, but she let him off the hook a few times. Contrary to the pre-publicity, Armstrong didn’t answer every question and when he did, his answers were pure Lance:

  • it wasn’t possible to win seven Tours de France ‘in that culture’ without doping
  • he’d looked in the dictionary (probably one he wrote) and checked the definition of ‘cheating’. Nup, he concluded. He hadn’t gained an advantage over his fellow competitors; “… it was a level playing field …” 
  • had he failed a test? ‘Technically, yes’. Not at the time, of course. Oh, those pesky retrospective EPO tests.

So … is Lance Armstrong a sociopath or psychopath? Given Armstrong ‘looked up the definition of cheating’, I’m delving into some pop psychiatry. Firstly, the labels are often interchangeable and shorthand for personality disorders as defined in the American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM IV TR – fourth edition, text revision). What tips me toward ‘sociopath’ is Armstrong’s constant references to his childhood . ‘Mom had her back to the wall, we both had our backs to the wall,’ he told Winfrey. He has said as much throughout his career. It’s a statement of fact, not blame. In the good old days, this disorder was known as megalomania. Under the Hare Psychopathy Test, Armstrong’s behaviour fits Factors 1 (a) and (b), closely aligned with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  Factors 2 (a) and (b) are more closely associated with Antisocial Behavioural Disorder, violence and criminality. NPD is indicated by five (or more) of the following:

(1) has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)  pre-cancer, Lance is a guy in the peloton. Post-cancer, he wins the world’s biggest cycling race. He becomes ‘Lance Armstrong’. He BEAT cancer. He smashed that bastard to a pulp. He is the resurrected, ‘Cancer Jesus’, peddling yellow bracelets. Not so much. No one ‘beats’ cancer in the same way that no one has CURED cancer. You are diagnosed, you might be treated, & the still inexact science might mean you go into remission, and you celebrate anniversaries – five, 10, 30 years’ cancer free; or the cancer just gives it the big, ‘fuck you’, & spreads, & you go through the treatment cycle again & you get some more time, or you die.

Sundance Kid: “I can’t swim.” Butch Cassidy: “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.”

(2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love … His tweet following the release of USADA’s ‘Reasoned Decision’ was classic – ‘ just kicking back enjoying life’. Kicking back, photographed lazing on the sofa below the seven mounted maillot jaune lining the wall. Living in LA LA Land, where, despite the weight of evidence pouring out, you’re still the man. Also, he wouldn’t be sitting with the Mighty Opes if he hadn’t come back to the sport. He would have gotten away with a great fraud. He was only undone by his own greatness.

(3) believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)  ‘Being Lance’ was an amazing gig, despite him downplaying it to Winfrey: ‘I didn’t know how big it would be.’ Get your hand off it, mate. How many of your peers are invited to rub shoulders with Presidents? Also, his dismissal of hardcore cycling fans as ‘the people outside the bus’. The great unwashed. Ugh. Today, it was evidenced by his refusal to answer questions about others implicated in the doping scandal, particularly his trainer, Dr Michele Ferrari, who is a ‘good man, a smart man’. He wasn’t opposed to delivering the occasional backhander, such as that handed out to former team mate, Christian Vande Velde, who alleged Armstrong had the power tell his team mates to dope, or they were off the team. ‘There was never a direct order,’ Armstrong said. Duh, VdV, you idiot. You just thought there was. Because Lance.

(4) requires excessive admiration … see the second coming of Cancer Jesus. Can you imagine training for triathlons (which, to be fair, he was pretty handy at as a young man before deciding it was all about the bike) while Floyd Landis, Alberto Contador & Carlos Sastre drank champagne on the road to Paris? Come on. To Winfrey, he concedes he’s a jerk, but makes sure he slips ‘humanitarian’ in at the same time. Jerk.

(5) has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations see the testimony of his fellow riders in USADA’s ‘Reasoned Decision’. In LA LA Land, the USADA investigation was ‘an unconstitutional witch hunt’ and a ‘waste of taxpayers’ money’. Actually, no, Lance. The waste of taxpayers’ money was the years your cycling squad was sponsored by the US Postal Service, when you and your squad broke a contractual obligation not to dope. In today’s interview, Armstrong was asked if he felt bad, whether his actions were wrong, whether he felt like a cheat? No. Non. Nyet. ‘Hey, Travis (Tygart) – soz for all the bad stuff I said about you, or had my Orcs put out, bud; we can sort this out at a truth & reconciliation meeting – I’ll be there!’

(6) is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends Armstrong admitted to being a bully & trying to ‘control the narrative’. Fact: after the 2001 Tour de Suisse, Armstrong made out a cheque to the UCI for $25,000, pledging a further $100,000 in 2005 – to fight doping. They called it a donation. Tyler Hamilton called it hush money for Armstrong’s alleged 2001 Tour de Suisse positive test. Michael Ashenden, independent doping expert, calls it, ‘unconscionable’. Today, Armstrong said the UCI asked for a donation. The organisation was so poor it went to him & asked for money to assist its anti-doping efforts. Who knows? I think Armstrong used the words, ‘I’m no fan of the UCI,’ four or five times in the Winfrey interview. Get ready, Hein Verbruggen, Thomas Weisel, Johan Bruyneel, et al: you’re going under the bus. Lance. Does. Not. Want. To. Go. To. Prison.

(7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others see Armstrong’s treatment of anyone who stood up to him – journalists Paul Kimmage (@PaulKimmage) and David Walsh (@DavidWalshST) for a start. Armstrong called Emma O’Reilly an alcoholic prostitute & Betty Andreu a crazy bitch. Today, that dead-eye shark smirk as he refused to confirm her account of Armstrong’s admission to doctors on his cancer diagnosis that he was doping: ‘…but … I didn’t call her fat!’. Reference to cancer as ‘the disease’: ‘Cancer Jesus’ is exacting a big toll on LIVESTRONG. In its official statement after the airing of the Winfrey special, the organisation released this statement; he visited HQ on Monday and apologised for the stress he’d caused, not for lying. Stress caused because you lied, Lance. In the 2004 Tour, wearing the yellow jersey, he infamously, needlessly chased down a breakaway Simeoni was in because the Italian had testified against Ferrari. As he approaches Simeoni he gives him the sign of the omerta – seal your lips – & more. Simeoni drifts back through the pack, in his own words, ‘face wet with tears & the spit of others’. Some publicly mused on, and criticised the bizarre incident at the time; others, including then Australian professional rider, Scott Sunderland, said it was ‘stupid’ of Simeoni to speak out.

In 1999, Armstrong told Christophe Bassons – the only Festina rider cleared in the 1998 scandal – that he should leave the Tour for questioning Armstrong’s ascendency in a newspaper column. Armstrong confirmed the conversation on French television:

“His accusations aren’t good for cycling, for his team, for me, for anybody. If he thinks cycling works like that, he’s wrong and he would be better off going home.”

It worked. When Bassons transferred to Francaise des Jeux, he was persona non grata in the team, & the peloton. So he left.

(8) is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her among his many feuds, one of the nastiest is with Greg LeMond, the three-time Tour de France champion, not only the first American winner, but the first non-European cyclist to win. Was it not enough to ‘win’ seven consecutive tours? Armstrong had to stomp on LeMond’s achievements & bury his bike brand?  When Armstrong announced his return to professional cycling, and joined the same team as Contador, he announced that he ranked their team mate Levi Leipheimer on the same level as the Spaniard. Or he might even win again. Christ on a bike.

(9) shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes see all of the above. Armstrong speaks in the royal ‘we’;  his critics are ‘haters’ – questioning or criticising Lance meant you hated the entire sport; he blacklisted journalists; he sued, or announced he was suing, everyone from his former mechanic to the Sunday Times. He sledged Landis for almost a decade, now he wants to settle his whistleblower lawsuit. Little wonder. He doesn’t have the manpower to take on the Justice Department as well in the case, which centres on the alleged defrauding of the Federal Government.

I don’t think I’ll bother watching tomorrow’s ‘mesmerising’ insights. I think Lance Armstrong is mad, bad and dangerous to know. I don’t want to see his crocodile tears about being dropped by sponsors. I doubt we’ll see anything more probing, given the promo at the end of today’s show. Here are a few more highly recommended reads:

  • If you missed the interview, Jane Aubrey (@janeaubrey) gives a good wrap-up on cyclingnews (@cyclingnewsfeed), & captures the reaction of WADA President, John Fahey
  • Shane Stokes (@SSbike) interviews Bike Pure’s Andy Layhe for VeloNation (@Pro_Cycling)
  • Everything by the New York Times’ Juliet Macur (@JulietMacur), who has consistently been ahead of the pack. Especially this
  • Nice analysis in VeloNews (@velonews) by Matthew Beaudin (@matthewcbeaudin); Jake Stephens in VeloNation (@Pro_Cycling)
  • .. and with so many cycling journalists & commentators in Australia for the upcoming Tour Down Under, check out these interviews (and compare the reactions): Rupert Guinness (@rupertguinness), Phil Liggett (@PhilLiggett) Paul Sherwen (@PaulSherwen) on SBS’ Cycling Central (@cyclingcentral) website
  • USADA issued a two-paragraph statement. I think Trav wants to see Lance in another chair.
  • … as opposed to the UCI. Pat McQuaid thought Lance did good, has the Truth & Reconciliation chair warming. Vomit.




The Big Texan’s Telenovela

15 01 2013

DISCLAIMER: I started writing this post on 6 January (including the part about a brain-dump confession). I became distracted with other things before posting it. More to come (obviously) now a confession of sorts is coming …

~~~

A few sketchy thoughts on the latest episode in the telenovela that is the Big Texan, something I have covered previously in this post. Sticking to the ‘Five Ws’ …

Who? Lance Armstrong, the greatest sociopath never to win a Tour de France.

What? Armstrong is reported to be considering admitting to using PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) and blood transfusions during his cycling career. ‘Considering admitting’. Is that even a thing? Yes. Think of the number of times you’ve seen expendable politician muse publicly on party leadership / policy. Create a shitstorm. See where the chips fall.

When? Armstrong’s camp launched the first salvo in the NYT on January 5, with a great tease: after denying that he had doped during his cycling career (in sworn testimony as well as to the media, the people ‘outside the bus’, himself), viciously denigrating anyone who said otherwise, and deploying an army of Armstrong Orcs (including athletes, authorities and Matthew McConaughey) against the ‘haters and cynics’, Lance is, according to people with direct knowledge of what goes on in his head (most likely Lance), thinking of telling the world & its mother that he’s been a cheatin’ & a lyin’.

Where? First reported in the New York Times, the ‘maybe, baby’ yarn tore through the media cycle (mainstream, sporting and social) faster than a barbed wire fence through lycra (apologies to Johnny Hoogerland).

Why? As I tweeted when the story broke, nothing this man does would surprise me, but here are a few motives, either reported (and my take on them) or invented by me (I’ll make those clear).

NYT:

“… he wants to persuade antidoping officials to restore his eligibility so he can resume his athletic career.” (Me: I don’t doubt this. Armstrong needs to compete. It’s his raison d’etre. Fake Twitter accounts won’t keep Juan Pelota happy for much longer).

“Wealthy supporters of Livestrong, the charity he founded after surviving testicular cancer, have been trying to persuade him to come forward so he could clear his conscience and save the organization from further damage, one person with knowledge of the situation said.” (Me: see below, under ‘Cancer Jesus’).

My theories:

Cash. Cash not here: In retirement, Armstrong relied on the continuing support of personal sponsorship from firms including Nike, Trek, SRAM & Oakley; lucrative ‘cycling with Lance Armstrong’ rides, and generally ‘Being Lance’ (South Australia, your tax dollars hard at work paying Armstrong’s Tour Down Under appearance fee). The sponsors have pulled the pin; dissatisfaction with his ‘riding for hire’ is being aired and ‘Being Lance’ isn’t what it was this time last year. Armstrong faces losing approximately $12.5 million in prizemoney, lawsuits and an estimated $30 million from endorsements alone. Despite a rumoured $100 million fortune, a tell-all book, complete with exclusive excerpt and interview deals, on the shelves in time for Father’s Day in the US (Sunday, 16 June … a nice tie-in with the cycling calendar, as well) will help a man ‘raising five children’. Mark the date in your diaries. Floral tributes gratefully accepted if I’m right. I’ll tweet, ‘I was wrong’ if I’m wrong.

Cancer Jesus: Apologies if you are offended by this sobriquet; I find it fitting. Armstrong has inspired many people (whether they have cancer, know someone with cancer, or just want to improve their lifestyle) to think positively, change, get healthy, but HE IS NOT THE BLOODY MESSIAH. He has not done more than anyone else to ‘fight cancer’ (copyright: Phil Liggett). Raising $500 million through LIVESTRONG is amazing; amazingly, the bulk of that money is not spent ‘fighting cancer’ at the frontline – in research labs, on nursing or palliative care, for example. It is spent ‘raising awareness’ of cancer and employing lobbyists to lobby governments for research funding and ‘cancer awareness’. Are you aware of cancer? Yes? Let’s move on.

Despite resigning as Chairman, The LIVESTRONG Foundation was, until recently,  ‘The Lance Armstrong Foundation’. Not to be confused (although in all likelihood, very easily confused with http://www.lancearmstrong.com). Every day, its work is still associated with him. A confession may be the only thing that will guarantee its long-term credibility (see above paragraph from NYT). I doubt Lance will be getting many invitations to the Clinton Global Initiative or appear before state legislatures to ‘fight cancer’. Who still wears one of the formerly ubiquitous yellow bracelets or, more importantly, would buy one?

The Big House:

If the Justice Department joins Floyd Landis’ lawsuit, Lance is in trouble.

If the Justice Department decides the senior team (including Armstrong) which ran the US Postal squad defrauded the Federal Government by breaking the terms of its contract, Lance is in more trouble.

Facing time in the Big House is a very unappetising prospect. WWLD? (What Would Lance Do?). Throw everyone else under the bus. If I was Johan Bruyneel, I would be bricking it & moving to a country without an extradition treaty to the US.





Living in LA LA Land

15 10 2012

“Anyone who imagines they can work alone winds up surrounded by nothing but rivals, without companions. The fact is, no one ascends alone.”

Lance Armstrong, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life

Lance Armstrong knew all about teamwork.

For every grimace in the face of an outrageous mountain gradient; for every second split in a bunch sprint; for every sinew straining in the race of truth … Lance Armstrong climbed to the top of the Tour de France podium seven times as part of a team.

Sportspeople rarely claim their spoils as individuals. Tennis players thank everyone in ‘their corner’, just as boxers do; some athletes have an annoying tendency to speak of themselves in the third person. Cyclists have their team on the road, and off it. Everyone from the soigneurs to the directeurs sportif is part of the team.

Last week, the world learnt just how far Lance Armstrong’s ‘team’ went to ensure their companion’s ascent, and what happened to those people who didn’t play by Armstrong’s rules.

On 10 October 2012, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released this statement and its 202-page ‘Reasoned Decision’ on the Disqualification and Ineligibility of Lance Armstrong and supporting information to the Union Cycliste International (UCI), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC).

Some of the language is hyperbolic:

The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.

I disagree. For me, that title will forever belong to State Plan 14:25, the systemic, state-controlled, barbaric doping of approximately 10,000 East German athletes. US Postal may have been more sophisticated in its methods, more professional at hiding the truth and staying ahead of the testing regime, but even seven Tour de France victories pale in comparison to the image built for the DDR by their ‘ambassadors in tracksuits’. Those in charge of the programme poisoned children; their experiments and drugs leaving wounds that have long-outlasted the Cold War.

That said, the statement from USADA Chief Executive, Travis Tygart, provides in one paragraph a great summary of the key issues and defences Armstrong, his cronies in the press and the peloton have used, repeatedly, to damn those who came forward before USADA built its case:

The evidence of the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team-run scheme is overwhelming and is in excess of 1000 pages, and includes sworn testimony from 26 people, including 15 riders with knowledge of the US Postal Service Team (USPS Team) and its participants’ doping activities. The evidence also includes direct documentary evidence including financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results that further prove the use, possession and distribution of performance enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong and confirm the disappointing truth about the deceptive activities of the USPS Team, a team that received tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding.

Firstly, anyone who reads even the 202-page version is living on the Planet Ignorant or the Planet Stupid if they can dismiss the evidence USADA has collected. A lot of it has been heard before, because people like Frankie and Betsy Andreu, Emma O’Reilly and Filippo Simeoni had the guts to take a stand against Armstrong very early on. They paid a hefty price for breaking the silence against Dr Michele Ferrari or alleging Superman was a Supercheat. Ostracised from the peloton, careers crippled, businesses and reputations destroyed. I urge you to go further, and read the affidavits of all 26 witnesses. It was easy for Armstrong to take pot shots at Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton. They were ‘known drug cheats’ and ‘liars’. It becomes more problematic when the list of witnesses includes names such as Michael Barry, Levi Leipheimer, Jonathan Vaughters, Dave Zabriskie, Tom Danielson, Christian Vande Velde, and the granddaddy of them all … Armstrong’s most loyal lieutenant, his ‘bro’, George Hincapie. Danielson, Leipheimer, Vande Velde and Zabriskie are still part of the peloton. It was Hincapie’s recent retirement which made me believe USADA had more than a couple of ‘disgraced’ riders and some ‘bitter ex-employees’ giving sworn evidence against Armstrong. Some of the stories are painful to read. Hincapie’s cold detail; I cried when I read Simeoni’s story – even though I knew it – of Armstrong bullying his way around the 18th stage of the 2004 Tour de France peloton to catch Simeoni in a breakaway, with the now infamous ‘zip your lips’ gesture (see 18 second mark, and between the 40 – 1 minute 40 second mark for the agitated encounter), a sign that Simeoni should not have testified in 2000 to doping under the guidance of Ferrari. Of Simeoni dropping back through the pack, crying and being spat upon by the group. Zabriskie’s affidavit is plain sad. A man who had grown up the son of a drug-addicted father, turned to cycling as a clean release, refused to dope and had his wages slashed in return, and then crossed the threshold to doper … some of them will make you white-hot with anger. No one covers themselves in glory by staying silent for all of these years, especially giants of the sport who could have made a difference, such as George Hincapie. The ‘omerta’ or Code of Silence was strong in these ones; yet none of them leaves me with any doubts that these events happened, and that Lance Armstrong was Doper-in-Chief. As pages 6-7 of the Reasoned Decision state:

“It was not enough that his teammates give maximum effort on the bike, he also required that they adhere to the doping program outlined for them or be replaced. He was not just a part of the doping culture on his team, he enforced and re-enforced it.” (for more, see pp. 16-87)

The financial records – especially the payments to the good doctor – make me think I went into the wrong business. A million or so Euros? A lazy 25,000 Euros in cash? Give me strength. The emails between Armstrong and Stefano Ferrari (Dr Ferrari’s son) detail the financial transactions, and offer an insight into Armstrong’s attitude to his teammates and rivals and confirm he was in close contact with Dr Ferrari during a period he has previously denied.

It’s easy to make light of some of the ways Armstrong distributed performance enhancing drugs, especially “Motoman” (pp 30-35 of the Reasoned Decision), but the way Lance Armstrong and USPS avoided being caught (pp 129-139) is dark. The scientific data and laboratory tests (pp 139-144), stopped exaggerating the number of doping tests he’s been through, or claim (falsely) that he’s never failed one.

Together, the evidence – which USADA is at pains to stress was not provided by US law enforcement – making a bigger mockery of Phil Liggett’s bizarre old-man rant Skype interview with Ballz Radio and his fellow commentator and Armstrong-booster, Paul Sherwen’s tweet that he was, ‘not sure if (it was) Al Capone or Alien (he was) reading’. I truly hope SBS dumps them both from commentating on cycling next year. Firstly, because we just don’t need them anymore – we have our own talent; secondly, I can’t see either of them admitting they’ve been very wrong, for many years (NB: Liggett has finally tonight said on Australia’s ‘4Corners’ programme that ‘everyone was doing it … so I can’t see how Lance wasn’t doing it’. This investigation is no witch hunt, nor was it a waste of taxpayers’ money, as Armstrong claimed, somewhat despicably in light of the fact that US Postal took tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding.

There are people who, despite all of the evidence presented by USADA, the personal testimonies of 26 people, the emails, the positive samples, the relationship and payments to the disgraced Dr Michele Ferrari, this weekend’s ‘parting of the ways’ between Armstrong’s US Postal Team manager, Johan Bruyneel, and his employer, Radioshack-Nissan Trek (for more on Bruyneel, see pp. 107-115) will continue to support Armstrong. Those people who read his books and are inspired by the ‘Big Texan’. It’s a compelling story – the comeback from cancer and the ‘unparalleled’ record in the grande dame of grand tours. Millions of people around the world to whom Lance remains a hero, the person who drew them into the Euro-centric world of men’s road racing, or insist that it doesn’t matter if he doped because the Lance Armstrong Foundation (or LIVESTRONG) ‘fights cancer’ (for the record, I don’t believe that raising $470 million and spending it largely on awareness campaigns helps ‘fight cancer’). I disagree with those who say you can separate the work of LIVESTRONG from Lance Armstrong. LIVESTRONG would not exist without Lance Armstrong. It may be a false equivalence, but do you think people would give money to the Floyd Landis Foundation? When you are so closely associated with good deeds, does it give you carte blanche to do so much wrong?

People are flawed. I am a huge hypocrite when it comes to doping in cycling. I love the sport. I still shout my support for many riders who have been caught doping. Unlike some, who demand apologies from dopers, I don’t want them to self-flagellate for my benefit. Anyone who follows my cycling tweets knows I am a huge fan of Alberto Contador. His ‘it was the steak what done it’ excuse for testing positive to clenbuterol may be pathetic, but I’ve never heard him blame anyone – not even the team cook. I like the irrepressible Alexandre ‘Vino’ Vinokourov. I get tingly over ‘Tommeke’ (Tom Boonen). I believe that as the size of the English-speaking contingent in the peloton has increased, a certain amount of prejudice has grown among cycling fans toward non-English speaking dopers, especially those who express no remorse for what they did, such as Alejandro Valverde; that unless you publish mea culpa after mea culpa a la David Millar, you’re forever a filthy drug cheat instead of a reformed drug cheat. Do I think there are riders who continue to dope, teams which find new ways of beating the system? Yes. Do I think there are riders who do it clean? Yes. Are there certain riders I would be devastated to learn had doped? Yes. The rumour mill in the cycling fraternity never stops whirling. Perhaps I would even admire Armstrong if he just copped the ban. I don’t want him to say ‘sorry’. If people want to keep buying plastic wristbands to ‘fight cancer’, in much the same way as you can stop child soldiering by buying a Kony 2012 pack for $39.99, then that’s their call. Just stop bullshit like this:

“To all the cynics, I’m sorry for you … I’m sorry you can’t believe in miracles. This is a great sporting event and hard work wins it.”

The Tour de France is a great sporting event. Hard work wins it; but the only miracle Lance Armstrong was involved with was the one that kept his myth alive for so long.

To bastardise his own words, Armstrong has chosen to descend alone.