Sports Illustrated -- Lance Is Back Thesis

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Sports Illustrated -- Lance is Back

The word is out -- Lance Armstrong is coming out of retirement to ride once again in the Tour de France, the world's premier cycling challenge. The man who rose to the very peak of the cycling world, and retired at the top, is giving it another go. Armstrong announced his decision at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, Armstrong may have shocked the sports world with his decision, but he also opened up new conjecture on one of sports biggest legal challenges, doping in competitive professional sports. The Tour de France seems especially plagued by doping scandals, and already Don Catlin, the founder of Anti-Doping Research, a nonprofit organization that monitors athletes, has made it abundantly clear that he will monitor Armstrong for "everything" during his attempt at a comeback, which Armstrong maintains he welcomes. In fact, he's the one that brought Catlin on board to do the testing.

Just why would Armstrong attempt a comeback at the age of 37, when many of the top riders in the sport are much younger? Many sources believe it has a lot to do with his ongoing commitment to cancer research. The Livestrong Global Cancer Initiative was announced concurrently with his announcement about returning to racing. He can communicate with leaders around the world if he returns to racing, attempting to convince them to commit funds to the global initiative, and that's one reason he's attempting the comeback.

Can he do it? Armstrong certainly has come back from adversity before, so it's believable that his comeback will be a complete, unqualified success. However, his new team, Astana, based in Kazakhstan, is already showing some signs of breaking apart at the news of Armstrong's return. Alberto Contador is the current leader of the Astana team, and he has made it known he's not happy with the impending Armstrong arrival. He may leave Astana to ride for a Spanish team, but that's not the only problem facing the team, which brings us back to the subject of doping.

Astana, (under old management), had its own troubles with doping in the 2007 Tour de France. Then team member Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for blood doping during a time trial, and the team left the event and fired Vinokourov. They aren't positively assured a place in the 2009 race, so Armstrong's comeback may end up being a bit underwhelming if they don't get a place in the Tour. Even so, Armstrong is committed to racing in at least five events with the team, including Tours in Australia, Italy, and hopefully, France.

Ultimately, any discussion of the Tour and its leaders glides back to doping, which has plagued the Tour for years. Armstrong himself was accused of doping in 1999, but the charges were dropped. One of the most infamous doping scandals occurred after the 2006 race, and just recently got resolved. American Floyd Landis won the Tour in 2006, but tested positive for synthetic testosterone after the Tour finished. Critics said Landis could never have won the spectacular come from behind 17th stage of the Tour without some kind of "help." Landis maintained his innocence and spent over $2 million in an effort to clear his name and retain the Tour title, but in September 2007, sports arbitrators heard his appeal and denied it in a 2 to 1 decision. Landis was stripped of his title, and banned from the Tour for two years, in a decision he still disputes. What makes this decision so significant in the area of sports law is the dissention of one of the arbitrators, and a scathing report on the French agency that handles doping testing for the Tour de France.

At the heart of the decision and Landis' appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is the French lab that processed the urine samples used for detecting doping. The Chatenay-Malabry lab was heavily scrutinized in Landis' appeal, and a study indicated that the lab had many problems with their procedures and training methods, and that continued errors at the lab could warrant dismissal of positive doping findings. Their decision said, "... The Panel finds that the practises of the Lab in training its employees appears to lack the vigor the Panel would expect in the circumstances given the enormous consequences to athletes' of an adverse analytical finding, the decision said," according to ESPN news. The arbitrator who dissented with the majority opinion used the lab study to indicate he felt Landis' tests had been improperly handled and Landis was innocent.

Landis has long maintained his innocence, and did appeal the CAS decision, to no avail. It was upheld in June 2008, and the decision stands. Also in 2008, three more riders were accused of using banned substances and removed from the Tour, and one team withdrew after one of their members was thrown off the Tour for doping. Clearly, doping in bicycle racing is not going away, even though there is so much testing, and the recent Olympic Games show that some countries still use banned substances, as several athletes were booted from the Games over doping violations. In the legal world, several high-profile lawyers specialize in the defense of athletes accused of doping violations. Landis hired Howard Jacobs, an attorney who specializes in defending doping charges, and Jacobs feels the CAS decision overlooked evidence that placed the French testing lab in a very poor light. Jacobs also hired attorney Maurice Suh, another attorney who specializes in these types of cases, and both attorneys expressed dismay at the appeal's decision.

Landis' case points out the need for more trained sports attorneys, and the increased scrutiny of all sports, including high school sports in an effort to combat steroid and other banned substance use and abuse. With more high schools and colleges using testing programs, there will be an increased need for attorneys who understand the nuances of doping testing, and where these test results can go wrong. There will also be a greater need for companies like Catlin's, who specialize in testing premier athletes at their own expense. Armstrong's team will bear the expense of Armstrong's training, but many athletes, (like Landis, perhaps), may hire people like Catlin to prove their innocence before they are accused.

In the elite world of professional athletics, of course, there are still sports that do not regularly test for banned substances like Human Growth Hormone (HGH), and has taken heat from many anti-doping organizations because of their lack of testing. Pro-football began drug testing in 1989, long before baseball started in 2004, but they don't test for many drugs that are on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list of banned substances, and they only suspend players for four games, rather than the two years the WADA suggests. Thus, professional sports lags behind sports like the Tour and the Olympics, and Armstrong's reliance on a private non-profit firm may underscore this lag. That's why there are opportunities in the legal arena for both attorneys and drug testers who know the law and can apply it to their own operations. There are also opportunities to make a real difference in the sports world, by supporting legislation that creates tougher laws about doping in professional sports and making sure these laws are upheld by all the pro-sports organizations.

There will always be speculation about drug use and the Tour de France. Sadly, now, any optimum performance is immediately suspect because of the long history of infractions by Tour riders. There is still speculation that Armstrong himself used drugs in 1999, although that charge never really came to fruition. Now, if Armstrong can win again, the allegations will certainly begin again. Legal resources have grown as the word of increasing doping incidents has grown, and professional sports… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Sports Illustrated -- Lance Is Back.  (2008, September 27).  Retrieved December 14, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/sports-illustrated-lance-back/3633941

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"Sports Illustrated -- Lance Is Back."  Essaytown.com.  September 27, 2008.  Accessed December 14, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/sports-illustrated-lance-back/3633941.