The Nosebleed Section #4
This week there can be no other topic than the cheaters of the sports world. Of course Lance Armstrong is public enemy number one at the moment. The US Anti-doping Agency has released all the evidence it has against him. It's a thousand pages that basically comes down to the testimonies of 11 former teammates who have 'come clean' and admitted they were part of a doping program spearheaded by Armstrong.
Of course he was not the only cheat, but he was the most successful cheat the world has ever seen. If you believe the evidence, then there's little dispute that the seven-time Tour de France winner deserves to be despised for the way he's profited through the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs. It helped him win and he milked that success as much as he could.
The view that everyone in cycling is doping is hard to argue against, but I still believe there are some who are honest. Then again, I have a propensity to take the potentially naïve positive outlook until the facts prove otherwise. Talking about facts, many Armstrong supporters maintain he's never actually been caught doping and these former team mates are out to get him. I find that extremely hard to believe.
Armstrong, of course, was an exceptional talent - a rider with unbelievable ability who would've been competitive even without the drugs. The performance-enhancers however, almost guaranteed he would win, but only because he had teammates to cheat along with him. For those who believed Armstrong's success was due to his athletic ability, the strength of his team has always been heralded as a major factor in all his Tour de France wins.
The Art of Simulation
The second cheat of the week is Luis Suarez, the brilliant Liverpool and Uruguay striker. I rate this player so highly, because he has unique abilities and the will to win second to none. That will to win however makes his moral compass lead him astray and he will continue to portray the role of the misunderstood genius.
Suarez abuses his ability through diving, or should I say 'simulating a foul'. It's not new and many players do it, especially those who want to win at all costs. It's this will to win that enabled Suarez to stretch out his hand and play goalkeeper in a World Cup quarterfinal against Ghana. It's hard to blame a player for doing whatever it takes to win. That's his job. To cheat in the process however is wrong and makes a mockery of his talents.
I have always been on the side of skilled footballers who go down easily when impeded by defenders. They are often the targets of vengeful sadists who perform predetermined hack jobs on ankles, shins and knees. Dribblers have always been targeted by the big bullies of football. You know, "One hard tackle early on should keep him quiet!"
I've always found that to be against the spirit of the game and in fact damaging to the development of skill. Come to think of it, that's partly to blame for the demise of the English game. New youth development programs are reversing the notion that youngsters should be taught to play a 'hard' game. Instead, clinics run by the FA are now teaching skills the way the game is taught in Europe, to great success if major tournament success is anything to go by.
Back to Suarez, I believe his immense skill made him the playground target. So instead of taking the abuse from defenders, he simply decided to use his ability to win free-kicks and penalties. Again, I must stress he's not the only one, but like Armstrong he's the best at it, so of course he'll get all the attention. Some of the 'simulation' is ridiculous. Other instances are hard to judge.
If there's contact, players have been impeded in my view. Why should a skilled player be forced to jump out of the way of a wayward boot or lose the advantage after being slowed down by a challenge that on TV seems too weak to cause him to fall? What is scary is that players are now simulating contact! It's now common for skilled divers to stick out a leg in order to force contact in a bid to win a foul.
That's wrong and deplorable and we can only hope referees get it right most times. But they won't and sadly it's something that will always be with the game.
We Need Heroes
We need morally strong sports icons. We need players who will do anything they can to win, but stay within the rules. We need athletes who believe in their natural ability. We need sports people who take pleasure in doping things the hard way, but the morally correct way.
Here's the clincher - did Armstrong need the drugs to win? Perhaps, but he definitely had the ability to be an elite cyclist and he had the talent to win, otherwise he would not even come close, even with drugs. Does Suarez need to dive? Well, if it earns him a penalty at the cost of moral damnation then he'll probably be okay with that, but sports fans need better.
We need the batsman who walks if he's edged a delivery. We need the goalkeeper who admits when a ball has crossed the goal line and we need flankers who resist slowing down the ball at a rugby ruck illegally.
It's easy to spot the big successful cheats, but it starts with the little things. It starts with basic sportsmanship, before the money and the fame.
Wesley Petersen is the EWN Sport Editor.