It was big news that Lance Armstrong decided to give up his ongoing fight against the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Facing the loss of his seven Tour de France titles and a lifetime ban from participation in any sport that follows the World Anti-Doping Code, Armstrong backed down after a back-and-forth battle that included a probe by federal prosecutors that was dropped and possible witness testimony from members of his own team. We the public may never know the truth about whether Armstrong actually committed any of the allegations he is accused of, but it is now clear that the rift between athletes and the anti-doping authorities continues to widen.
The heart of the matter in the Armstrong case or the other cases involving such high profile athletes as Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and, recently, Tyler Hamilton, who had his 2004 Olympic medal taken away after being charged with illegal doping, is supposed to be whether or not competing athletes win fair and square without performance enhancing drugs. However, it seems more and more that the issue isn’t drug-free athletes as much as it is the power of the anti-doping agencies to police athletes and hand down punishments. The standard method of action in most anti-doping cases tends to be arbitration, a process that can take months to years of expensive wrangling that can leave an athlete devastated and penniless, with the added black mark of a tarnished reputation.
On one side of the debate are the athletes and their supporters, many of whom believe the anti-doping authorities are unfairly targeting athletes to make an example of them. On the other side are the anti-doping agencies and their supporters, who believe that drug testing is necessary to preserve the integrity of sports against cheating. For the athletes, it might seem like a case of the innocent being punished for the actions of those that do cheat and get caught. However, anti-doping supporters believe that cheating is more widespread than has been proved so far, and that tests alone are not yet sophisticated enough to catch everything, which is why many anti-doping cases rely on witness testimony as supporting evidence.
If there is one thing that is clear from the controversy surrounding anti-doping testing and the high profile athletes that have been caught in the crossfire, it is that both sides are equally adamant about their stances. Many athletes believe the system is unfair and that anti-doping agencies are out to get them based on a few athletes who actually do cheat. The anti-doping agencies believe that they have to take seriously every instance of illegal doping that is brought to their attention in order to maintain the cleanliness of athletes who compete. Which side is the winner? In many cases, it seems, neither side wins.