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Hoberman Q&A: Outlining corruption, doping collusion at the IOC, UCI

  • By Mark Johnson
  • Published Jan. 4, 2013
  • Updated Jan. 4, 2013 at 5:13 PM EDT
Dr. John Hoberman sees a long, sordid history limiting current efforts to clean up cycling and world sport. Photo: Gerry McManus | Change Cycling Now


VN: Having met with them, what is your take on the people CCN brought together? Do they have the credibility and experience to make permanent change happen?
JH: The CCN group has tremendous credibility and experience to apply to the huge problem of changing the culture of professional cycling. And credibility and experience are what it will take to solve this problem. At the same time, the corruption, hard and soft, of certain international federations, including the UCI, has produced an attitude of cynicism and resignation in a lot of people, including some of the journalists who shape the attitudes and expectations of the sporting public. That attitude did not, however, prevail at the CCN meeting. We think change is possible.

A lot of the fatalism about doping that is floating around in the sports world infects people who then give up and use that as an excuse to stop thinking about how the doping system works. The whole point of CCN is to think hard about what can be done on behalf of clean athletes. By the way, there is no party line in CCN, so I will not hesitate to express my own view that scaling down the financial incentives (and thus the business opportunities) in cycling will be part of any solution that works. You can’t keep the old business model that pressures and scapegoats cyclists and transform cyclists’ attitudes toward doping at the same time.

VN: Is the CCN group naive to the complexities of society’s attitudes toward PEDs in public and private life? For example, was the panel aware of the degree to which national sporting bodies can be influenced by sportive nationalism when enacting anti-doping policies?
JH: The December 2-3 CCN meeting and press conference were primarily concerned with how this group could intervene in the politics of cycling in a constructive way. It was not an academic discussion of the complexities of the doping problem. Nevertheless, you have raised the issue of sportive nationalism, a mindset that has driven many governments to promote or tolerate doping practices that can win medals in international competitions. In fact, sportive nationalism is not that relevant to cycling due to the competition among teams that recruit riders from various countries, depending on their ability rather than their nationality. A professional cycling team is a small-business enterprise rather than a national entity.

As for societal attitudes toward performance-enhancers in general, the fact is that our modern technology-based civilization is riding a wave of enhancements that will roll through the 21st century and beyond. Testosterone gels are being marketed on American television like sun tan lotion. There are plastic surgeries, erectile dysfunction drugs, stay-awake drugs for shift-workers (Provigil), tranquilizers and antidepressants for busy professional lives, anabolic steroids for police officers, soldiers and action-film stars, energy drinks for everyone wiling to risk caffeine poisoning and heart trouble. I’ve spent years wondering whether these developments outside the sports world will simply overwhelm any efforts we make to prevent sports from being absorbed into this cultural dynamic.

Calls to legalize sports doping are one response to this predicament. I do not endorse the legalization of doping because I think this would produce socially harmful consequences about which the legalizers are either unaware or unconcerned. How many parents will want to send their athletically talented children into a sports culture that has officially embraced needles and blood bags? How much farther do we want to push the corruption of sports medicine? Where does this leave the conscientious objectors who will not dope under any circumstances? Don’t we want to keep them in sport? When will the doping enthusiasts wake up to the fact that doping drugs do not confer equal advantages on biologically diverse populations of athletes? Finally, why should we abandon the healthy values sport can represent and promote among people of all ages? Because there are “ethicists” who enjoy the idea of transforming high-performance sport into a science fiction scenario? No, thank you. Those of us for whom sport has provided comradeship, physical well-being, and an opportunity to develop self-respect will not go down that road.

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Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

Writer-photographer Mark Johnson's work has been published in titles including VeloNews in the United States, Cycling Weekly in the UK, Vélo in France, and Ride Cycling Review in Australia as well as general-interest publications including The Wall Street Journal and the San Diego Union-Tribune. His book on the Garmin pro team, Argyle Armada, was published by VeloPress in 2012. A Cat. 2 road cyclist, Mark has bicycled across the United States twice and completed an Ironman triathlon. He graduated from UC San Diego and has a Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University. His other passion is surfing, which he does frequently from his home in Del Mar, California. Follow him on Twitter @ironstringmark.

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