Saturday, July 19

Doping Controversies And The Tour De France

Doping and Tour De France have a long history together. This year too, all hopes of a dope free Tour were dashed as doping reared its ugly head with two riders testing positive. Every year the organizers and the WADA speak tough on doping, urging the cyclists to compete cleanly, but their pleas are often fallen on deaf and stubborn ears. The Tour, considered to be the holy grail of cycling, the ultimate test of human endurance, skill and spirit; has given us unforgettable performances by a select few, who have managed to make the Tour their own, until they retired. It is the stuff that legends are made of.  But cheating at the highest altar of cycling is simply not acceptable. You can find the sordid tales of doping by the cyclists and the methods they use here:

Out of curiosity I decided to dig a little deeper and here’s what I managed to cull out.

Doping refers to the use of performance-enhancing drugs to improve one’s athletic performance, a practice which is forbidden by organizations that regulate competitions.

The most rampant form of doping in the Tour’s history has been Blood Doping. It is the practice of boosting the number of red blood cells (RBCs) in the circulation in order to enhance athletic performance. Because they carry oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, more RBCs in the blood can improve an athlete’s aerobic capacity and endurance.

In the fag end of the 18th century and early 19th century, six day bicycle races had gained popularity across the Atlantic and the cyclist who managed to ride the greatest distance by staying awake for the entire six day stretch being declared the winner.

I have one word – Brutal.

This prompted rampant drug abuse among the cyclists with side effects ranging from hallucinations, insanity and even death. But in those times it was viewed that doping was necessary in order to compete in such brutal, demanding races. For more information on instances of doping, visit this link: For official information on Blood Doping from WADA, visit this link:

Pete Grathoff writing for The Kansas City Star hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “Sometimes in sports things just go together. Hot dogs and mustard. The New York Yankees and haughtiness. Blood doping and the Tour de France.”

The Cycling Union in a weak attempt to cleanse the cycling fraternity has come up with an oath. Any cyclist who undertakes this oath, the Union will attempt to make this oath binding by forcing on the cyclist who signs it; to forfeit a year's wages if they're caught cheating.

The oath taken by sportsmen and women at the pinnacle of sporting competition, The Olympics:

“In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.”

I sincerely hope that athletes after taking this hope compete cleanly and uphold the spirit of sportsmanship. With the Olympics almost knocking on our doors, this hope has turned into a prayer.

Before the start of the first road stage, tradition of the Tour De France dictates that the youngest rider in the race will read the Riders’ Oath. For the remainder of the Tour, I feverently hope that this Oath is not broken.

Only time will tell…..



  1. These controversies demonstrate that dopers are more sophisticated than those set to catch dopers, and only the unlucky actually get caught in testing. I see every reason that this will remain the case—after all, with the kind of money available for sports people at the highest level of the game, all the incentives are aligned that way. Indeed, in some sports such as cycling, not doping may well be an entry barrier at the highest levels of the sport.Right?

  2. The main ethical argument against doping is that it distorts the level playing field that sportsmen begin with. But does that level playing field exist in the first place?

  3. Most top sportsmen, especially in sports that place a premium on strength or endurance, are born with biological qualities that normal people don’t possess. For example, Lance Armstrong’s heart is one-third larger than normal, and his aerobic capacity twice that of the average person. It gives him an advantage over a cyclist with a normal body, which hardly makes for a level playing field. That’s the story in almost every sport.

    Here’s my question: if the accident of birth gives some of us certain biological advantages, is it wrong to recreate some of those same advantages using science? Why leave to chance what science can replicate?

    In fact, don’t we already do this? We take protein supplements to enhance our muscles and do altitude training to increase our count of red blood cells—then why is it ethically wrong to achieve the same ends using other means? Indeed, wouldn’t taking performance-enhancing treatment actually level the playing field in terms of physical endowments, and allow more scope for a player’s skill and character to express themselves?

    Can anyone answer plz?

  4. Yes Amit,one of the great triumphs of our species has come from using science to enhance the quality of our lives— average lifespans rose by about 30 years in the 20th century in most developing countries. This did not affect our humanity, but gave it greater scope to express itself. Why should it be any different in sport?

  5. You could look at the glass half empty and bemoan the fact that doping seems to be so widespread in sport. You could look at it half full and feel glad that the cheats are finally being caught. I believe that we’re looking at the wrong glass.

    In my view, doping in sport will be an issue no one bothers about in a couple of decades time.

    There are two reasons why I believe this. One, it will soon become impossible to catch dopers. Indeed, despite these recent busts, they are already ahead of the curve. Two, using performance-enhancing drugs will no longer seem an ethical problem. Indeed, we’ll wonder what the fuss was all about, and why we ever went around quoting Orwell on fair play.

    Before you berate me for my heresy, let me explain.

    At a practical level, the science of catching dopers hasn’t kept pace with the science of doping. Consider the recent controversies. Jones wasn’t caught in testing—her guilt was uncovered by investigative work done on the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, an American company that administered sophisticated performance-enhancing treatment to an array of sporting stars. These included Jones and various MLB and National Football League stars, most of whom never actually tested positive.

    Another huge doping scandal of recent times was OperaciĆ³n Puerto, which revolved around a doctor named Eufemiano Fuentes, who ran systematic doping services for some of the biggest names in cycling, as well as for a few tennis and football players. Most of these men never tested positive in competition either, and would not have been caught if the good doctor hadn’t been busted.

  6. Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play

  7. I was really overwhelmed by the response, sporting; especially the Tour De France is very close to my heart. Thank you all.

    @ Dhyaan

    Doping methods have become so sophisticated, it would probably require 5-10 years for the anti doping agencies to come with tests to identify them. However, I still cling on to hope that there are honest sportsmen and women in this world.

    @ Mahima

    You have a point there, with the lines between healthy competition and cheating getting increasingly blurred, I am only left with hope. Hoping for a level playing field.

    @ Amit

    There is nothing stopping us, I mean normal people striving to achieve the skill levels which some gifted sportsmen have. But why cheat to get to that level. You always have a choice, whether you cheat or slog to reach that level.

    You have rightly pointed out that in the near future, it will be almost impossible to detect those who have resorted to unfair means.

    @ Paarthana

    The very essence of sport is fair competition. Otherwise why call it sport?

  8. It is the sports persons who know the pain of doping and when it is wrongly imposed on you, you are the worst sufferer. It happened to me when I got a 2 year ban from all kinds of competitive water sports (mine was swimming) because of the "glucose" my coach had given that reportedly contained Nandroline. I was totally amazed when my blood glucose and urine tested positive for the banned substance, but I prayed to God that the perpetrators are brought to justice, as I was unaware of the fact that I was given a performance enhancing drug. That is the least you bother about just minutes before you take the plunge. I still remain the fastest 50mt. swimmer in Bengal swimming history. The record was seized away from me but was returned to me three years later when a similar incident took place at the State level competition and the same coach got caught this time. Since serving the 2 years ban, I have started swimming for Karnataka but what I feel now is those were the peaks of my career. Now as I am aging down, and I feel I am at least another 3 more years left in me, I will say to my fellow swimmers--- Look before you Leap.


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