Such are the times, that I’ve noticed people are getting to my blog with a google search about doping in Scottish cycle races, so there’s obviously some interest in it, probably my Dr Leinders article has caused these links to my blog. I’ll put across my opinion on this, based on what I’ve seen & not seen over a good number of years.
Do we have a doping problem in Scotland?
With the growing number of professional riders very publically admitting doping, this does turn everybody’s thoughts to what might be happening at home, an understandable result of widespread professional doping for a long number of years. I’ve been involved in clubs, teams & racing for many years, including close contact with a large number of people who would likely be ‘in the know’, but as far as Scottish domestic racing goes, I’ve never heard anything worse than “he’s flying, must be on drugs”, often in a lighthearted manner. We did have a couple of very low-key positives in the 90’s, but other than that it’s almost unheard of in Scottish racing. But it’s easy to assume that there’s ‘nothing to see here, move along’ & dismiss all possibilities of our sport being tarnished, but can we be sure that there are no ‘bad apples’ in our local event?
I’d guess that there are some riders doing some things they’d prefer others not to know, but I’d also a guess that those riders are possibly not the ones you’d be thinking would be the likely culprits. Our ‘recent’ professional history of riders who would most definitely have been exposed to doped riders would point to people like Brian Smith, his October 2012 interview in the Mail really describes his decisions and the consequence of that, it’s worth a read, the culture was such that he refused drugs & it probably resulted in an end to his continental pro career. I’ve also talked to another former Scottish pro who had raced in Italy & was laughed at by local amateurs for not being ‘kitted up’. Our current prominent riders are not at a point where they don’t have an alternative career choice, if you think about those individuals, if they lose cycling they can still survive, (possibly on more money) do they really need to dope, I doubt it. This all tends to make me think that the doping culture in Scotland does not exist at the successful end of racing over at least the last 30 years at least, it leads me to believe something quite different.
A cultural problem?
Human-beings cheat, it’s part of how people operate, it permeates all society & we’re judged on the level of cheating that we employ. For most people’s cheating is very far outside what would be classed as real cheating in normal society, little white lies to make people feel better, driving slighlty over a speed limit etc, but some cheat in every aspect of their life for personal gain or many other reasons. Cycling is such an inclusive sport that your cycling club most likely includes people from all parts of society, we undoubtably have plenty of character types who would be prepared to cheat in cycling, but are they actually cheating in our sport?
What’s to gain?
There are shortcuts to everything, the value of those shortcuts really depends on your perspective & your morality. If you cheat in sport you’re doing very different things at different sporting levels, cheating in professional sport is removing somebody elses ability to earn money, taking people’s dreams away, while cheating in the lower levels of sport can often be attributed to an ego boost, a lack of perceived success in the rest of your life, but not financial gain.
In the US, there have been a large number of ‘Masters’ racers caught doping, these have been relatively wealthy individuals who don’t see cheating as a bad thing, perhaps the gym culture of drug use is also a key factor, they don’t actually see it as cheating. Most of us would agree that taking substances in order to enhance muscle growth, increase cell regeneration & blood manipulation is taking things a bit too far, but some see this as part of sport. The ‘vanity doping’ culture is likely already a very small part of sport in Scotland, there must surely be individuals who know how to acquire these drugs from a gym or a Chinese website and use them to cheat you out of placings.
Cheating in the cut throat world of professional cycling is something quite different, we can imagine the huge pressure on a rider, who giving up schooling & everything else in their lives at an early age comes to a crossroads, dope & keep their job, feed their family and get on with life, or try to get a job with no other experience of life in the real world, what would you do? For those riders they don’t see a choice, they have no other career choices, cycling is their life and their sole earning power, it’s almost inevitable that they’ve been taken advantage of in the past. We like to glamorize cycling, but to many riders who are not the stars, they are simply surviving, it’s their job, nothing else. We can possibly empathise to some extent with these riders, it’s still wrong, but we can understand their choices however much we despise them. Hopefully cycling has been given a wake up call and the forces that applied the pressure are slowly being removed, although many teams are still run by questionable individuals with no mechanism or seemingly no impetus to remove them from a position where they can exploit riders. But with rising professional earning, is this still really the case, can we assume that there are riders with would be ‘honourable’ reasons to dope, possibly not.
Without a widespread & hugely costly domestic testing regime there really isn’t much you can do about amateur doping, but it’s highly unlikely for this to become a major problem, just a few individuals who don’t respect themselves, you, or their sport. The riders at a higher level will get tested, with what looks like a much-needed & much better funded testing programme on the cards in the future. We can only go out there and do what we enjoy, that’s riding a bike, which on occasion is riding a bike really fast, don’t let any potential dopers worry you, they’re the real losers.