All sport must learn a lesson

THERE was little, surely, if anything in the Lance Armstrong interview to surprise. So much had already been learnt that the latest instalment on Saturday was merely selective confirmation. And the denials - from an admitted self-interested, serial liar - can't be assumed to be truthful anyway.

Perhaps what this event might achieve is to cause those who have for so long swallowed Armstrong's lies to ask themselves why. The evidence against him - if until recently circumstantial - has long been compelling. And it might prompt all who work in the industry of sport to confront the matter of what they can do better to seek to ensure this story is not repeated.

This is an important moment in sport's history. Each new big catch in the war on drugs brings a new level of awareness at every level. While it doesn't last, it does at least deliver a short-to-medium-term jolt. The Ben Johnson case shook a still-largely naive sporting world from its slumber. The waves spread as far afield as Australia where a parliamentary inquiry was held.

The Balco scandal has clearly had a significant impact on the psyche of some American sport in relation to performance-enhancing drugs. If you doubt that, compare the US's recent Olympic track and field sprinting results with those of a decade or more ago.

Then there was the exposure of the erstwhile East Germany's Stasi files and what they revealed of the capacity for a rogue nation's administration to systemically rort sport. At least the world is now alert to this possibility.

As an aside, if there was humour in Friday's interview it came in Armstrong's use of the history of East German drug abuse to shield himself from USADA's claim that his was the worst case yet. Here was a seriously charred pot seeking to claim some sheen by comparison with the nearby black kettle.

The name David Walsh, the Irish journalist who pursued the Armstrong story, and whose paper was sued by the cyclist, has been particularly prominent in recent days. During last week, in an interview on ABC television, he stated a couple of telling facts.

Of the period during which he investigated Armstrong, he said: ''What was astonishing was how few wanted to hear the truth at that time.'' The other ear-catching comment Walsh made was that: ''There were good people: Emma O'Reilly, Greg Lemonde, Betsy Andreu … the truth wasn't too hard to get at.'' The truth wasn't too hard to get at! What a damning indictment those words are on the Armstrong acolytes who claim they didn't know, or were misled. Too many among the sport's travelling media contingent were comfortable aboard the gravy train. Regardless of professional responsibility, they didn't want to bite the hand that fed them.

Walsh has also previously said: ''To me there was a wilful conspiracy on the part of sporting officials, journalists, broadcasters, everybody.'' Speaking for the media, I would say there are many in this industry who should hang their heads.

They have allowed themselves to be in the thrall of a superstar. That was more exciting, and more comfortable, than serving the responsibilities and ideals of their profession.

There is no place in modern sport for journalists and broadcasters to function purely as fans. This is a business and has to be treated as such. Sport has always produced those on the side of the angels, but there are plenty prepared to do the devil's work. They actively corrupt their own industry. This cannot be taken lightly and those privileged with a role in media must be always on the look-out for sport's criminals. And that - make no mistake - is what they are.

Then there are those associated with the sport whose stock response is along the lines that, ''Cycling is no worse than lots of other sports. It's just the one being picked on at the moment.'' This is a frequently heard lament to which I would respond: ''So how do you know about the other sports?''

And if you know about them, how much did you know about cycling - the sport in which you specialise - before Armstrong was caught? Why did you do nothing?'' The shame of Armstrong spreads all the way to Australia. In recent years he has been handsomely paid by South Australian taxpayers - scandalously is a better word - to compete in the Tour Down Under. That he was clearly under suspicion before arrangements for this were made does the organisers of the event no credit. That race director Mike Turtur referred on television during the week to Armstrong's ''great record … that we ought to acknowledge'' is damning. Perhaps rather than complaining that his state is entitled to its money back, SA Premier Jay Weatherill should set about providing some education for those he employs. Because even though he wasn't premier at the time, responsibility for his state paying big money to a crook rests with his administration.

The story All sport must learn a lesson first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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