Why I think WTC made the right choice about Lance, even if it was wrong

7V7C1399

Late last week when the world once again came crashing down on Lance, there was probably only group aside from Livestrong that was just as fraught as Armstrong: The World Triathlon Corporation, owner of the Ironman brand.

As you probably know, Lance and WTC signed an agreement earlier in the year that has since placed Lance racing Ironman branded events, which in theory would have kicked into overdrive with what was planned to be his first full-distance Ironman race this upcoming weekend – Ironman France.  All in his quest for Kona.

Of course, that won’t be happening now (at least, Ironman France anyway).  And despite what the mainstream media has incorrectly stated – Lance hasn’t been banned from triathlon.  Rather, very specifically, he’s currently blocked from competing in any WTC-branded events.  This is due to a rule that WTC has in place that prohibits any athlete under investigation from competing in a WTC-branded event.  For the most part, that means basically any Ironman branded 70.3 or 140.6 even (in theory, it would also mean some of those 5i50 events, but that would require them not to be cancelled).  Oh, and I guess Ironkids events too.

This does not mean he’s banned from triathlon.  That’s because USAT (USA Triathlon) has no such rule in effect.  However, in the case of Ironman-branded events, they operate in a weird parallel universe in many places – with rules and regulations being the most notable differentiators.  For example, WTC events have different officiating rules that must be followed. And in the case of dealing with athletes under investigation, they have different rules as well – hence why Lance is unable to race further.

As you may have heard, there was supposed to have been a WTC press release at 8AM Eastern last Friday, however that announcement was pushed until much much later in the day.  In its place, the WTC board met to discuss whether or not to change their existing rule which prohibits athletes under investigation from competing in events. 

If changed, the ruling would have enabled Lance to continue his quest for Kona in October.  Keeping in mind that in order for Lance to compete at Kona he needs to accumulate qualifying points by August in order to race in October.  Without further racing, Lance can’t compete in October. It’s as simple as that (actually, there is an exemption process, but WTC has previously stated they wouldn’t use it for Lance).

Now, the biggest issue here is the rule itself, not the lack of change to the rule.  The rule in effect presumes guilt over innocents.  Especially in the cases of lack of hard evidence (the fancy term for this is a non-analytic positive).  One only need to look at the case of Michi Weiss, a Pro Triathlete in an oddly similar situation with about the same timeframes and circumstances (for him, based on allegations of doping years earlier in mountain biking).  In his case, his NADA case against him was dropped just two weeks prior to Kona (though, another case a year later found him guilty).

Many of the pro triathletes that have voiced their opinions on the matter seem to be against the rule itself, since many see it as an opportunity to be sidelined for a season or longer while the applicable anti-doping agency ponders the meaning of life.  Oftentimes, these investigations can take months, if not years.  Ultimately these can kill the careers of the athletes, even if innocent or dropped.

7V7C1629

Now, the interesting thing here is that WTC almost goes as far as saying they know they’re wrong, but that they can’t change the rules mid-stream.  And that’s where I agree with them.

See – I do believe that Lance is good for the sport of triathlon.  I don’t want to get into the past, because honestly, this chart kinda says it all.  I’m pretty much in realism the camp that everyone in the sport was doping (at least everyone near the top).  It’s just a matter of whether you’ve been caught yet.

Looking at triathlon, the interest generated by Lance has been tremendous – and I think that’s good for the sport, but more importantly, good for the pro athletes.  Today, there are perhaps less than a dozen (if that) pro triathletes in the sport that can earn a full income directly and solely from their winnings and sponsorship deals.  But more attention to the sport increases winnings and sponsorship deals, and the reality is that Lance is bringing that attention.  If this means that 3-5 years from now we’ll see a bigger crop of up and coming triathletes that can realistically and financially make a career out of it, then I think that’s awesome.

(As a brief side note and bit of social media advice to Pro Triathletes: I’ve seen some of you embrace Lance (cool, but not required), some of you good naturedly trade pre-race banter (can be funny, and cool), and then some of you make snide Lance remarks via Facebook/Twitter/etc (I’ll refrain from naming names).  But see, in general, snide remarks don’t make you look good – even if you’re right.  Unless it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious, it only makes you look petty.  You turn off Lance-supporters (which, btw, is the majority of folks out there) – and in turn gain only a microdot of agreement/support.  It’s simple political ROI math.  Do you win three new followers, or lose 20?  This is your time to attract new people curious about the sport that may hear about you in a race and look you up.  It may be your one and only random moment you end up on ESPN or the 6PM evening news, perhaps (or perhaps not) simply due to being in the same story as Lance.  Don’t let someone who goes from ESPN to your Twitter feed find that single snide comment about Lance, it just doesn’t make you look good. Just my two cents.)

So if I think that the right decision is for WTC to change the rule – why am I against it?  Because, it needs to happen at the end of the season.  As wrong and painful as it may feel now, rules shouldn’t be changed mid-stream or mid-game.  Doing so would only encourage folks to say that WTC was bending to Lance.  Additionally, it opens the can of worms for the future – “You did it for Lance, why not me (fill in the blank pro triathlete)?”.  And for once, as much as WTC will take heat for their lack of bending, I think they made the right call.

Now, it’s an entirely different thing to say that the rule was dumb to begin with (because I believe it is).  But in my mind, changing the rule only furthers what everyone else seems to do – which is to change things for Lance because it means more money in their pockets.  For once, someone actually didn’t.  Again, even if it sucks. A lot.

But you know what’s an odd benefit out of all of this?  There’s now an opportunity for a lot of non-Ironman branded events to show the world what they’re made of.  The Rev3’s of the world now have their chance to try and woo Lance into racing their event (since he’s permitted to race USAT events), and bring attention to the non-Ironman branded events that are just as good (and sometimes better).  Remember, at the end of the day, ESPN doesn’t really care that it’s an Ironman branded event – they’ll likely hose up the nomenclature anyway, they just care that it’s Lance racing.  And, all we should care about is that it’s someone racing, perhaps for once ignoring corporate race brands and focusing on the race and the athletes.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading!

31 Comments

  1. I could not agree more about some of the nasty comments I've seen from some other pros/coaches online. It does not make them look good and while I know they don't care, does not make me think highly of them.

    Reply
  2. While there's a strong US Armstrong fand base, don't underestimate the Armstrong hate camp overseas, for good and bad reasons...

    Reply
  3. Surely any triathlon taking him on at the moment would be taking a massive risk? Maybe short term gain but long term people will see that you sold out integrity for cash.

    Reply
  4. "As wrong and painful as it may feel now, rules shouldn’t be changed mid-stream or mid-game. Doing so would only encourage folks to say that WTC was bending to Lance."

    If this were a law that presumed guilt over innocence or otherwise abridged someone's liberties, would you want the government to wait until the next legislative/judicial term to overturn it, or would you prefer to see action taken immediately? For a recent (and perhaps more politically sensitive) example, think "Don't Ask Don't Tell." It was (in my opinion) a senseless policy that was allowed to remain in place far too long. Were it not for executive action, that policy would still be in force.
    NOTE:: Lest someone try to make this into a political debate, the latter Bush administration took a similar approach to national security issues that it believed infringed Constitutional separation of powers. Insert that example in place of my earlier one, should you prefer it.

    I recognize the concern that a change in the rule could be seen as favouring Lance, but few unfair policies are changed without their first adversely affecting someone with the will and influence to inspire change. This was an opportunity for WTC to admit that the policy is wrong and to act accordingly. If they had owned up to it, I think the backlash would have been limited, but we're unlikely to find out.

    Reply
  5. I wonder what the WTC-Armstrong contract says regarding competing in a Rev3 event if DQed from all WTC. Could be an opportunity for Rev3 to take advantage of the situation, invite a bunch of pro's and designate one of their events as a world championship. We may see a Lance, Macca, Crowie shootout after all.

    Reply
  6. I hope that Rev3 or maybe a new major tri series (Livestrong?) take advantage of this opportunity. WTC/Ironman put on good events, even if they have poorly thought out policies, but competition is healthy. I for one intend to boycott IM races for a while, and I have done many of them.

    Reply
  7. Ben

    Challenge already said no to lance on facebook, and Im hoping the same will happen with Rev3. The last thing we need is Lance racing for a short moment, but the integrity goes out the window especially if Lance gets banned and podiums need to be reset.

    Reply
  8. I agree with your article. However, with Lance hoping to waste as little energy as possible before Kona (the only reason he did a few extra 70.3 races was to get much needed data on fueling & pacing), doing races that do not get him points are not on his agenda. For instance, as much as I'd love to see him race Philly next weekend, doing a few extra races will likely turn him off his Kona goal for the year. Seeing him duke it out in a Rev3 with the top guys would be awesome, but with Lance, just like the TDF, it's Kona or nothing.

    Reply
  9. What would Lance gain by racing Rev 3? He'd empty his tank and I'm sorry, they just do not have the fire power or lure of Kona.

    He'd be better served to wait it out, hope WTC changes the rule and come back next year.

    I wonder what NBC will do if he does not make Kona since they moved up the airing and dedicated more time for Lance.

    Guilty, not guilty... it's irrelevant at this point and I think the haters need to stop bringing up new charges on him and let him live his life. Move on.

    Reply
  10. Gee Ray sad you weighed in on the argument mate, as it's evening here in Australia an I've had a few too many wines...to have a whine right now I'll reread in the morning...hoping it is not as silly and sensational then as now Goodnight

    Reply
  11. Where can I get a race suit like Lance is wearing and how much does it cost to have your coach run along with you.

    PJM

    Reply
  12. Anonymous

    Just wonder, how race times have dropped since LA announced that he will do Triathlons or competed in Triathlons.
    ...

    Reply
  13. Don

    I haven't been following this story and didn't know anything about it until just reading your post.

    I am in 100% agreement with you. I hate the rule changing mid-stream. I'm a big Formula 1 fan and I find it deplorable that mid-way through the season, they change the rules. Happens all the time...

    Thank you for your post and the information.

    Don in Baltimore

    Reply
  14. Anonymous

    well said edward

    Reply
  15. Real world parallels (at least where I'm from) -

    1. Teaching: a teacher is accused of wrong doing (e.g. sexual interference with a student); they are immediately put on "administrative leave", pending the results of inquiry.

    2. Policing: an officer is accused of wrong doing (e.g. professional misconduct); they're put on "desk duty", pending the results of inquiry.

    We accept these "presumed guilty until proven innocent" approaches because we hold teachers and police officers to a high standard.

    For an organization (like WTC) to maintain credibility, you have to hold your members (pro athletes) to higher-than-normal standards. So, if someone is under investigation - it is the best course of action, to exclude that person from competition.

    The real issue is not whether or not WTC is holding Armstrong back, the real issue is whether or not it's fair for USADA or WADA to file such "damaging charges" with a slightly different "burden of proof" than is required by generally accepted legal requirements.

    Reply
  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply
  17. ERR

    Sorry Phil,

    I think you are comparing appples to oranges and I disagree.

    Pro athletes are not in a position to continue to harm people who can't defend themselves, as a guilty cop or teacher would be in your example, and PED useage is not the same as shooting a suspect or abusing a child.

    This is a rule that should absolutely be changed, right now. If it were how the race was scored I would say wait until the end of season, but it is not.

    This isn't about adding instant replay in the second half of a game or season because of a bad call.

    This rule is essentially allowing USADA to end the career of an athlete without proof or cause. They can drag out investigations like this for as long as they want.

    WTC should repeal this rule and allow athletes to continue to race and accumulate points while "under investigation", they can always strike the athlete from the records if they are found guilty later.

    That is not a "Lance" thing, it is a fairness thing.

    And bear in mind, this is not WTC or USADA claiming a positive drug test was just submitted, this is a rehash of old charges that were already dropped by the Justice Department because there was not enough evidence to proceed.

    Lance is a polarizing figure, but whether you love him or hate him, he has operated within the rules of the sport he participated in until he retired.

    Maybe he doped, maybe he didn't. At this point it does not matter, he was never caught.

    Those with vendettas should find some other way to justify their lives and jobs, and drop the charade. This is old news, and we already know the outcome.

    Since he is still active in racing test him as hard as you can if you think he is cheating, but USADA needs to leave the years old claims alone, at this point it is just petty bitterness.

    Reply
  18. Anonymous

    You have to be in Germany to understand how pro-cycling is despised because of the doping. And this was before Ulrich was confirmed in Feb for an earlier offence. It damages sport, sponsors, athletes, and their competitors.
    You want triathlon to be free of this you have to support stringent, even harsh, measures.

    For those of us old enough to remember, there is little doubt that USPostal were doping when Lance was riding with them - its better not to let this investigation damage the sport.

    Dave

    Reply
  19. Jah

    Great points totally agree. I think that these regulatory bodies need to be principled especially in this day in age with so much doping. The lack of credibility that the tour has gotten may or may not have hurt the sport but the rampant use of drugs has called past wins for many athletes into question which is sad.

    Patience is key here to allow WTC to do the right thing and get Lance racing in due time and fairness to other athletes. I'd love to see a highly competitive kona with lance in it as well. Love your blog!

    Reply
  20. I've written about this on my blog but I disagree with you. If you admit to it being a 'wrong or bad' rule..CHANGE it. NOW! When you're in a whole, stop digging. How does the WTC (confirmation) ruling do anything positive? It robs all the fans of an epic race. It robs Lance of one of his dwindling years remaining as a premier athlete. People will boycott WTC. It tarnishes triathlon for getting bogged down into old battles (that have no bearing on present performances anyhow).

    There is no integrity in 'staying the course' when you're off track. Fixing a problem ASAP should be paramount. I agree with Edward above.

    Reply
  21. I agree with you. No changes mid-stream. But there is also another point of view on this. Why is this file always on agenda. Why do we need to be the hostage of it? What is behind all that? I think it is a great shame for the sport itself and if USADA will find him quilty is also a kind of death of cyclism. Lance (although I think he is not so innocent) is still a great sport hero and his achivements are inspiration to many. He is not a profesional cyclist no more and I think he is not going to win many triathlon races as well, but his popularity can do a lot for sport and this is what counts. Overseas (Europe) he might have even more supporters than in USA. Even now, when he is not "active" anymore.

    Reply
  22. Nick

    No change of rule in mid season, it would be unfair to others. Dopers don't harm others, but they do steal. Not just to other clean competitor but also to sponsors. Imagine if its your money they re stealing. There is a chance that cheaters will cheat again if they don't get caught or nobody knows how to catch them. We all know dopers are ahead of detection methods. <3 this blog.

    Reply
  23. I disagree with the premise. So a high profile doper is okay because he brings a lot of attention and $$ to a sport. The whole presumed guilty argument is weak also. Someone said comparing teacher and police to pro triathletes is apple to oranges. Guess what so is comparing a crime to doping allegations. No one's liberty is at stake.

    Seems the triathlon crowd is missing the bigger picture (clearly by these post). Doping should be dealt with harshly.
    The reactions, rationalization, excuses make me sick. I mean why not let dopers compete...especially of they are famous, the are in the twilight of their career, they make a deal with the organizers, are fans favorites. Who care I mean as long as there is the exposure for the "sport" then anything goes.

    Reply
  24. What ERR and ConArtist said x 100000000000. If I refused to change a rule everybody acknowledges a crap until next year, especially then the change *benefits* the stakeholders, I'd be looking for a new job tomorrow. To refuse to make this change is chickensh!t

    Reply
  25. Doping is a tricky issue with many faces, several comments.

    You have been training very hard to become a professional cyclist. It is your choice for a profession and the only thing you have prepared for. Then here is your first professional contract, but there are a couple of clauses that look a bit nasty. What would most people do? I am sure it works this way. After all the years of preparation, you suddenly realize its either doping or being an amateur.

    I think the comparison with teachers and polices has valid points, as elite sportsmen are an inspiration and set an example to kids. Nowadays many of them take dope just to go to the gim, because it is what their idols do.

    In most elite sports it is a farce. We know the athletes are all on dope, it is just who gets caught. Many times the one they are after is the one that gets caught. I wonder what the TdF 2010 results would be had all the cyclists blood samples been tested in the more strict facilities Contador's blood samples where tested at? (several orders of magnitude more precise)

    Sports authorities have no moral authority. Take the Olympic Committee, why did they agree with the US Basketball team to exempt the team from anti-doping tests in Beijing? The reasoning was there was a huge market for basketball in China and it was worth taking the top NBA stars. Apparently the market for ethics was not that high.

    Reply
  26. I do not think you have to abolish the rule. The WTC made the rule. They interpret the rule. All rules and their application to particular cases are subject to interpretation. In light of the lack of any alleged positive tests, the fact that all alleged doping never took place during any Triathlons and the fact that it was years ago, lend themselves to an interpretation that the rule was not intended for cases like Lance's- which we can all agree is extremely unique. I am doubfounded by the lack of thought and creativity by the WTC. They are making a huge mistake. It's like watching a person drive a car off a cliff. There is always a way to steer the car away from the cliff- the WTC should have done the same thing. It is sad.

    Reply
  27. ERR

    First, to Mike the Harrier, Lance is not a "doper". He has never been convicted, only accused, so a "doper" is not being banned from competition.

    Allegations do not make someone guilty, no matter how much we want them to be. So all those other top cyclists were caught doping? Does that really mean Lance, and any other top rider HAS to be a doper too?

    Maybe Jan Ulrich and the others doped to recover from some injury, illness or super hard effort and that is when they were caught. Maybe they weren't able to hang with top riders and doped just to keep up.
    Maybe maybe maybe. I know, because Ulrich and Hamilton and Contador doped, the entire pro peleton MUST be doping too. Who cares that they have never tested positive, lets ban them all and start over.

    I am not defending Lance because he is Lance. I don't know him, never will, and don't care. I am defending Lance because he has not been convicted of anything. And he won't be convicted now either, at least not fairly.

    You see, his samples need to be positive, and then confirmed positive again. You can't do that now, because they are using the confirmation samples only since the originals were already tested and found "clean" years ago.

    Part of the argument made in the OP is about not changing the rules in the middle of the game. Well during the game, Lance (and all others who were not caught doping) operated within the parameters set at the time. Now USADA just can't leave it alone and is continuing the witch hunt, but for what end?

    Don't say "integrity of sport", because there is no such thing. The point to professional sports is to win, using any and all advantages you can.

    Sometimes that means training all year for one race, sacrificing results in others.

    Sometimes that means using new technology, like aerobars, wind tunnels and dimple suits.

    Sometimes it means sleeping in O2 tents, moving to high altitudes and taking super expensive supplements.

    And yes, sometimes it means illegal PED.

    You know what? A few years ago when all the MLB and cycling stuff came about, I was angry and felt cheated, but I am over it, and we should all move on.

    The technology and medical science of today means you can not compare today's athletes to the ones our parents and grandparents cheered for, so that argument is moot.

    "Because my kids look up to them" is also BS. Raise your own kids people, don't leave it up to athletes, many of whom are not the nicest people on or off the playing field to begin with. In fact many pro athletes have been caught DUI or found guilty of domestic violence. Are you ok with your kids looking up to them as long as they don't cheat at sports? Do yourself and you kids a huge service, and provide all the examples they need, and have them look to you as their personal hero.

    Finally, if they want to dope, I say let them. Find a way to make it legal, and provide access for all athletes if they choose.

    Are you really willing to pay money to watch "normal" people compete? If so I have tickets to my Sunday softball games for sale.

    Cheaters have always been in sport, the better ones are idolized in various Halls of Fame. If they are dumb enough to get caught, then punish them. Those that don't get caught amaze and delight millions of people. And sometimes the seriously gifted aren't cheating even when many of their cohorts are.

    You know Lance's biggest problem? You can't prove a negative. He tested clean every time, but some allegations and the fact that some other top riders were caught is more than enough for a great many people to decide he must be guilty. No amount of clean tests will ever convince them otherwise.

    That is pretty sad.

    Reply
  28. Love the side note...reminds me of the mantra if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything!

    Reply
  29. Rae

    Nicely done, and I completely agree with you. The policy may need to be revised, but people need to remember that racing is a priveledge and not a right. lance signed the same document that all pro's signed outlining the policies-what would it say if WTC made an exception just for him? Way to post well on a controversial topic.

    Reply
  30. tri

    To the USADA six and why you lost the presumption of innocence...blame all the ones who lied and then confessed. They stole it from you.

    Reply
  31. Has anyone else been suspended like this from a WTC event?

    If so, changing the rules mid-season would be pretty unfair for them. "We'll change it for Lance, but not the rest of you suckers."

    Agree with leaving the rules in place at least until the end of the season - and before saying 'they have to go', i think one should research why they were implemented in the first place.

    Also agree that pro athletes are on a higher standard, and have more responsibility. As for Lance doping, i find it hard to believe so many around him were caught doping, and yet he beat them 'clean'. They must be the world's worst dopers if Lance is clean.

    Reply

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
If you would like a profile picture, simply register at Gravatar, which works here on DCR and across the web.

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>