In the pantheon of crimes against humanity, I suppose David Millar’s two year ban for doping probably isn’t in there with some of things that our fair race has inflicted upon itself over the years. In sporting terms of course his behaviour was a bit naughty, but the response of the (French) authorities at the time was a little over the top and he deserved a chance to redeem himself. I don’t like the idea of lifetime bans at all.
I still think his inclusion in the GB road-race team at the Olympics does raise an issue or two however.
David Millar’s actions weren’t an aberration or a foolish one-off. Whatever pressures he was undoubtedly under at the time, he still systematically cheated. So it’s kind of odd to see him now, David Millar the outspoken anti-doping campaigner who has a lot to say about the subject. Self-righteous is what some would describe it as. And a tad hypocritical. Millar berating people in the most strident terms for something he did himself sticks in the craw a little.
Because if Millar hadn’t been caught he wouldn’t have stopped. He knows it. We all know it. There probably wouldn’t have been any crisis of conscience. The vehement and public displays of contrition appears to be self-justifying rather than particularly genuine.
And yet the idea of David Millar going to the Olympics hasn’t been met with the howls of derision that greeted Dwayne Chambers’ selection. And yet they are basically guilty of the same thing. Why the double standard?
It’s tempting to suggest that the only reason why people have responded to them both in such strikingly different ways is that subject I mentioned earlier, contrition. Millar basically hasn’t stopped going on about doping since he came back to cycling. Chambers, on the other hand, has (largely) kept his own council. He appears less remorseful. He accepted his punishment and came back at the earliest practical opportunity. There is no human interest story about him going off the rails, turning to drink, falling apart, having some kind of epiphany and coming to terms with his horrendous misdeeds during his time out of the sport, unlike Millar. In fact he tried his hand at celebrity TV and other sports and has publicly speculated whether there was any point cheating as it probably didn’t help his performances that much anyway. You have to admire the brass neck of the man in some respects.
In any case, Chambers has every right to feel aggrieved at the double standards. The Incredible Hulk-like physique he had ten years ago was clearly unnatural and highly suspicious to even the most ill-informed observer of athletics but he was allowed to get away with it for ages. No one said a word while it was expedient to celebrate his achievements and bask in his reflected glory, despite the fact he had the physique of a bodybuilder pumped to the eyeballs with steroids. The ‘athletics community’ must have known what he was up to. They chose to turn a blind eye. And those same people were the first to proclaim him the embodiment of evil when he tested positive for THG in 2003.
Loads of sprinters have clearly been cheating and haven’t been publicly crucified in the way he has. He just had the misfortune of being caught.
There are wider philosophical issues here too.
However much we like to dress up and romanticise most competitive sport, at the end of the day winning is the only thing that matters to the vast majority of the people involved. And when winning is the difference between wealth and penury (even now many lesser-known professional cyclists aren’t earning a fortune) for men and women most of whom will not have many other strings to their bow career-wise, one can see why professional athletes make decisions that we on the outside looking in think are immoral and dishonest.
It’s very different when an activity is your livelihood and not a weekend hobby and the dehumanizing aspects of modern professional sport, which is primarily driven by money, will of course affect the athletes who are involved.
So when the David Millars and Dwayne Chambers’ of this world get caught doping or taking drugs I don’t particularly want to condemn them. If anything, they are victims of a system, the sports industry with hopelessly and avariciously skewed priorities where winning is all that matters. Could I honestly say that I wouldn’t have been tempted to cheat if it had been me in their shoes and in their specific situations? No.
But what I cannot endure is David Millar’s hypocritical pontificating and hectoring. That really is just too much to take. It’s too late. You shot your bolt a long time ago son.