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Lance Armstrong’s doping reflects ‘rotten’ cycling world, says Vatican official

By on Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Lance Armstrong in 2010 (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Lance Armstrong in 2010 (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

US cyclist Lance Armstrong’s admission to doping is just the tip of the iceberg, as high-stakes commercial interests pushes almost every professional cyclist into the illegal practice, a Vatican official has said.

Mgr Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alameda, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture’s “Culture and Sport” section, said: “It’s a world that is rotten, all of cycling, even soccer.”

Professional sports people “have become a commodity that are subordinate to the free market and, therefore, to profit,” he told Catholic News Service.

Instead of sports being an activity that builds important values, respects human dignity and helps shape the whole human person, “it has reduced people to merchandise”, he said.

The monsignor’s comments came the same week Armstrong appeared on US television to admit that he had used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career.

Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven consecutive times, was stripped of his titles in 2012 after he was accused of using and distributing performance-enhancing drugs. He was also banned from professional cycling for life.

Though he had denied doping, Armstrong never officially appealed against the US Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions.

Mgr Sanchez said some athletes who have confessed to doping also revealed the enormous pressure they felt to give ever-improved performances; some said they felt it was physically impossible to fulfil such high expectations without the illicit boosts.

The practice is especially rampant in cycling, he said, adding: “It’s very sad.”

Pope Benedict XVI recently condemned doping in sports and called on athletes, coaches and team owners to strive for victory through ethical and legal practices.

“Pressure to achieve important results must never drive [people] to take shortcuts as happens in the case of doping,” the Pope said during an audience with Italian Olympic and Paralympic athletes in December.

What’s at stake in the world of sports is not just a respect for the rules, but upholding the dignity of and serving the whole person, he said.

Team spirit must be channelled not only to prevent athletes from taking “these dead ends” of illegal performance-enhancement drugs or practices, the Pope said, but also to “support those who recognised they’ve made a mistake, so that they can feel accepted and helped” afterward.

  • Parasum

    What has this to do with the Vatican ? What next – a Papal endorsement of the Harlem Globetrotters ? JP2 was an honorary Globetrotter, so it could happen.

  • Mack

    Please — no “tip of the iceberg.”  There is no iceberg, only a deceptive bully.

  • Sweetjae

    I’m a cyclist myself (for recreation only) and this is a HUGE letdown. At the end of the day, he was just a cheater, liar and a bully. A good idea of putting your trust only to the Person of Christ. Viva Christo Rey!

  • Sweetjae

    For your info, The Great St. Pope John Paul II and it’s an honor to be an honorary Globetrotter.

  • John McCarthy

    It is very good to see the Vatican involved with Sport.

  • Parasum

    ” Mgr Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alameda, head of the Pontifical Council for Cultur[e]….”

    ## Why don’t priests stick to what they are ordained for, and are needed for – like offering Mass, giving retreats, spiritual, theological, and moral guidance ? How does ordination fit a man to pronounce on sport ? And why is a priest usurping the function of the laity ? How is that OK, whereas usurping priestly functions is not OK ? This is clericalism, and it is a perversion of how a priest should be have ? Priests have already played the politician, for far too long – this is no better; it degrades the priesthood. If he wants to act the layman, he should seek laicisation.

    The only advantage of this daftness, is that priests who play at being laity look so ridiculous that not to laugh is impossible. No wonder some of them like dressing as clowns.

  • Parasum

    “Great St. Pope John Paul II”

    1) That’s a joke – and a very poor one

    2) Your devotional likes or dislikes are not a rule for anyone but you

    3) He’s not been Sainted yet

    4) Call him great if you have to, but don’t expect everyone else to have that opinion of him

    5) There are plenty of reasons to think he was neither saintly or great.

    6) So it’s an honour to “to be an honorary Globetrotter” – what of it ? Did I say that it was not “an honour to “to be an honorary Globetrotter”” ? Some people may think that Popes should have better things to do than accept honours; all the more so if these supposed honours have nothing to do with being Pope. Some people think that a Pope shouldn’t be an attention whore, but ought to act as a Christian bishop. If he’d spent more time doing the work he was elected to do, he might not be so unpopular as he now is.

    Secularism is secularism, even if a Pope who is flattered rotten has his head turned by the adoration he gets. Be a JP2 fan-girl if you really must, but don’t blame the rest of us for not slobbering over him.  The lurve he got, & gets, is no different from that poured out on “pop” groups & rock “stars”. There is something of the Nuremberg Rally about the “love-in” that is World Youth Day. “WYD” is Woodstock-with-the-Pope. This is a matter for serious concern. And Rome is sure to be blind to it. :(

  • Ben Whitworth

    On the one hand, it’s a funny old world where Vatican officials feel the need to comment on a disgraced cyclist’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. On the other hand, the Monsignor has a point. One of the things that makes professional cycling unusual is the utterly businesslike way people have gone about it, not just in the Armstrong era but for decades – perhaps since the beginning. Pro cyclists are doing a job, and as they don’t generally get astronomical salaries from their teams (cf. footballers), prize money is very important. And most riders are only racing professionally for 15-20 years; in that time they need to put enough money by to set themselves up for their post-pro life – classically, by starting a bike shop. Who can blame them for doing everything the rules allow (or can be stretched to allow) to get results? And in fact, the rules in cycling have tended to be pretty minimal. It’s accepted that a lot of races are settled not by a “pure” trial of strength but by negotiation: “You help us keep our team leader in yellow, and we’ll help your sprinter win the next flat stage”, or, more crudely, “Help me win this race and I’ll split the prize money with you.” In any other sport, this would be cheating; in cycling it’s part of the business. Being a good negotiator is as much part of the skill-set as being a good climber. Doping has tended to be seen in the same business-like terms. For the first few decades of professional racing there were no drug controls, and when they were introduced they were vehemently opposed by such heroes of the sport as Jacques Anquetil. The efforts to clean up cycling in the 1990s/early 2000s were chiefly window dressing, as nobody in the sport had a better incentive to break the doping culture than they had to preserve it. EPO & blood doping gave us fast races, seemingly superhuman performances and the “perfect story” of Lance. Once again, it was all very good for business, as (Sir) Bradley Wiggins very candidly admitted when defending Armstrong only a couple of years ago. With the exposure of Armstrong as a fraud, bully and cheat, with the whole world (not just the “world” of cycling), maybe now, finally, the organisers of the sport will be incentivized to crack down on doping once & for all – and indeed there are signs that that is happening, e.g. the stripping of Lance’s titles, the lifetime ban on Dr Ferrari, the introduction of the “biological passport” tests which are much more reliable than the old blood & urine samples. Wouldn’t it be great if the Tour de France was *really* clean when it came to Yorkshire in 2014. Perhaps the riders should get their bikes blessed at Leeds Cathedral before the Grand Depart …