Last week in this Column I asked the question: Should past cycling dopers continue to benefit from the sport they cheated?
It was prompted by hearing that Stuart O’Grady, one of Australia’s best-loved and most successful cyclists and a confessed doper, was to be a co-host in the new SBS Bike Lane program which started last Sunday.
I argued the sport of cycling needs a stronger message to counter the current dominant impression about it – that cheats ultimately prosper. I made a plea for Australian cycling to distance itself from ex-dopers, and send a clear message that this sport does not welcome cheats.
In response to my piece, a handful of people got in touch to register their agreement, including ex-elite riders, some random cycling fans, and even the President of Mountain Bike Australia, Russell Baker – himself a vocal critic on the use of past dopers to promote cycling today.
By comparison, the lack of official response so far has been telling.
Virtual silence from cycling media
Before posting my piece last week, I offered it to a well-known cycling media outlet. They declined, not wanting to single O’Grady out when they had done past interview pieces with ‘known dopers’ who never tested positive or made admissions. They didn’t want to appear hypocritical.
Matt Keenan, a high profile cycling commentator and the main person behind the new SBS Bike Lane show, tweeted a link to my piece and opened it up for debate, asking his more than 12,000 Twitter followers for their thoughts. The subsequent public reply tweets I saw contained mixed views about the use of O’Grady in the new SBS show.
Now, this issue didn’t exactly trend big on social media. But the reaction is interesting, especially when viewed alongside the public sentiment in online comments pages when the O’Grady admission first surfaced two years ago. Back then, many cycling fans were bitterly disappointed with O’Grady, and felt betrayed by their one time hero.
For this reason alone, you’d think there would be some official commentary from SBS to explain to cycling fans why O’Grady has been given the opportunity to once again be a part of the Australian cycling story. O'Grady has been a very significant figure in the sport, and his 2013 admission to EPO use was a big moment for Australian cycling.
SBS have an increasingly important role in Australia as the leading public broadcaster of cycling news, and race coverage including the big Australian races and the pro-cycling World Tour’s monument races – Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and the like. The SBS organisation has a responsibility to think carefully about the power and reach of the messages it sends about cycling - especially where doping is concerned.
To be fair, some at SBS appear willing to explore the issues I have raised - Philip Gomes an Editor and Producer at SBS Cycling Central, also tweeted about my column piece last week, inviting me to participate in a Cycling Central podcast. The discussion we had in that will be available online later today.
And it may also be the case that the Bike Lane program plans to discuss this matter when Stuart O'Grady’s 3-show co-hosting spot actually begins - on 14 June. I think they should speak to it. Time will tell.
But a key point here is I shouldn’t be the only one highlighting these matters now.
The public discussion around the decision to welcome Stuart O’Grady back as a co-host of the Bike Lane program, and related questions that arise around doping prevention messages in cycling, should be led by those parties responsible for the Australian cycling story - i.e. cycling media, Cycling Australia, and the cycling fraternity itself.
Silence from Cycling Australia
Again, because of the past public reaction to O’Grady’s admission to EPO use, and the persistent trouble cycling has had with drugs and doping, you might also think that the sport’s peak governing body in this country would have a position on the O’Grady SBS Bike Lane issue.
But so far, nothing from Cycling Australia (CA).
Instead, and what seems even stranger to me, the CA CEO Nick Green actually appeared on the first episode of the SBS Bike Lane in a segment called the ‘hot lap’. Since then, CA has also been promoting the program to its huge follower base on social media.
Surely someone at CA would have seen the potential problem here. The organisation does have an Ethics and Integrity panel after all. Doesn’t Green’s appearance on a TV cycling program to be co-hosted by a confessed doper present a possible image problem? What message does this send to cycling fans about CA’s stance on drugs and doping in this sport?
Again, such questions should not go unaddressed.
Time for clear messages on drugs in cycling
Let me make it clear, I am not saying that Stuart O’Grady is the main problem in all of this. His short spot on the SBS Bike Lane program certainly won’t be the downfall of Australian cycling. O’Grady is merely the tip of the iceberg, and the wider issues here around media messages on doping and the leadership of cycling’s governing bodies are of much greater significance.
I think CA and its State/Territory affiliated organisations need to adopt an unambiguous stance against doping – a stance which should include an honest public discussion about how the sport responds to the riders who have cheated it. A discussion is needed on what messages about Australian cycling are acceptable. It is time for CA to show the leadership on this issue that Australian cycling deserves.
Some of the cycling media in Australia could also take a more considered and ethical stance on this issue. Instead, they become part of the problem every time they pay an ex-doper for appearances or opinions, every time they interview an ex-doper and not take a critical stance on the past, and every time they gloss over the doping issue in preference for a story and set of photographs to sell.
Most of all, I think the SBS Bike Lane in particular should not continue to let O’Grady’s public return to cycling go unexplained. If it does, cycling fans will fill in the gaps on this for themselves – and the conclusion most will reach here is there is tacit approval of champions who use banned substances. The message this leaves us with is cheats ultimately win in cycling.
I’d ask Cycling Australia and the Australian cycling media: Is that the message about cycling you want to see going unchallenged? Is this a message you want in front of junior cyclists?
If there is an alternative message here, then Australian cycling fans deserve to hear it so that we know in clear terms what we are seeing, and where this sport is heading.
Why all the fuss?
You might wonder why I’m persisting with this issue now. Australian cycling is not in the middle of a doping scandal. And some in cycling have said the elite levels of the sport are cleaner now than in the past.
In my view this is precisely the right time to act, when there is relative calm and space to consider the issues and identify opportunities for clear doping prevention messages. Knee jerk reactions in times of crisis never go well.
I feel strongly that ambiguous public messages about drugs and doping in cycling should be challenged. It’s just a shame that Cycling Australia and the leaders of cycling media in this country are not leading the push.
People against drugs and doping in Australian cycling
That’s why I am starting a petition on this issue (see below) – an effort to challenge the message that cheats ultimately prosper in this beautiful sport.
This is just a small gesture. It would work much better if a well-known identity in the world of cycling, a rider of the calibre of Cadel Evans, a past Olympian, or a past Australian Champion was leading this push.
But the chances of that happening are slim. The Australian cycling fraternity doesn’t like to rock the boat. It prefers to let sleeping dogs lie. As one ex-elite Australian cyclist said to me when I asked for his view on the petition, “I think it would be difficult for riders to sign…for me it would be political suicide”.
I acknowledge this is a tricky issue for Australian cycling. But I believe it is time to act anyway.
I will make sure that Cycling Australia and affiliated organisations, and the relevant Australian cycling media see this piece. And in time, I will send the petition below to Cycling Australia with however many signatures I do receive – be it 10, 100, or 1000.
To sign the petition, please comment below or email me direct.
PEOPLE AGAINST DRUGS AND DOPING IN AUSTRALIAN CYCLING
We, the undersigned, want an honest public discussion about drugs and doping in cycling.
We call on Cycling Australia and the Australian cycling media to:
- adopt an unambiguous reasoned stance against doping in cycling; and
- take a lead in future discussions on how we can challenge the current perception that ‘cheats can and do prosper in this sport’.
For the future of cycling, the development of junior cyclists, and the protection of current riders, no more drugs and doping in cycling.