Wiggins the Olympian?

Early yesterday I made the mistake of visiting the clinic. It turned out that almost everyone there thought Bradley Wiggins was a doper, either due to his team’s association with Geert Leinders (ex-Rabobank team doctor) or his supposedly extra-terrestrial power output during Stage 7. It was fairly depressing reading, which was shunted back into the positive by some more rational discussion on twitter about the leaders’ power outputs: the best estimates (based on Brajkovic who lost a bit of time to Wiggins) suggested to @scienceofsport that the leaders’ performance did not imply blood manipulation. Thus I felt happier, given that I would rather not see yet another Tour de France winner popped for doping. We have had too many of those in recent years (doping is not ancient history, contrary to the impression given by some professional cyclists).

This brief happiness lasted until it became clear that Wiggins seems to think doping is a problem created by fans and media, rather than riders and their teams. We do share a joint responsibility for engaging constructively with doping, but some of the most intelligent discussion of such matters occurs on twitter, on blogs, and even in the clinic (alongside ridiculous speculation). It disappoints me that Wiggins seemed so oblivious of the opportunity he had to respond constructively as the tour leader. Athletes (Olympians especially) have a responsibility to adhere to the underyling values of their sport, and indeed promote the, in order that they set an example. Sport is not just a job for those who agree to be part of an Olympic team:

Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

IOC (2011)

Those universal fundamental ethical principles underpin anti-doping. Cheating is against the rules of Olympic sport because it goes against the core values of Olympism. The stakes here are high, if we are to believe that sport is anything more than entertainment, spectacle and commerce. Jim Parry would like to suggest that Olympic sport can have such added value, providing a role model for behaviour, particularly for the young:

I believe that providing multicultural education in and for modern democracies is a new and urgent task, and one that must be made to work if we are to secure a workable political heritage for future generations. In the present global political context, this means promoting international understanding and mutual respect; and a commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict. In the case of Olympism, I think that the formal values underpinning the rule structures of sport, acceptance of which by all participants is a pre-condition of the continuing existence of sporting competition, support at the educational and cultural levels such political efforts. Children who are brought into sporting practices, and who are aware of international competitions such as the Olympic Games and the World Cup, are thereby becoming aware of the possibilities of international co-operation, mutual respect, and mutual valuing.

Parry (2003)

Wiggins is an Olympic athlete, and should act in a way coherent with those values. If he wants us to believe, then he should be prepared to respond to what he sees as unfair criticism by reiterating his acceptance of the rules that govern the sport and acting as if he takes these rules seriously, not by swearing at anonymous critics who could simply be ignored or reacted to with factual rebuttal (the approach taken by Marco Pinotti).

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