When in 2012 disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong finally confessed to the most “sophisticated, professionalised and successful” doping programme the world had ever seen, he became sport’s ultimate bogeyman.
His admission that for years he took a suite of supposedly performance-enhancing drugs, most prominently erythropoietin (EPO), saw him stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and Olympic medals, his career and reputation in tatters.
So it may be with a certain queasiness that he learns today about the results of ground-breaking new research which suggests his prolonged campaign of abuse was pointless – because EPO confers no advantage at all.
If this is true then he did it all himself, thus gets the titles back, no?
Well, no, obviously not. He attempted to cheat which is enough. But logically, if EPO doesn’t work, then those wins are legit as efforts at least, even if not by the rules.
Although, umm, look, let’s think of something we really know doesn’t work. The St. Christopher medal. Kissing it, not uncommon among a certain level of religiosity in Catholics when partaking in a journey, could be said to be an attempt to cheat, asking for divine intervention. That it doesn’t help is obvious, that it’s an attempt to cheat is at least arguable, so, should anyone who does that be disqualified?
There are quite obviously things which don’t work and we allow them, things we think at least might work and we don’t, we call that cheating. Thus when we prove that something doesn’t work does it stop being cheating?