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October 22, 2012
After a few weeks of media speculation, l’Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has relented & decided to uphold the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)’s decision to suspend Lance Armstrong for life & to deprive him of all his results since 1998, which includes all of his 7 Tour de France victories.
This is a momentous event in the history of sport. The Tour is arguably the world’s third or fourth most important sporting event, in terms of spectators, behind the Olympics, the football (FIFA) World Cup & on a par with the football (UEFA) Euro, all of which are four-yearly events.
Some (& this includes the management of the Tour de France which, ironically, have no say on the matter) say that Armstrong’s victories should not be reattributed. This would not be a first. In 1993, Olympique de Marseille was stripped of its Division 1 title in France (but not of its Champions League title) & relegated because of a corruption scandal. Yet, Paris Saint-Germain, which finished second, was not handed the title. Same happened in 2006 when Juventus lost its 2005 crown for the same reason. The title (unlike the 2006 title) was not reattributed.
Although well-intentioned, this sort of decision raises more issues than it solves. For example, OM supporters regularly call for the 1993 title to be re-attributed to OM. This would, of course, be very incoherent since OM were clearly convicted of cheating.
More fundamentally, this kind of decision is misguided, & ‘wrong’ precisely because it claims to be ‘right’. There are thousands of hundred of millions of reasons against reattributing these titles &, doubtless, all of these are morally ‘right’. However, this sort of morality undermines justice.
One of the conditions that create democracies is the rule of law. As much as possible, justice is organised independently; law is clearly defined; what constitutes a breach of the law is clearly defined too; & must be proven rigorously in front of a legitimate Court of Justice. Legal decisions are no longer arbitrary. Following Alain Ehrenberg, Christian Bromberger has argued that football reflects the values of our modern societies. More importantly, it is possible to see the anti-doping agencies system as part of the judiciary system (within a country & internationally, too) or as a a judiciary system in their own right.
Because there is no text stating that victories in an international competition (or in the Tour) may not be reattributed if the original winner is found guilty; because the people ranked behind Armstrong have not been convinced of cheating during these competitions, and because they therefore remain innocent, it would be arbitrary & irrational not to hand them the titles. So-called morality would undermine the judiciary, the rule of law &, at least symbolically, democracy. A decision to leave the palmares of the Tour empty would be as illegal, & as harmful as refusing to release a prisoner once they have served their term in jail or condemn someone for a crime, without proof, just on the basis that he or she has committed other crimes or may commit others in the future.
It is important to reassert this principle: sadly, people do many things that are illegal (who has never broken the speed limit?). Yet, as long as their guilt is not proven, they are innocent. What they have done before, what they do after is irrelevant: if at a point in time their cannot be proven, they are guilty.
As far I am concerned, Alex Zülle has now won the Tour in 1999; Jan Ullrich in 2000, 2001 et 2003; Joseba Beloki in 2002; Andréas Klöden in 2004; Ivan Basso in 2005.