unsporting behavior

Posted on May 28, 2007

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For sport fans, there’s recently been no end to the disappointment after disappointment that sport have been delivering these days.

First, the devastating news that former Tour de France champ Bjarne Riis had used illegal substances to win the title in 1996, which follows confessions by five other cyclists who had been racing with him.

And this, while guilt is still hanging over last year’s winner Floyd Landis, suspected of doping himself to make a seemingly impossible comeback and grabbing the title towards the end of the race.

As if that wasn’t enough, just name the top names in cycling and chances are, they’ve been linked to one doping scandal or another — Ivan Basso, Jan Ulrich and Tyler Hamilton are just a few that come to mind.

The only other prominent cycling name who has steadfastly insisted on being fueled solely by training and will power, is Lance Armstrong.

I desperately want to believe that Armstrong won his record-breaking string of Tour de France titles through his obsessive training and superior determination, coupled with his remarkable come-back-from-near-death inspirational story. But the way things are heading, I would be upset but I don’t expect to be heartbroken if one day in the future, he too says he has won with a little extra help.

The entire sport is in danger of falling into disrepute and the worst thing to happen to it, would be if the response to the next cyclist confessing to doping is met not with outrage and anger, but with a matter-of-factness bordering on expectance.

In Formula One, the McLaren team is under investigation for possibly fixing the outcome of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix, with suspicions that McLaren’s chief Ron Dennis ordered Lewis Hamilton to give in to eventual winner Fernando Alonso, by falling back and mounting less of a challenge.

Team McLaren ended with a one-two finish in the race, but is likely to be in breach of rules that forbid the violation of international sporting code through acts prejudicial to the interests of the competition.

While Dennis denied any wrongdoing, the incident if true, is another distressing example of sports losing its spirit of true competition to cynical forces while athletes can’t compete freely. It might not sound as bad as doping but it is certainly disheartening to know that sports fans’ emotional investments are based on shams.

And even as Roland Garros is looking at facing scheduling chaos while rains wreaked havoc on play and the excitement revolves around whether Roger Federer will finally win a French Open crown, the women’s field is looking bleak.

Justine Henin remained her usual whiney self, complaining about the weather, noise, her age and other matters. And the gifted and brilliant Serena Williams continues to squander her talents, looking wobbly in the first round against a lowly-ranked 19-year old. The road ahead may be a bigger struggle for the player who had played in few matches this year but has been more preoccupied with Hollywood and starting fashion and beauty lines.

Which brings me back to the elegant Federer, whose play is poetry in motion and a joy to behold, even in the sluggish clay.

Can Federer, in his striking turquoise ensemble set against the dusty red clay, once again outplay and outlast Raphael Nadal like he did in Hamburg? Here’s hoping there will still be sporting inspirations like Federer and Tiger Woods out there, even as sport continues it downward slide and scandals increasingly become the sad rule.

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