Labor's performance enhancing drug


We can go on acting as if the moral rectitude of our public institutions is intact when they have outrageously let us down. This week sport was once again in the spotlight, with esteemed Australian cyclist Stuart O'Grady admitting he was a former drug cheat.

O'Grady told the Adelaide Advertiser that he took a performance enhancing drug during the two weeks before the 1998 Tour de France. Within hours of his confession, the Australian Olympic Committee instructed him to resign from its Athletes' Commission. It said O'Grady would no longer be remembered as a 'fantastic competitor' but as an 'athlete who succumbed to the temptation of drugs in sport just to get an edge on some of his fellow riders'.

We routinely excuse young people who make poor choices for what appear good reasons. O'Grady said in the Advertiser interview that as a 24-year-old in 1998, he felt he had to use the drugs to be competitive in the Tour de France during what he described as the sport's 'dirtiest era'.

Arguably this is consistent with the 'winning at all costs' personal ethic that he articulates in the biodata section of his Twitter feed: 'I do everything 100 per cent, otherwise it's not worth doing'. According to his thinking at the time, everything counted as preparation, and saying no to performance enhancing drugs would have put him below the 100 per cent standard he'd set himself. 

This 'whatever it takes' approach to the ethics of sport eschews the traditional personal integrity argument that it's taking part that counts, not winning. It calls to mind the legendary 'whatever it takes' approach to politics of former Labor numbers man turned commentator Graham Richardson. This still guides Richardson's thinking, and indeed it led him to heartily endorse Labor's PNG boat arrival solution in The Australian on Friday, when he described it as 'cruel, heartless, risky and politically brilliant'. 

Like O'Grady's drugs in 1998, the PNG solution has made Labor fiercely competitive. If it gets them across the line, in years to come the party elders will perhaps look back and admit they had sacrificed what really counts for short-term political gain. They will ponder the principles that led many of them into politics, perhaps in terms not too dissimilar to Stuart O'Grady in his confession interview:

I spent my whole childhood dreaming of racing for Australia and every moral gene in my body was anti-doping and anti-cheating ... Then all of a sudden I was on my own in Europe getting my arse kicked and knowing it was around you (which) opened the option for bad judgement.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Image by Gsl 2.0 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Stuart O'Grady, cycling, drugs in sport, PNG solution, Kevin Rudd, ALP, asylum seekers



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Existing comments

The ALP might win their racist election just like Howard did but they and we will be punished for another generation of compensation and damaged people.

Marilyn | 26 July 2013  

Thanks, Michael, for a very helpful and valid analogy - very insightful attempt to nail the 'whatever it takes' philosophy of today's politics. We are in desperate need of leaders who will attempt to lead and model the values we should aspire to as a nation.

Peer Johnstone | 29 July 2013  

Actually, I think Kevin Rudd has shown himself in his true colours after that particular about turn. The Coalition are just as concerned about illegal immigration as Labor but Abbott has never claimed the high moral ground a la Rudd's Monthly article. Howard's solution, which Rudd overturned, was working. Most Australians would, I suspect, feel every sympathy for refugees or the genuine ones, especially those who are killed. But they are fairly astute and aware that many middle class Iranians are not refugees but jumping the immigration queue. Some cases may be a mixture of both. I found Peter van Onselen's piece in last weekend's Australian (Commentary p. 20 The Weekend Australian July 27-28) sane and balanced. There appears to now be that ongoing national debate on the subject we need to have. I don't think most Australians are racist. White Australia died long ago, thank heavens. They are more, given the recent Sydney riots, concerned, as are the majority of Australia's Muslim community, with the possibility of religious extremists causing violence in this country. This should not automatically be branded "Islamophobia" on the grounds of being politically incorrect. This is another subject that needs discussion in the public arena.

Edward F | 29 July 2013  

There is some point to the analogy between politics and sport. There is some analogy between a Necessary Being and a contingent one. But the usefulness of the analogy is best confined to Metaphysics.So let it be with Sport and Politics. It is human beings we are dealing with here - professional sportsmen and politicians but human beings who compete in completely different arenas for completely different goals. The sportsman - to show that he or his team (Apologies for being gender specific) is the best and revel in the glory (and the prize money). The politician to gain power to get things done in society (and the money). Who decides the rules for these different types of competition? Who interprets them? Who enforces them? Who decides the seriousness of a breach? A succession of breaches? I remember playing cricket against a Jesuit college team. I played and missed a very fast ball. I was rooted well within my crease in trepidation. The wicketkeeper whipped off the bails and appealed for a stumping. The wicket umpire raised his finger. I was about to protest when a Jesuit trainee called out: "The umpire's always right." Who's the umpire for Stuart O'Grady?

Uncle Pat | 29 July 2013  

I agree, Marilyn. Sadly, we are living in a country devoid of moral vision.

Janet | 29 July 2013  

Michael what is your view of your two past Jesuit students now in leadership positions in the opposition who mouth the Stop the Boats mantra. Are they ok from your point of view on this issue or have you some insights about the Catholic stance and their approach? Love to hear some viewpoints.

Laurie | 29 July 2013  

The end justifying the means is outside moral discourse unless.... Never kick a man when he is down unless you really want to win. Complaints about refugees come mostly from the most recent arrivals in Australia. Many of these voters are in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. Labor needs to win these seats. Abbott does too, hence the militaristic confection of a non workable non policy. It's defined as a battle out there against people smugglers and if refugees are caught in the crossfire too bad. It is yet again a Howardian appeal to the basest human drives in uber comfortable Oz voters. This is a world problem. Why not do two things? First, state that NG is a temporary solution. Second host an international refugee conference here in Oz and show some leadership towards managing a worldwide tragedy? (Oh yes and deal with those who come by plane, even if they are white)

Michael D. Breen | 29 July 2013  

The article and the commentary are all valid opinions. I agree with Peer Johnstone and will a 'real leader' to stand up. Unfortunatley when they do so they are punished, not lauded which is a sad indictment on the society in which we live. Without comment on the merits of Rudds solution or otherwise, the deaths of 1100 plus in recent times needs action and I cannot see one other than deterence that will work in our current society. I will have to find the Australian article.

Michael | 29 July 2013  

Racism overload! Sad that our political focus is so low. Will an Aussie style kkk rise up too !

Beanie Peoples | 29 July 2013  

At least the sportspeople using performance enhancers are not breaking any laws (remember these are merely sports codes, and these substances are legal for the general public for a variety of treatment purposes. ALso, the performance enhancers are not harming a third party. And also remember sport is just sport - politics are dealing with the fundamentals of human survival - our food clothing and shelter.

AURELIUS | 29 July 2013  

Indeed! Three cheers for the words of the Foreign Minister of Fiji today, pointing out the lack of any Pacific consultation. That is clearly needed, so that Pacific nations can help our government adjust its moral compass. But then - it seems the whole PNG deal was done without consultation in Australia - Parliament seems to have no role... The Labor candidate in my electorate has placed on public record that she would not vote for this 'solution'.

Julia | 29 July 2013  

I regard this as an unsupported assertion, Michael D Breen: "Complaints about refugees come mostly from the most recent arrivals in Australia. Many of these voters are in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. Labor needs to win these seats." The only possibly valid supposition is in your last sentence. I think there are plenty of Anglos who are anti these latest refugees/illegal immigrants. Many of them live in Greater Western Sydney. Assuming that non-Western immigrants should automatically support the unrestricted entry of those who flout the regulations they themselves complied with to come here would, to me, be a racist reductio ad absurdum. Sad isn't it that one's moral indignation reduces one to this simplistic level. Must we all think alike and blindly follow the lead of people like yourself? You think in a very totalitarian way. But perhaps you and your ilk think you hold the copyright to Catholic Social Justice?

Edward F | 29 July 2013  

warehousing people in a failed state like PNG without any hope of ever improving their lot shows our collective moral bankruptcy. This type of Pacific solution will boomerang on Australia when the costs of infrastructure funding and bribes are taken into consideration. It's a lose/lose solution with the law of unintended consequences producing ever worse outcomes in years to come. Please reconsider, Mr Rudd, before we all pay for your failed dreams.

walter p komarnicki | 30 July 2013  

I am a bit bemused by this analogy. I am not sure that any comparison is relevant of a sportsman taking a substance to improve performance with the shameful and disgraceful inhumane treatment of refugees seeking asylum and a better life. People should be outraged with various Australian Governments and their policies of housing these refugees in a prison type environment.

Mark Doyle | 02 August 2013  

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