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Labor's performance enhancing drug

  • 29 July 2013

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