Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Bad blood leads to good ideas

There are books that change your mind about things. They can either persuade you that you were wrong in a previous belief, or they can at least push you to make up your mind about something which didn’t previously seem so certain. That’s what Jeremy Whittle’s Bad Blood did for me.

This doesn’t mean it’s actually a good book. In fact, the quality of Whittle’s writing is astounding only in the sense that it’s hard to believe he’s a journalist. ‘Would have benefited from extensive editing’ sums it up. A good start would be to eliminate the repetition of thoughts in successive chapters, and sometimes even in successive sentences.

Despite the writing, Whittle paints a compelling picture of the damage doping does to cycling in general and the Tour de France in particular. It has certainly made me abandon a certain ambivalence I used to have, summed up by the question ‘if you can’t eliminate doping, should we just legalise it, if only to re-establish a level playing field?’ No, we shouldn’t. If high performance requires people to do to their bodies what doping does to them, we should settle for lower performance.

That being said, Whittle also shows clearly that doping turns good riders into superstars, and superstars earn colossal sums both for themselves and for the sporting authorities. So we’re talking about an illegal but hugely remunerative activity, which sounds like the start of a pretty nasty conspiracy. The book demonstrates how anyone who tries to speak out against doping, cyclist or journalist, is systematically marginalised and silenced by other competitors with the connivance of the very authorities who should be stamping out the practice.

So doping is likely to be around a long time, with all the corruption it brings in its wake.

My initial reaction was one of depression. But then I realised that there really isn’t a wind so ill that it can blow no good at all. Turn it around: if doping is the key to the Tour de France, then the Tour de France becomes a huge, prestigious, annual tribute to the pharmaceutical industry. We all need pharmaceuticals at different times. But where are the equivalents of the Oscars, the literary prizes, the prestigious awards for this essential industry?

Well, now there is one.

Perhaps we should celebrate the fact. Perhaps, indeed, we should look at extending the model into other industries not currently recognised for all they do. For instance, in this country politicians regularly tell us that we need the armaments industry. It’s a major source of employment. Obviously, it leads to a lot of people being killed, but they’re a long way away whereas the unemployed are on our doorstep. It seems a small price to pay for all those jobs, here, at home.

So here is my modest proposal for a fitting tribute to this major benefactor of humanity. Or some of humanity. Let’s have a yearly, international sporting event to celebrate its successes. The main event should be a marathon, because arms production like war itself just goes on and on long beyond the point where you’d think we’d had enough. We could call it ‘The Tony Blair International Marathon in honour of the charitable use of lethal weapons’.

A subsidiary event, for the amateurs wishing to take part, could be the ‘Saddam Hussein Weapons of Mass Destruction fun run.’ It would be short and obscure and difficult for people to find.

And of course far from being banned, doping would be encouraged. That way we could further support one of our major industries while celebrating another.

See how reading the right book can encourage creative thinking?


Awoogamuffin said...

Surely for the metaphor to work, all of the competitors should be brandishing the latest in weapon technology?

David Beeson said...

Wouldn't they be keeping them undetectable?

Like Saddam Hussein, come to think of it. Of course, in his case they were undetectable because they didn't exist, but that's cheating compounded by more cheating.