The cyclist Lance Armstrong has never tested positive for banned substances despite years of being dogged by allegations that he used so-called performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong won seven consecutive Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005 and was given a clean bill of health after each victory.
Yet Armstrong was stripped of his Tour titles recently by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, which is actually a "non-governmental" organization that receives about $10 million a year in funding from the Office of National Drug Control Policy [pdf].
The USADA claims to have at least 10 former teammates who would testify against Armstrong. Armstrong has declined to participate further in inquiries. Under USADA rules, that counts as a confession and USADA says it has the authority to strip Armstrong of titles won in France because it is part of World Anti-Doping Agency and that WADA is bound by its members' decisions. Meanwhile, the International Cycling Union, which organizes the Tour de France, said it is waiting on the USADA's full explanation of its case against Armstrong.
Whatever you think of Armstrong's guilt or innocence — and whether he's received due process or is getting screwed — his predicament underscores how government-funded agencies intervene in sports. Governments have never shied from meddling in athletics, in ways both big and small. Here are five egregious examples worth pondering in the wake of l'affaire Armstrong.
5. The Feds Tackle Steroids in Baseball
Congress' first foray into investigating steroid use in America’s pastime this century came in 2005, when the House Government Reform Committee (seriously) hauled in Mark McGwire, who broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in 1998. McGwire initially refused to answer questions about steroid use, but in 2010 he admitted to havig used steroids during his record-breaking season.
Federal investigators grew more aggressive in pursuing performance-enhancing drugs. A multi-year investigation led to Barry Bonds spending a month under house arrest in 2011 for lying to a grand jury in 2003. The Department of Justice actually investigated Lance Armstrong for two years.
A second round of hearings in Congress about steroid use in baseball came in 2008. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell was appointed by baseball commissioner Bud Selig to conduct an independent investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball and the House eventually held hearings about the issue, with Committee Chairman Henry Waxman claiming 500,000 teenagers have used illegal steroids. The highly publicized hearings led to no action by Congress, though pitching ace Roger Clemens was brought up on felony perjury charges for lying to Congress. He was acquitted earlier this year.
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