Reputations are valuable things. In business a reputation takes years of TLC to build but can take mere minutes, if not seconds to shatter. However, it would appear that in the world of sport, while a team or individual’s reputation is important commercially, public trust, loyalty and overall perception can have a more significant impact which could make the notion of a reputation entirely redundant.
The sport at the heart of this theory is Pro Cycling.
I am a somewhat new fan of the sport. It has always been on my radar but strangely enough I only started to actively engage with the sport after the Lance Armstrong scandal – a fact which most people find strange. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been aware of the sport’s colourful past but out of the carnage left behind by Armstrong I was struck that loyalty and overall support of the sport as a whole didn’t wane – We were still presented with images of passionate fans lining the route of the Tour de France in the same way we always have, but why? I would assume that news of the sport’s biggest name being uncovered as a cheater, liar and bully would sink the sport faster than the Titanic… but I was wrong…..
After many hours of research during my MA dissertation I came to the conclusion that fans are accepting of the sport’s association with drugs and performance enhancement but find fault in the way the rider and their team handle the situation once an accusation has been made – the lies and front they present to the public is what does that damage. This seemingly meaning that trust and expectations of ethical and moral behaviour are no longer integral to our connection to something as fundamental as sport. While a lack of trust in anything would usually have our internal alarm bells ringing, I find myself agreeing with this somewhat contradictory premise, while also being worried by it. If we are able to enjoy with a sport which we don’t trust to be clean, then is there really a point in engaging with it at all?? Where’s the emotional connection?
The continuing TUE saga shows that transparency is a tool which all organisations regardless of their field should utilise to some extent to avoid awkward questions in future but as we see in the case of Bradley Wiggins – a man who has until now been seen as a squeaky clean British sporting hero, questionable choices and the decision to keep the details out of the public domain have complicated the issue further as the public are now beginning to feel the all too familiar sensations of suspicion and disappointment that we were all left with after Armstrong’s revelations. And while I am not suggesting that these 2 examples have many similarities between them, the sheer fact that the public learnt of these examples of TUE usage via the hacking of confidential information, it now makes the public question the sport and the rider further.
It is my belief that sports teams need to realise that knowledge is power. To regain control of a situation they need to do so by ensuring that they are the ones controlling the flow of information being given to their stakeholders rather than the media who may distort public opinion to sensationalise the situation. I’ll give you an example of this theory in action. In the case of Chris Froome’s doping allegations during the 2015 Tour de France, we see that by putting himself through testing and releasing the results via a third-party, fans of the sport (including the French fans who once verbally and physically attacked him) were accepting of not only the findings but also Froome’s willingness to prove his clean status.
Whilst I am not naive enough to think that he has silenced all his doubters, I do believe that proactive trancparency like this may be a way forward for the sport, we should be able to rest assured that in-depth tests and procedures are being used both ethically and morally by everyone to protect the integrity of a sport which continues to try to clean up its act. The questions surrounding the use and abuse of TUE’s threatens what ever progress has being made to rebuild cycling’s reputation since scandals such as Festina and Armstrong. However, I would be surprised if it made a difference to the support and loyalty of the fans who line the streets.