Corporate morality or cowardice?

Discussion in 'Professional Cycling' started by Denia, May 8, 2007.

  1. Denia

    Denia New Member

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    As Basso´s announcement reverberates around the cycling world, is it too much of an assumption to make that Discovery and Nike knew this (and perhaps a whole lot more) was coming down the tracks? For both to announce their withdrawal from the sport at around the same time suggests they didn´t like what was going on (morality in the boardroom, is it possible?) or, having previously turned a blind eye to it, were terrified to get caught up in it (cowardice).

    In the land of the brave and the free, there are no heros left in our sport. The three great white hopes (Armstrong, Hamilton and Landis) are now the three great(est) dopes. Basso was supposed to be the future of the Tour (copyright LA) - Italian glam, supremely talented and part of an American Team living the American Dream (fame and fortune), clean living, beautiful wife and family - prime candidate for mega sponsorship deals . . . No more.

    I think the Americanization of the TdF has now come to an end. It will be interesting to see if, in this age of globalization, the major European sponsors will also abandon the sport. If I was CEO of a major brand I wouldn´t touch a Pro team with the proverbial barge pole. This type of publicity sticks - just ask Cofidis.
     
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  2. limerickman

    limerickman Moderator

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    You put some interesting thoughts, Denia.

    My own view is that the debacle since 1998 is ultimately the UCI's fault.
    When the sport was at it's lowest ebb, Festina 1998, the UCI had a choice to make.
    The UCI chose to ignore the doping culture then and it allowed the doping culture to go unchecked because it needed more "viewer" numbers.
    Hein Verbruggen in Cycle Sport March 1998 said "(TV) viewers are increasing...and that is what is important".
    At the time when a stance was needed, the UCI were only interested in riders riding faster and faster and improving those viewers numbers.

    I have nothing against the Americanisation of the sport.
    Indeed I am old enough to recall the positive (no pun intended) contributions of LeMond and Hampsten.
    Their legacy has unfortunately been squandered by the Armstrong/Landis/Hamilton and their doping activities - which is a pity for the sport in the USA.

    In terms of the direction of the sport, I have argued that the UCI needs to return the sport to it's traditional base here in Europe.
    This crisis in the sport shows the need for the UCI to return to it's grassroots and to concentrate on where this sport is going to be saved.
    Countries like Italy/France/Spain/Holland/Belgium/Switzerland/Austria, to a lesser extent Germany/Scandinavian countries/UK and Ireland and Australia,
    are the bedrock of the sport and they're countries in which cycling has a reasonably high participation rate.

    Cycling is the sport of the ordinary man in Europe - much like football (soccer to the uniniatiated).
    However unlike soccer, cycling will never have the big sponsorship deals that
    football has.
    Nor should it.

    The UCI tried to put cycling on a par with other sports in terms of sponsorship - and in the process managed to lose whatever soul it may have.
    As WBT said elsewhere - cycling is a sport for the ordinary man.
    In Europe local fans/local riders are the backbone of the sport throughout Italy/France/Spain/Holland/Belgium/Switzerland/Austria etc :
    We need to keep the character of the races generic - the TDF is France, the Giro is Italy and the Vuelta is Spain.
    The UCI wanted these races to be "globalised".
    That model hasn't worked and worse still, it is the cause of the present crisis.
     
  3. Denia

    Denia New Member

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    Limerickman - like you, I agree the UCI missed it´s moment back in the 1990s when the public mood was primed and the sport ready for a shake-up from top to bottom.

    The Americanization of the sport, in my opinion, brought with it a corporate juggernaut the likes of which cycling had never seen. The mantra is simple - win at all costs. This mantra has fuelled Wall Street and the subsequent Americanization of the corporate world since at least the 1980s when every businessman bought a pair of red braces in the hope of turning into Gordon Gekko (greed is Good). It is an approach bereft of morality or conscience. Losers don´t count.

    The demand for ever-faster times and miraculous performances fuels the doping culture. But where does this demand come from? Cycling fans? I don´t think so. It is commercially driven and it is what global sporting companies like Nike and Adidas thrive on - as well as the Treks, Shimanos, Specializeds etc.. Global advertising campaigns are built around sporting Gods (Woods, Armstrong, Ronaldinho etc.) who can raise the performance bar time and time again and drive the consumption of their products ever higher. In Tour de Force, Daniel Coyle talks about the commercial pressure that Nike and Trek were under to produce "shit that kills" meaning anything that would give LA and US Postal a physical or psychological advantage - what Coyle didn´t ask was if either company cared if their sporting stars were also seeking out other kinds of shit.

    Meanwhile everyone else wants in on the act - banks, governments and global telecoms all want a slice of the winners´pie and glory by association. And it seemed none of them cared if their commercial pressures ruined the careers and, in some cases took the lives, of the foot soldiers - after all there´s always plenty more willing recruits waiting for their turn.

    Hence my original post - be it corporate morality or corporate cowardice - the withdrawals of US Postal, Discovery and Nike from cycling may mark the end of the Americanization of the sport (crass commercialism and win at all costs). Americans don´t like losers.

    Your wish to see cycling return to its European roots looks highly likely.
     
  4. limerickman

    limerickman Moderator

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    I agree.

    When the sport allows itself to be opened up to hyper commercial entities, the need to have "bums on seats" takes precedence.
    "Bang for their buck" becomes the mantra and this pressure to ensure a return on investment may makes teams/riders dope.
    And as riders ride faster and faster, banks, goverments etc decide that they want a piece of the pie as well.
    Thus we have a self perpetuating situation.

    But a tipping point has been reached.
    There is now a commerical imperative that companies are seen to act ethically.
    Companies such as NIKE realise that they cannot get away with using child labour to make their products, for example.
    Nestle cannot get away with similar exploitation.
    And this has fed in to how companies view their association with cycling.
    No company wants to have it's product associated with cheating.

    My concern would be that equity/hedge fund companies would be approached to sponsor teams as is the case with Tailwind Inc.
    These entities have no product to sell - therefore any/all bad publicity has no real effect on the sales of their product.

    It is worthwhile revisiting some of the essays written about the TDF/Giro from years ago.
    French writers were attracted to the sport because of the hardship of the races and the pain suffered by the riders.
    Man overcoming the elements was what attracted widespread support for these races.
    Ordinary men overcoming extradordinary hardship.
    These ideals are a million miles away from "viewer numbers" or "return on investments".
     
  5. Powerful Pete

    Powerful Pete New Member

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    Sponsors, often from medium-small national companies (a' la Liquigas and/or Lampre, for two Italian examples not hell bent on global domination) will continue to stay in the sport. Very often their CEOs have a passion for cycling and realise the good TV exposure that you can get from a couple of your guys in a breakaway which is televised for 3 solid hours on Italian TV.

    These firms are still involved in cycling and will continue to do so. The problem, IMHO, is raising the bar to larger firms - the only really big boy I can think of right now is Telekom.

    Why is that Banesto, Telefonica or Telecom Italia are not willing to sponsor a powerhouse national team, but are willing to put their money in Moto GP, Formula 1, or even frigging sailing, for that matter?

    Disclaimer: I realise many of you may enjoy watching sailing. To me, it is slightly less exciting than watching paint dry. Flame away!
     
  6. whiteboytrash

    whiteboytrash New Member

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    Although in saying all that I think T-Mobile has seen a winner and a new demographic on being a "clean team". Similar to companies like Virgin Atlantic. For years they have been destroying the ozone from their planes emissions but now that’s its savvy to be seen "green" they are now angleling and changing their product lines to fit this new stance..... T-Mobile maybe able to pull this off...... however agree on all of the below... large corporates don't understand cycling, they think faster is better and winning at all costs is better.... to the French this is not the case... do you ever wonder why the cameramen and director spend so much time filming the riders when they've crashed ? They want to see the hardship.... watch Garrmont break his leg in Paris-Roubaix... the race is unfolding up the front of the peleton and the footage shows him writhing in the mud with the backmarkers trying to avoid him and some riding over him ! They loved it ! The US viewers miss the point...



     
  7. jhuskey

    jhuskey Moderator

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    We have the same mentality here but those people watch NASCAR. Of course they throw beer cans at the end if they don't like the results but they love to see devastation.
     
  8. Powerful Pete

    Powerful Pete New Member

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    Cycling = suffering. That is the message here...
     
  9. vitamin s

    vitamin s New Member

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    salient. potent. articulate. i agree completely
     
  10. poulidor

    poulidor New Member

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    It was funny how some people were trying to built a french conspiracy against Armerican riders. To have a French winner it's good but it's not all.
    The most popular French rider was / is Poulidor, he never won a TDF, never wore the yellow jersey but he was year after year a serious contender as was JU. A better drama or story than robots on bike. Even defeats are beautiful.
     
  11. limerickman

    limerickman Moderator

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    That's true - PouPou represented the working man, as opposed to Anquetil who was perceived to represent the middle classes of France.

    This business about Americans being victims of conspiracies,
    is really hilarious.
    France had guys from their neighbouring countries winning the TDF year after year (Merckx and Indurain).

    Local rivalry would suggest that if anyone was going to victimised it would be a winner from a neighbouring country, surely?????
    Yet I never heard Eddy or Miguel say anything negative about France or the French people - or make pronouncements about being "victimised".
     
  12. fbircher

    fbircher New Member

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    Americans aren't the only ones who fall for stupid conspiracy theories. There were several prominent posters on this forum who until very recently were promoting the idea that OP was a vast conspiracy engineered by Disco to undermine Ullrich or steal Basso from CSC. People who want to believe something bad enough will latch on to any ridiculous rationale that comes along to support it. That is a human frailty of intellect.
     
  13. fbircher

    fbircher New Member

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    No one can argue that big corporations (both American and European) aren't driven by financial objectives. That means their sponsorship has to yield a return on investment, which of course means they like sponsoring winners more than losers. But I think it is far too simplistic to put the doping plague in cycling today completely down to pressure from American coorporations to win. The modern doping era in cycling - the point at which super doping techniques made a huge impact on obeserved power levels across the peleton - happened in the early 90's, pre-dating USPS, Discovery and Nike involvement in cycling. And while it's true that most of the small handfull of American cyclists who've won any big races since that time have been shown to be dopers, we're now seeing confirmation of what any thinking person should have known long ago: So are most of the European cyclists. And that includes the ones who ride for teams sponsored by smaller corporate entities that don't fit your model of "big-nasty-win-at-all-costs" corporations.

    There are many factors that influence why doping is rampant in cycling today - corporate pressure, team management being comprised of former dopers, poorly run governing organizations, but mostly this: Humans like the glory of being winners and heroes, and they're willing to cheat to attain that. The era of super doping happened in the early 90's not because of some sudden change in corporate pressure around that time, but because that's when super dope became available. If EPO had become available in 1950, they would have started using it then. Read these forums and you'll read of many cases where amateur racers competing in local senior events have resorted to dope to win. These guys aren't responding to some Nike rep threatening to pull their sponsorship. They're giving in to the human weakness of putting morality second to the pursuit of glory - on whatever insignificant level that may be available to them. Freud said that humans are motivated by two fundamental forces. One of them was the "need to be great." That's why people cheat. BTW, the other was sex, and many people cheat for that too!
     
  14. azdroptop

    azdroptop New Member

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    The pro peleton didn't start doping because of corporate pressure-they started because they wanted to win, to gain any advantage possible to win. Before epo there were stimulants, hell in high school guys drank 2 or 3 jolt cola's before our soccer matches for an edge. It's human nature to cheat and the corporations take advantege of the best in sport because it means dollars. Let's face it not many of us have favorite athlete's who spend most of their time in last place whether cycling or other sports. We like winners, they inspire, provoke just that little bit more effort out of our personal training etc. American corps are not to blame for this problem-were they around in 98?
     
  15. Denia

    Denia New Member

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    I don´t believe I said that the pros began to cheat because of corporate pressure, and I recognise that cheating has been around since the beginning, but over the last ten or so years the money that poured into the sport from the US (and from Germany) was like nothing the sport had seen before - hence the Americanization reference where sport is a multi-billion dollar industry and where 100s of athletes regularly earn millions a year. These sponsors demand glory for their millions and winning the Spring Classics don´t count. The Tour or bust. Didn´t Armstrong have a $10 milion win bonus from Subaru for delivering Yellow? Not to mention his Nike, Oakley, Trek win-related bonuses (that over the years must also have been attractive to Heras, hamilton and Landis amongst others). That kind of money would tempt most mortals to seek out any advantage going but it´s not the type of incentive that you are likely to get from a French bakery. The bigger the reward the more likely someone is to cheat to get it.

    With less mega-bucks swirling around perhaps more riders would perceive the risks to outweigh the rewards - although I accept there will always be some that will cheat regardless.
     
  16. alibat

    alibat New Member

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    True, but perhaps pressure from (mainly) American corps is the reason there wasn't a crackdown after 1998, ultimately leading to the position we are in today.
     
  17. jhuskey

    jhuskey Moderator

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    I believe almost all the sponsors are to blame on some level ,can't prove it, but you know that those that pay the bills generally call the shots or are in control of those that do.
    I hope the sport survives this dark time. I have been in contact with some that were pro cyclist in the past and are happy not to be involved with what is going on now.
    A sad note for a sport that has been loved by so many for so long. I wonder what Desgrange would think of what has come of cycling.
    Sorry Henri!
     
  18. azdroptop

    azdroptop New Member

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    You make a good point no doubt, money does make the world go around. I still think an athlete's internal drive to win plays a bigger role. There was a survey done years ago of Olympian's I believe and they were asked something along the lines of the following. We have a drug that will insure a Gold, but can or will kill you if you take it. By a huge per cent they agreed they would take it.

    How many American companies were in the Peloton in 1998? Yes Lance won in 99, but I don't see the carrot being so big that the entire race culture was changed so quickly. Doping may have gained a certain amount of sophistication with Postal/Armstrong, but Lord knows the pro's were using in mass before Lance starting destroying the field. I contend its been there in different forms since the Tour began.
     
  19. Denia

    Denia New Member

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    azdroptop - fair comment although in the not too distant past such a poll may have got a very different answer, especially outside of the USA. Today an Olympic Gold is largely perceived to be a ticket (or a stepping stone) to lots of sponsorship deals, pro contracts and appearance money - the Olympic Games sold what was left of its soul for a pot of gold round about the 80s (LA and Atlanta by coincidence). The Eastern European athletes used to cheat for the "glory" of their mother nation and perhaps a tractor for the family, Western athletes began to cheat en-masse when the Games allowed professional athletes into it.

    Once upon a time athletes were considered honourable people . . . at least in dear old Britain where a plucky loser was always held in high esteem for trying his best. I think, historically speaking, drugs entered the TdF simply because the event was brutally hard and stimulants were required just to complete it (a 1000 miles longer than now, bikes weighing at least twice as much, no gears, mechanical support or osteopaths to ease the pain . . .). Taking alcohol or an amphetamine wasn´t to make you go faster it was to numb the pain and keep you awake through a night-time 300 mile stage.

    Today there´s hardly a top-class professional athlete not sponsored by a Nike or an Adidas type corporation or backed to the hilt by an American Express or Omega watch type deal. Put up a wad load of prize money and watch previously honourable sportsmen beating a path to the chemist´s door. I think that level of money came late to cycling and largely came because of the Armstrong (and his arch-rival Ullrich) phenomenon. Take them away, take away American commercial interest and the riches that go with it then some of the incentive to cheat may diminish. If TV coverage drops (as it will in the US) so does sponsorship interest and so, perhaps, the demand for super human performances to get your shirt/bike/sunglasses beamed around the world.

    As I previously said, I accept cycling and cheating are inextricably linked - but massive commercialism in the last 10 years made it a whole lot more attractive for the cyclists, for the doctors and for the sponors.
     
  20. homeycheese

    homeycheese New Member

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    This lame attempt to blame "americanization" of the sport in ignorant. Long before NASCAR, Europeans were putting sponsor logos on anything that moved and least you forget, the whole premise of the original Tdf was to promote a newspaper.

    In the end, "greed" and the almighty pursuit of money knows no international border. An much like US Major League Baseball in the post-strike, juiced-ball, Sosa/McGuire steroid-fest era, the UCI (after Festina) sought the refuge of the pursuit of the almighty euro/dollar and sold their soul.

    Let that souless, power-mad, Dick Pound, have his way and make 'em all "pee in a cup", before, during and after....
     
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