The Long Ball Tactic

Kevin Pietersen: Last of the Mavericks

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on February 11, 2014

“Under marble Millichip the F.A. broods

On how flair can be punished”

The Fall ‘Kicker Conspiracy’

It’s unlikely that you can have a conversation about Kevin Pietersen without somebody bringing up the word ‘arrogant’. This unquantifiable characteristic, as evident as the flash of white that ran through his hair when he made his England debut, has come to define Pietersen’s career in a way that no statistic or entry in Wisden is ever likely to match.

The long and the short of the situation is that, no matter how many glorious innings Pietersen played, how many of the world’s greatest bowlers he has rocked back on his heels to and dispatched to the boundary rope, it was always with a cockiness, a brashness which was thoroughly unEnglish.

Think back to the 2005 Ashes, the seminal test series that sparked the kind of interest and enthusiasm you normally only experience in England when the football team reach the knock-out stages of an international tournament.

Everything that happened in that series, all the moments of English triumph, were on the line on that last day of the 5th test at The Oval. 2-1 up in the series, England found themselves 133 ahead with 5 wickets down in their 2nd innings at the lunch break. When Pietersen came out to bat, England’s new found ability to get one over on the Australians had not yet extinguished the memories of English batting collapses of recent years.

It was, in retrospect, a situation ripe for Pietersen, and one that brought about a sea change in English cricket. This was not an innings of stoicism or caution, he could have been out caught 3 times for the want of safer Australian hands, perhaps an early warning of the rashness that would mark much of his later career and frustrate fans as often as it would delight. As it was, Pietersen embraced the moment with a disregard for the pressure and momentousness of what was at stake that verged on blithe indifference, knocking off his maiden test century, securing the draw for England and the safe return of the urn for the first time in a generation.

If this was arrogance, it was precisely what English cricket needed.

Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, appearing the next day bleary-eyed and dishevelled at the door of 10. Downing Street for an audience with the Prime Minister, unconcerned with such formalities as sleep after an all-night drinking session, were at the vanguard of this new phase for the national team. Cricket had a swagger for the first time in my lifetime, we had, for want of a better expression, found our mojo.

If much of the game is concerned with the seconds between the release of the ball from the bowlers arm and the outcome as it reaches the bat, some thought must still be given over to those moments that us, as fans, can only speculate on. The sledging and the psychological battles that had been the domain of Botham and Brearley in the 80s was ground that seemed to have been surrendered by their English successors in the 1990s, but, with that 2005 Ashes win, the message couldn’t have been clearer: England would no longer be cowed by the Australians. With Pietersen and Freddie in the side, we were capable of giving just as good as we got.

In future Ashes series, the good times rolled, England weren’t scared any more, and even a whitewashing down under in 2006/2007 couldn’t knock the confidence out of them. Flintoff acknowledged his other-wordly spell of bowling on the final morning at Lords with messianic outstretched arms and a nodding of the head as Australian wickets fell in 2009. James Anderson, after being sledged by Mitchell Johnson, ran in, took a wicket and then turned to Johnson with his finger to his lips in the Ashes victory in Australia in 2010/11. The same tour where the England team incorporated the sprinkler dance as their signature move, first in Youtube videos then, bold as brass, on the pitch at Sydney.

And yet, it was still Pietersen, in the eyes of the public, who was the arrogant one. While Flintoff’s delight in demonstrating his superiority over opponents (“mind the windows, Tino”), was easy to accept for England fans, Pietersen was still marked as an outsider. The South African who played for his adopted country for pragmatic, rather than patriotic reasons, will always be harder to fully embrace than a homegrown firebrand.

If the perceived preference for bringing up landmark scores with a boundary rather than racking up singles, which brought a premature end to more than one innings, was a problem, so too were Pietersen’s off the field drams.

But, his bust up with England coach Peter Moores and the loss of the England captaincy in 2009 said as much about the ECB as it did Pietersen himself. It was, perhaps, the first major misstep by the governing body in their handling of their superstar. One surefire way of ensuring that the maverick in your camp is not kept under control is by placing him in charge of the whole shindig.

The incident was emblamatic of the ECB’s overall attitude to Pietersen, they knew he was good, but they were damned if they knew exactly what to do with him.

Such is the inherent tension in having Kevin Pietersen in your team. If he is managed well, there are few batsman in the world you would rather have around. In times of less sure-footed management, however, he can quickly spiral out of control. There would have been far fewer complaints from England fans, had the ECB given Pietersen the boot after the ‘textgate’ farce of 2012, and yet it was Alastair Cook who chose to bring him back into the fold on assuming the captaincy.

In the wake of his sacking by the ECB last week, Paul Downton and his colleagues at the helm of English cricket have sent out the signal that they are not so much entering a brave new world for English cricket, as throwing in the towel.

It would perhaps be too glib to mark Pietersen’s exclusion from the England team as the end of an era of English spark which was kickstarted in 2005, but the signs are abound that English cricket is entering a new, far more circumspect, phase, unsure of themselves after the dismal drubbing in Australia this winter.

And yet, the spark is not quite gone with the exit of Pietersen. Those of us who stayed up to watch the final test of the recent Ashes series could not help raising a smile as, Mitchell Johnson – rehabilitated from bad joke to classical fearsome fast bowler – was bowled by Ben Stokes and, as he walked off, was on the receiving end of a fixed glare from the Durham all-rounder and the words “have that, twat”.

For Pietersen, though, the game is up. It is said that while your team is winning then the antics of a maverick may be tolerated but, when the chips are down, there is no room for someone who doesn’t conform. This may be true but, from another perspective, in times of introspection after such a humiliating Ashes annihilation, for the England management, it may be that they felt ditching such a mercurial talent as Pietersen’s was the path of least resistance.

Any sportsperson who earns the label of maverick will rub up against those further up in the hierarchy. In baseball, the Boston Red Sox had a phrase for the antics of mercurial slugger Manny Ramirez: “Manny being Manny”. It seems now that, rather than one specific incident leading to his exclusion, the ECB are no longer prepared to tolerate Kevin being Kevin.


Fuentes and football: strange medicines

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on February 5, 2013

Despite the testimony of Eufemiano Fuentes and witnesses that he treated footballers at his doping clinic, the identity of Fuentes’s non-cycling clients still remains unknown.

Yesterday, Iñaki Badiola, president of Spanish team Real Sociedad for a year in 2008, alleged that his predecessors had paid Dr Fuentes £281,500 a year to supply the club with “strange medicines”.

Among those he named were formed Sociedad president José Luis Astiazarán who is now president of the governing body of La Liga. Astiazarán issued a denial yesterday. has the full interview with Badiola here (run it through Google translate). has the video of Badiola telling shareholders in 2008 that the club bought doping products in the years up until 2008. Including the year Sociedad finished second in La Liga.

Elsewhere, El Pais publishes what it claims is the handwritten note by Fuentes listing Sociedad (or RSOC) as a client, alongside the names ‘Alfredo’ and ‘Milan’.

The Trial of Eufemiano Fuentes

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on January 29, 2013

When Spanish police raided Eufemiano Fuentes’s residence in May 2006 finding doping products and bags of blood, the sport of professional cycling was once again turned on its head

The ramifications were felt far and wide as Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani and many other names that had been at the top of the sport in the last decade were implicated in the Madrid-based Doctor’s doping network.

Fuentes has since become synonymous with cycling’s ‘dark arts’, as much a by-word for scandal as Festina and Lance Armstrong; but there have often been whispers about the other clients who Dr. Fuentes dealt with. Of the 186 blood bags seized from his clinic in Madrid, how many belonged to athletes from other sports?

Fuentes has stated himself in an interview with a Spanish newspaper that only 30% of his clients were cyclists, so why has cycling been the only sport which has handed out bans to those involved with Fuentes and the police raids that were codenamed Operacion Puerto?

The answer is a tough one to determine. It’s believed that somewhere there lies a mythical list of Fuentes clients which includes footballers and tennis stars. Cyclist Jesus Manzano – the whistleblower who kicked off Operacion Puerto, in much the same way Floyd Landis did with Lance Armstrong – has told Channel 4 News that prominent footballers visited Fuentes.

It is reported that in 2007 FIFA president Sepp Blatter requested to see the documents from Puerto, but no investigation has ever taken place in football or any other sport.

Now, this week Eufemiano Fuentes stands trial for endangering public health. Many had hoped this would be a day when Spanish authorities could strike a blow for clean sport and the extent of Fuentes’s shadowy network of clients would be laid out for all to see. It seems that the Spanish authorities had other ideas though.

In the run up to the hearing, it was announced that the much-anticipated trial would focus only on cycling. This prompted David Howman, the head of the World Anti-Doping Authority to complain to the Daily Telegraph that:

“We have been banging our heads against a brick wall to get access to the evidence that was gathered. It is not only frustrating and disappointing but it also means that many athletes who might be dirty have been allowed to compete.”

At the trial itself today Fuentes again repeated the claim that he treated footballers, tennis players, athletes and boxers. Despite these allegations being made in a 3-hour cross examination the defendant was not asked to elaborate upon these claims.

If Fuentes is accused of public health offences, rather than specifically doping (which Spanish legislation didn’t cover in 2006), then it seems bizarre to only focus on one third of his clients. In turn, it seems that claims from the defendant and the main whistleblower in the case have been investigated when they relate to cycling but ignored when it comes to other sports. If you were of a cynical disposition you may say it was beginning to look like a cover-up. But why would this be?

Some have suggested that, with Madrid bidding for the 2020 Summer Olympics, the last thing Spanish authorities want is for a doping scandal to explode in their faces ahead of the decision in September. The trial also allows Spain to present itself as tough on doping, even if this image does not hold up when you scratch the surface.

Other more shadowy allegations, aired by former FA head Lord Triesman in a Parliamentary select committee hearing in May 2011, involve a doping ring and some “fairly senior people in Spain”.

Could it be that cycling is an easy target? It is far simpler to prosecute Fuentes and focus on cycling – a sport already mired in doping scandals – than seek to open up new scandals in sports which have the perception (fair or otherwise) of being clean.

It may be that cycling has disproportionately more dopers than any other sport, but it is also a sport that conducts far more doping tests than others. Sports journalist and author Daniel Friebe pointed out on Twitter that whilst cycling had taken 4613 out-of-competition blood tests on athletes in 2011, in tennis the number was only 21.

Eufemiano Fuentes’s trial is expected to continue for the next month at least, with witnesses including Tyler Hamilton and Alberto Contador. Whether anyone from any sport except cycling is feeling the heat in the coming weeks remains to be seen.

What happened in 2012?

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on December 30, 2012

It seems a good bet that sport in 2012 will go down in history as one of those magical “Oh, you had to be there” moments, and with fair reason too. The memories are already being condensed down into a series of memes, relayed by future generations on TV set to a background of suitably emotional music, or in airy recollections on warm August nights in the garden after a few glasses of wine: the Mo-bot, didn’t it seem to be sunny every day?, Jessica Ennis, Clare Balding with that South African swimmer and his Dad, Boris dancing to the Spice Girls. I think members of my generation have similar memories of Euro 96, except we were probably all a lot happier at the end of the Olympics and Jimmy Hill didn’t rock up in a St. George’s cross bow-tie.

It barely seems possible, but cast your mind back to before July and all was not as rosey as it is remebered now. It is  a universally acknowledged truth that in the run-up to a Big Event, something will go a bit awry and the media will be accused of the most grotesque and unpatriotic cynicism for having the gall to report it. What’s that? There seems to be a serious problem with racism amongst crowds at games in Poland and Ukraine ahead of Euro 2012? SHUT UP MEDIA! We want to enjoy the tournament without thinking about any of that stuff. Don’t you know sports and politics don’t mix!
So it was in the build up the Olympics that the dour-faced killjoys  in the papers and on TV were reporting minor problems such as the firm given the security contract for the event had spectacularly failed to keep up its end of the bargain and 3500 British troops would be required to fill the gap instead. Or the not-at-all-terrifying-and-ever-so-slightly-distopian news that surface to air missiles were being installed on the roofs of London tower blocks, seemingly without taking the going to the trouble of consulting the residents first.

It was all going a bit Children of Men and this is before you remember that less than 12 months earlier these parts of London had seen the worst civil unrest since the 1980s, and the city’s supposedly loveable cartoonish mayor was left stammering out an explanation as to why he’d deemed the scenes of burning buildings, cars and looting to be not reason enough to cut short his holiday and return home to do some mayoring.

Add in a little more political context and this summer of sport was beginning to look dangerously like an elitist irrelevance. Just as dewy-eyed sporting historians like to set Botham’s Ashes against a backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain and the Brixton riots of 1981, the 2012 Olympics had its very own juxtaposition between sporting perfection and economic austerity: a national ‘day of action’ (or ‘strike’, as they’re otherwise known) over public sector pensions the previous November, local authorities facing a funding squeeze and announcing another round of job losses in February, a sovereign debt crisis threatening to engulf the smaller Eurozone states before turning its attention to the union’s more senior members. How this is remembered in relation to sport in 2012 depends much upon how these crises, all unresolved, play out. They could be tapped into shape and fitted up to the play the villain in a well-meaing ‘sport conquers all’ narrative, or all context may be stripped away, deemed to detract too much from all the lovely sport. (I don’t mean to be cynical (alright, maybe just a bit), I just think context is important sometimes.)

[and I almost forgot about the Queen’s Jubille. Which, in retrospect, looks curiously like, just as the athletes were in the final stages of their preperation, the British public was getting in some bloody good flag-waving practice before the main event. “The Olympics without any of the fun bits”, an uncharitable person might say.]

Back into the sporting arena and another reminder that all optimism pre-July was a futile pursuit came in the form of Euro 2012. The now traditional routine of getting excited, getting together and getting the drinks in seemed just that little bit more forced this time round and England were as flat as the beer in a can of Carlsberg the morning after. There were some good moments but England once again flattered to deceive before being out-played by Italy in the quarter-final and yet, almost ingenuously, still contriving to manufacture the customary exit on penalty kicks.

In retrospect, the national’s number one sport cast a lovely contrast for the Olympics to show itself off against. Football had a year dogged by racism on the pitch and in the stands, fans coming to the defence of a player convicted of rape, interminable arguments over what constituted a red card these days and, in the end, the Premier League and the European Cup wound up being won by the teams with the richest owners. (Allbeit both with surprisingly exciting denouements.) Who’d have thought it?

The Olympics would have had to have been pretty fucking terrible and depraved to look bad in comparison, and perhaps this is why the event took off in quite the way it did. Instead of stern-faced post-match press conference from managers attempting to put the psychological voodoo on their opponents, or the earnest millionaire delivering flat platitudes after scoring a goal, we had actual genuine, real-life enthusiasm, passion, excitement, humbleness, all the things that football seems to be moving further and further away from these days.

In the end, quite why football happened to look so bad over the summer months is probably a combination of a number of factors rather than just one, but it was nice to see people who work hard for comparatively very little recognition end up getting so much of the spotlight for a while. From the velodrome to the track to the lakey-thing where they did the sailing, the Olympics was pulling apart that old lie that you have to be a bit of a dick in order to be successful in today’s world. It was almost enough to make you believe all the stuff about role models and sporting legacy.

Sport isn’t the great healer that some would have you believe it is, though. Seeing Mo Farah win his second gold medal is probably scant comfort if you’ve been made redundant or are having the benefits you rely on cut. And, as such it should be put in its proper context. Sport in 2012 was as sport always has been – a form of escapism, a milieu of excitement, heartbreak and other emotions if you’re willing to invest enough into it.

But let’s stop beating around the bush, for once everything went pretty well. Alright, very well. If you like you can think about the Olympics and bookend them with Bradley Wiggins’s Tour de France win and Andy Murray’s triumph at the US Open and you’ve got rather a magnificent set of events. 2012 was a year which, for whatever reason, everything seemed to come together. If you could look past the giant McDonalds and the various politicians keen to get a slice of the feel-good pie and Paul McCartney singing along to his own song in the velodrome, it was all actually rather good.

Victoria Pendleton

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on November 26, 2012

It’s the sprint final at the World Championships in Melbourne, the last major event before the London Olympics. The score is tied at one race apiece between Victoria Pendleton and the Lithuanian rider Simona Krupeckaite, the World Championship is going down to the final race. Pendleton has already beaten her arch-rival Anna Meares in the semi-final on Meares’s home turf with the Aussie in the form of her life; but it all still comes down to this final race.

Except it doesn’t.

The race officials signal that Krupeckaite came off her line during the final sprint and has been disqualified, handing Pendleton a 2-0 lead in the best of three contest. There will be no final race, Victoria Pendleton is the World Champion. Amongst the noise of the velodrome there comes a cry: “Vic, Vic, you’ve done it”. The Great Britain coaches crowd round her and Pendleton stops spinning the pedals of the stationary road bike she was warming up on and dismounts. The coaches give her a round of applause and hugs, some are smiling whilst others are laughing with relief and surprise, but there is little emotion on the face of Pendleton. Dave Brailsford beams from ear to ear and puts his arms round her, saying “brilliant, you’ve done it” and then the new World Champion collapses to her knees in tears. These aren’t tears of relief or victory, it’s a truly visceral and jarring moment. As Brailsford steps back, Pendleton puts her head in her hands and, still on her knees, pushes her hands and face downwards until her body is a sobbing ball on the floor. Brailsford, having already called for team psychologist Steve Peters, moves away.

When asked at what point she realised she might be good enough to be a world champion, Pendleton said that only at the moment when she crossed the line and won gold for the first time did she believe she might be as good as everyone said she was. Whilst she will go down in history as one of the all-time great sprinters, victory and Victoria are not easy acquaintances, her reaction to Krupeckaite’s relegation and the win in Melbourne gives an insight into the type of rider and the type of person she is. Whilst her team were overjoyed at the sudden win, Pendleton hid her face away and curled her body into a ball on the velodrome floor.

Following Pendleton’s career and reading her excellent autobiography Between the Lines, you realise these kind of contradictions crop up often in her life. On the face of it, a beautiful woman who is the best in the world at her sport shouldn’t carry around so much angst, but self-doubt and fear of letting others down have always been the twin demons that have dogged much of her professional life.

The public image of Pendleton though, like the woman herself, is a complicated one. Despite being a great champion she isn’t spoken of in quite the same reverential tones as Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins. When the BBC documentary Victoria Pendleton: Cycling’s Golden Girl was aired, it provoked quite a negative reaction amongst cycling fans. A quick look around internet message boards found the phrases “needy”, “high maintenance”, “over emotional” used regularly. Words such as “nutter”, pertaining to her mental health crept up occasionally too. In his autobiography In Pursuit of Glory, Bradley Wiggins talks about how team psychiatrist Steve Peters helped him overcome mental hurdles in the run up to his Beijing gold rush, but I am yet to see him characterised as a high maintenance nutter.

All of this raises the question of what we want from our athletes. Would Pendleton be celebrated more if she were less open about her feelings? In her book she talks about how she began self-harming and, on one occasion, cut herself in front of coach Jan Van Eijden during a confrontation about her secret relationship with GB coach Scott Gardner (to whom she is now engaged). If this seems shocking it should perhaps serve to illustrate that mental health issues can affect anybody – success, fame and good lucks are no barrier. Some might be uncomfortable with a female athlete talking about this, but it does no one much good to simply sweep it under the carpet.

However, when Pendleton agreed to do a photoshoot for “lad’s mad” FHM we were presented with a different image of the athlete, one that may not have been entirely helpful to perceptions of women’s sport. In her book, the raunchy photos are justified by stating that she had worked hard to get a body like the one she had, it wouldn’t be like that forever and she wanted to show it off. There may be some merit to this argument from an individual perspective but, unfortunately, it only serves to further entrench an all too common attitude that male athletes are role models, whereas female athletes are sex symbols who should be judged on looks rather than athletic ability.

Another contradiction, then. It’s hard at times to reconcile the shy, introverted girl with the Smashing Pumpkins lyrics tattooed on her right arm, to the glamorous sex symbol photographed on the red carpet at movie premières. Some may want athletes to be perfect, true Olympians with no hang-ups or neuroses, when an athlete becomes a World Champion and looks so upset about it, they may turn away in disgust. But what makes Pendleton so likeable is exactly these characteristics. She’s a real person with feelings of self-doubt which will be familiar to many people. Ironically, track cycling may be worse off without Victoria Pendleton, but you get the impression that, with no more expectations and pressure, Victoria Pendleton may be happier without track cycling.

The arguments against legalised doping

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on October 17, 2012

One of the oddest elements of the recent Lance Armstrong/US Postal doping case is the number of people who have concluded as a result that doping should be permitted in cycling.

recent six-year study by experts found numerous merits to decriminalising drugs in wider society, but I’m still sceptical about doing the same for performance enhancing drugs in sport, for the reasons I outline below:

What do you mean by ‘drugs’?

Very basically, fans need to realise that ‘drugs in sport’ is not a catch-all term. There seems to be an myth that doping is akin to activating a cheat on a computer game – you stick a needle in an athlete’s arm and they automatically boost their attributes by 10%. The term ‘doping’ or ‘drugs’ can range from bulking up using steroids to manipulating your blood levels using EPO. Advocates of legalised doping need to be clear as to which drugs should be legalised – all of them? only some? – and realise that doing this would open athletes up to numerous health risks, which we will discuss later.

Making a ‘level playing field’.

The main argument for legalisation is that doing so would create a level playing field, whereby all athletes would start from the same place and have access to the same drugs. This argument is flawed for a number of reasons. Primarily – and it’s a kind of obvious thing to have to  point out – human being’s bodies are not all the same, they react to different drugs in different ways. Some riders will find some PEDs help them, others will find the opposite. Former Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton said in a recent interview, “For me, growth hormone, when I tried it, felt awful. My legs felt sluggish. But some riders loved it, and that was their thing.”.

Verner Moller, a professor of sport and body culture at Aarhus University in Denmark recently advocated an “upper threshold” for the level of red blood cells in an athlete’s body. Moller used the argument that this would create a “level playing field”, saying

“Everybody would know what they can do, and it will be less important who has the best doping doctor. You would also see that we would get rid of those false positives, the bad publicity, the doping hysteria.”

Now, far be it from me to question a professor of sport and body culture, but this argument again ignores the physiological differences between athletes. If we set an upper threshold for hematocrit level (the percentage of blood which is made up of red blood cells which carry oxygen to the muscles) at, say, 50% this would not create a level playing field as people naturally have different hematocrit levels to begin with. An example from Tyler Hamilton again illustrates this well:

If Jonathan Vaughters’ is 48, he can only take a little bit of EPO, because it would be too dangerous for him, with testers, to raise his level any higher. Mine was in the lower forties, so EPO could help me more.

Moller’s argument that a threshold would also get rid of “false positives, bad publicity and doping hysteria”, also seems debatable. What would happen if the upper threshold was exceeded? Pro cycling actually did set a hematocrit limit at 50% in the days before EPO use could be detected by testing (a time when Lance Armstrong won his first couple of Tour de France titles, incidentally) and there is no evidence that cycling was any fairer then than it is now with stricter doping controls. This is also a time that, inarguably, had its share of bad publicity and doping hysteria too.

Health risks

In addition to this, saying doping should be legalised is akin to asking someone to put their health at serious risk for spectator’s entertainment.

The anti-doping organisation Bike Pure have a handy list of the health risks associated with doping on their website. These include an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, liver disease, sterility and depression through steroid use; whilst blood doping carries risks of septicaemia, blood clots, strokes, heart failure and increased risks of heart attacks. It’s surely beyond any person’s moral code to ask athletes to expose themselves to these risks for the sake of sport?

Taking a sentimental view

I watch cycling because I like seeing people haul themselves up a huge mountain on a tiny carbon-framed bike. I like watching people ride over 200kms and then out-think and out-pace their rivals in a sprint to the finish line. I like watch people ride through cobblestones and mud in Belgium and Northern France or be fast and smart enough to win a time trial. As we’ve seen with Lance Armstrong, those performances are instantly tainted when you find out they were done not solely through natural talent and training. Watching a whole peloton of people who could legally take drugs would not appeal to me at all. I generally find that those who advocate legalised doping or applaud Armstrong for doing what it took to win – such as sociologist Malcolm Gladwell – are not actually fans of the sport and are therefore lacking a deeper understanding of just why people love cycling. It’s beautiful, epic, romantic even, none of those adjectives can apply to doping. Cycling – when boiled down to its core – is about one person and a bike taking on everything else, and so it should remain.

Why is no one asking questions about Luis Garcia del Moral?

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on September 20, 2012

“Del Moral took over. 
Lie on the bed, roll up your sleeve, give me your arm. Relax.
He tied a blue elastic band below my biceps, set an empty transfusion bag on a white towel on the floor next to the bed and wiped the inside of my elbow with an alcohol swab. Then the needle. I’d seen a lot of needles, but this one was huge – about the size and shape of a coffee stirrer. It was attached to a syringe that was in turn attached to a clear tubing that led to the waiting bag, with a small white thumbwheel to control the flow. I looked away; I felt the needle go in. When I looked again, my blood was pumping steadily into the bag on the floor.”

If the name Luis Garcia del Moral doesn’t mean anything to you at the moment, chances are you won’t forget it in a hurry after reading former pro-cyclist Tyler Hamilton’s tell-all autobiography. Hamilton, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong, comes clean about the culture of doping at the top of the cycling world in the Armstrong-era and the doctors and team managers who enabled and encouraged the riders to break the rules and deceive the drugs testers.

Del Moral features prominently, supplying riders with various drugs and, in the extract above, performing a blood transfusion on Hamilton and then storing the blood bag in a fridge so that it could be re-injected during the 2000 Tour de France.

When the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) charged Armstrong with doping, del Moral was one of five others named in what USADA called “a massive doping conspiracy from 1998-2011”. Like Armstrong, del Moral decided not to contest the charges and was subsequently banned for life on July 10th this year.

It wasn’t just cyclists who worked with del Moral, however. It seems his services were highly sought after. According to the website of sports consultancy firm that employed him (although presumably no longer), his CV includes positions as medical advisor to FC Barcelona and Valencia.

In addition to this, after his lifetime ban, the International Tennis Federation issued a short press release confirming that del Moral had also worked with “various tennis players”.

It does make you wonder why, in the light of this, no journalist has stepped up and asked the pretty obvious question – was del Moral doing the same things at Barca and Valencia that he was with Lance Armstrong’s team?

Given that Hamilton, Armstrong and other top cyclists were able to beat the drugs testers with the help of doctors like del Moral, what exactly would stop these ‘medical advisors’ bringing the same knowledge and techniques to football and tennis?

Update: An interesting snippet from Sunday Times journalist David Walsh after interviewing Tyler Hamilton:

Update 10/10/2012: I didn’t want to write a whole new post on this but Matt Scott of the Telegraph picked up on the Barca/del Moral link today, which is great to see. Barcelona were unsurprisingly not very forthcoming, confirming only that del Moral was “never on the payroll”, but admitting he may have worked with the medical department on an “ad hoc basis” and may have been employed by individual players. It’s also interesting to note that Valencia didn’t answer calls or respond to emails when asked the same questions.

The other big news today was the release of USADA’s 200-page report on why they brought sanctions against members of the US Postal team and it’s medical staff. I’m still plowing through the report but couldn’t resist a quick CTRL-F for “del Moral”. Here’s some highlights:

“Dr. del Moral would authorize cortisone for the riders for fictitious injuries; Tyler
Hamilton said this was a frequent practice.

Dr. del Moral developed a doping program for Christian Vande Velde that focused on
human growth hormone and cortisone injections.

Dr. del Moral provided hGH to Vande Velde and injected him with hGH and cortisone.

Dr. del Moral would also inject the riders with substances without telling the riders what
they were receiving, even when asked.

At times he was apparently using the riders as “guinea pigs,” investigating the impact of these substances on the riders”

The last one is particularly striking, I think. The report also states that George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis all testified Dr. del Moral was “deeply involved in the blood doping programme”. ( p.117 of the report).

I won’t hold my breath for football to become embroiled in this any time soon but there may be even more questions about del Moral’s role in the coming days after the full 1000-page USADA report is published.

Hillsborough: The Truth at last

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on September 12, 2012

Imagine being a police officer who altered witness statements from an incident where 96 people died as a result of your colleagues’ ineptitude. Imagine doing that and then sitting on that knowledge for 23 years.

Take that a level further, imagine being a senior South Yorkshire police officer in the immediate aftermath of such an event. Would your first reaction be to serve the public, or to go to the most depraved depths to make sure you and your fellow officers weren’t held responsible?

The unpalatable truth from today’s revelations is that those ugly lies about April 15th 1989 – that fans were drunk and violent, ticketless and at least partly responsible for the deaths of 96 of their fellow fans – were not myths and rumours formed in pubs and football grounds, they came from the police themselves.

These grotesque smears, it was revealed today, came from the imagination of police officers who sought to defame the deceased and the survivors to protect their own back.

In Tory MP Irvine Patnick’s recollection of the day of the disaster, he states:

One [police officer] said ‘ I picked up a girl she was dead she was in my arms her blouse
was torn she had no bra on her breasts were exposed when someone shouted
at me “throw her over here we’ll fuck her”‘. It was booze that did it-you speak up
for us tell them in Parliament what happened. ‘

How could a number of police officers think that it was better to invent stories like these, stories which they knew would cause untold misery and suffering to the families of the dead, than to admit they were responsible?

What’s more, how can we be sure that the police officers responsible for this revolting cover-up will be held accountable for their actions? How many of them still serve in the police force?

That’s one of the main things I’ll take away from today’s report. Like most people I feel a mixture of happiness that the truth many have known for years is finally official and those lies have finally been fully discredited; but also a deep sickening feeling now that the true extent of the cover-up is finally revealed and, of course, at the news that 41 people could have been saved.

What I feel is irrelevant though, I can only express admiration, sympathy and solidarity with those who lost family members at Hillsborough and those who survived and then had to restart their lives as the media and fellow football fans labelled them hooligans.

On the day of the disaster John Peel began his show with this song, it’s beautiful but nearly impossible to listen to without a tear in your eye on a day like today.


What links FC Barcelona and the Lance Armstrong doping case?

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on July 14, 2012

It was relatively big news this week when 3 doctors who worked with Lance Armstrong’s US Postal cycling team received lifetime bans from sport for providing athletes with EPO, blood transfusions and masking agents.

What seems to have gone largely unreported is that one of the dirty trio – Luis Garcia del Moral – was, according to – working as a medical advisor for FC Barcelona and Valencia. Another intriguing link between doping and the world of Spanish football.

Those in cycling know that del Moral is generally considered bad news. In January 2011 Garmin-Slipstream sacked their Directuer Sportif Matt White, after he sent rider Trent Lowe to see del Moral without the team’s knowledge. In an interview with journalist Paul Kimmage in May 2011, Floyd Landis claimed that he paid del Moral to work with him on the logistics of blood tranfusions for the 2005 Tour de France.

As far as I can see, FC Barcelona haven’t made a statement on del Moral’s ban, which prohibits him from working in any sport which has signed up to the WADA code of conduct. It would be interesting to hear why they employed del Moral and what his specific role was within the team.

Del Moral is the third doctor with links to doping to have worked for, or been linked to, FC Barcelona. Pep Guardiola’s doctor Ramon Segura is currently (as far as I can see) still working as the club physician, Segura worked with both Guardiola and Frank de Boer when they tested positive for nandrolone during their playing careers.

In 2006 it was alleged by French newspaper Le Monde that the notorious Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, of Operacion Puerto fame, had been working with Barcelona and Real Madrid. Numerous footballers were said to have been named in Puerto but, six years on, none of those names have been released to the public, and none have been disciplined by the football authorities.

A few thoughts on David Millar

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on July 13, 2012

Don’t stop calling me an ex-doper. We should not forget the past. I made mistakes. I am an ex-doper and now I’m clean” David Millar, July 13th 2012.

On the face of it, I shouldn’t like David Millar, but I do. He was a doper who never tested positive, he cheated the fans who cheered him on, then he got banned. Plus, from reading his book, it sounds like he was a bit of a dick. It’s a depressingly common tale in cycling, except Millar is different.

Unlike other riders who served 2 year doping bans and rejoined the ranks of professional cycling, Millar came back a changed man. He was a vocal doping critic and eventually he formed a team, in the shape of Garmin-Slipstream with Jonathan Vaughters, which emphasised clean racing and zero tolerance of doping as its core principles. Millar was a doper, yes, but now he’s helping to make the sport cleaner and eradicate the sort of environments where young riders feel they have no choice but to dope. That’s why I like him.

This might be stunning naivety on my part, but David Millar’s ride today in the 226km Stage 13 of the Tour de France was one of those rare moments in cycling where you know for sure that the winner is clean. So, when he crossed the line and didn’t straighten his upper body and raise his arms to make sure the sponsors logo got prime coverage on TV, but instead punched the air and roared with joy, I thought it was pretty awesome and I struggled to think of a rider more deserving of a stage win.

It also means that if a rider like Millar can win an intense stage like the one today than maybe there is hope for professional cycling moving towards a cleaner future.

My favourite personal memory of David Millar riding a bike is from 2010. I was stood on the Muur van Gerardsbergen, an iconic cobbled climb in the Tour of Flanders. Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen had already gone past, side-by-side, battling it out for the victory, then came Bjorn Leukemens and Phillipe Gilbert. Then, just behind them, came the lanky figure of David Millar in the argyle-patterned Garmin jersey, standing up on the pedals and hauling himself up the cobblestones.

Later we found out that Millar, not usually a rider you’d associate with strong performances in cobbled Belgian Classics, had attacked the chasing group and tried to bridge the gap over to Boonen and Cancellara, later joined by Leukemans and Gilbert, which is where we saw him on the Muur. He couldn’t hold onto a top-5 place in the end, eventually finishing 32nd, but the exhilaration and shock of seeing Millar riding with the best Classics riders in the world on one of the most iconic climbs will stay with me forever. As, probably, will today’s stage win.