Sworn under oath in his deposition, which took place on the 30th of November 2005, Lance Armstrong — then seven-time winner of the Tour de France — until the day before his Opray Winfrey interview in January 2013 fervently denied outright accusations of taking performance-enhancing drugs or blood doping. We, of course, learn the real truth after his interview with Winfrey, now stripped of all his numerous accolades.
Cheating is bad. Not only does cheating represent breaking the rules, it’s the division in reality and illusion. Depending on how you would look at it, Armstrong’s downfall or noble truth-giving is one example of many where cheating paints a blurry picture. To become victor once in the Tour de France is an astonishing feat, to do it six more times represents immortality. To our eyes, it’s a victory. Only, if you don’t get caught. Unfortunately, the truth always reveals itself.
Impurity isn’t only rife in sports. To ascend in life and business, playing the game fairly isn’t enough. And that was Armstrong’s argument. In our hyper-competitive world, all the players are in the quest to find the edge to win. What does it take? Grit and hard work? Yes, but the price to win isn’t being uncomfortable with a little bit of hard work. The price to win often involves trespassing the moral and ethical boundaries.
Lance Armstrong’s deposition hearing:
Lance Armstong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey:
The Fundamental Principles of Olympism
Here is another sporting reference. Before the start of the Games, during the opening ceremony, an athlete of the host country gives the Olympic oath:
We promise to take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules and in the spirit of fair play, inclusion and equality. Together we stand in solidarity and commit ourselves to sport without doping, without cheating, without any form of discrimination. We do this for the honour of our teams, in respect for the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, and to make the world a better place through sport.
“Without doping, without cheating”. Following months and years, doping scandals fill our headlines. Canada’s Ben Jonson and America’s Marion Jones weren’t the only ones to embellish their careers. There were and are more.
Athletes still deserve credit, though. Overcoming injury, fatigue, stress to turning up every day to do the same thing only harder than last time is an accomplishment on its own.
However, is this enough? It begs the question can you win within the rules? Or, is what we are seeing a lie?
International sport is really a tool. It’s used to unite a nation. The Olympics is the only worldwide war where no blood is split, where a national can still gain dominance over another.
Rather than a body count, we have a medal tally.
And when we celebrate the success of a gold medal, what are we celebrating? A genetic outlier? A monstrous work ethic? Or their ability to get away with it? And what about those who do play by the rules but are outshone by those who didn’t play fairly?
Reality and Illusion
Among many, a timeless motif in William Shakespeare’s plays is dramatic irony. By the way, I’d like to thank the English teacher who pointed this out. Dramatic irony is facts the audience know that the stage characters don’t.
We know Desdemona’s affair is Iago’s fictional construction. Othello knows no better. Cordellia, in the audience’s eyes, is the daughter who truly loves King Lear and not Reagan and Goneril. Hamlet’s fellow characters think he is crazy when we know he is questioning his existence.
There is a strong dichotomy of reality and illusion. What do we know and what do they know?
In the end, “All the world’s a stage”, do we know what is real and what is fake?
Examples of stages include social media platforms like Instagram. Success from all over the world is cherry-picked, amplified and delivered straight to your feed.
But just like some Olympic athletes, Instagram allows one to conceal the reality and pedal an illusionary narrative.
So then we become the unknowing characters.
But for many, Instagram is a business. The currency is followers. And to get followers, you need to create an illusion of superior performance.
Here we have unattainable beauty, happiness, wealth, and lifestyle.
We want to be healthy, but we see unhealthy extreme standards online.
We go to the gym for months and years and we are never satisfied by how we look because we see our idols and wonder why we look nothing like them.
The image of our champions is a lie. They are cheating us.
But cheating like this, though a choice, is necessary to win.
Responsible for the economic powerhouses we see today, capitalism is where business is owned by the individual people rather than the government.
Because the market is free, supply and demand dictate the price of goods and services. And anyone can provide those goods and services.
The system of a free market creates competition. Businesses need to constantly innovate, price appropriately, create effectively in order to stay competitive. Business profitability is a measure of survival in a cut-throat market.
I’m no business expert, but the mentality of “you’re either growing or dying” is strong. Being is not sufficient; growth is necessary. And we can’t blame them. Shareholders want to see growth. Prospective shareholders also want to see growth. If you don’t show growth, you don’t get investment. If you don’t get investment, you also don’t grow. The feedback loop continues.
Just like with some Olympic athletes, extra steps are required to get the edge. That edge provides growth, hence survival.
Sometimes the depths of those actions are illegal, but somehow still profitable. Sometimes those actions have negative ethical and moral consequences, but still, it’s profitable.
We all play within the rules. We all play fair. We all play in the spirit of the game. Is this why we lose?
Playing the Long Game
Number 226 in the Perry Index is “The Tortoise and the Hare”. Maybe, cheating feeds short term wins at the expense of long term victory.
Lance Armstrong was caught. Olympic athletes get caught. At the end of the day, if you play fowl, you get caught.
If you go against your morals and ethics (given you have a backbone) to simply win, it will destroy you inside. That is where the tortoise takes over.
Lance Armstrong was a beacon for a lot of people. The Livestrong foundation has supported millions of people who have had cancer.
Even if he did end up cheating, “Icarus” shows us how astonishing Armstrong’s apparent success is. The victory wasn’t doping alone. It’s actually a marvel. Anything could have gone wrong. He could have got injured. He could have had a mechanical failure. Additionally, Armstrong did have to train, show up every day, through sickness and pain.
What does this have to do with the long game? Not much really.
During the interview for my last job, we discussed growing the business. Interestingly, the two owners weren’t worried about growing the business (the business was a privately-owned, family optometry clinic). They had a system that was working well. All they wanted to do was keep doing a good job for people. And that was it.
Victory and success are amazing things. But is what we see what we get?
Lance Armstrong could not have done it without doping. And that’s why he was stripped from his seven Tour de France wins. Time and time again, after all, Olympic games, there is a drug cheating scandal.
The same goes for business. Can you get to the top the just way? Or is getting the edge through breaking the rules and crossing the ethical boundary necessary?
I think people catch on. Short-term wins are at the expense of long-term success.
Netflix. (2017). ICARUS. Retrieved from ICARUS website: https://www.icarus.film/