In the world of corporate-speak there is a phrase: “I think it might be time for us to poke the bear.”
In other words, that thing over there that we’ve avoided disturbing – we’ve reached the point where we’re gonna have to disturb it and see what happens.
I, like most normal people, understand that such corporate speak is largely ridiculous. When I first witnessed the phrase ‘poking the bear’ being uttered in a drab meeting by a drab IT sales guy, I looked around the room to see who was ready to laugh. But no; this was a serious phrase, being used seriously, by a serious man, being taken seriously by people.
From that moment on I made it my mission to slip equally ridiculous phrases into similar meetings, to see just how far I could (ahem) push the envelope. Sticking with the animal theme, I managed to utter the line “do we need to think about tickling the badger on this one…?” at a recent gathering, which did illicit a couple of raised eyebrows, but the meeting rolled on regardless. I’d like to think half the room was sitting nervously wondering exactly how and when we were going to tickle the badger, and what would be the end result.
All of which brings me to the point of this little piece and the fact that, cycling wise,there are various bears that I generally refuse to publicly poke (or badgers tickle, for that matter), for fear of unleashing the wrath of that area of the internet which shouts a lot and isn’t very friendly.
Doping, for example.
Here are a couple of things I think about doping:
Lance Armstrong is not the devil. Or the problem. Or the solution. Lance Armstrong is a brash American guy who treated people badly and cheated. Lots of other people were also cheating, and had been for years. Lots of those haven’t been punished at all. Some of them are still celebrated. We need to get over Lance.
Also, cycling is not the problem. All the logic and common sense I possess tells me that drugs are rife across all sports. The chances are that the ones where more money is at stake will be more rife. Tennis, football, golf.
And now we have the Team Sky problem.
To some, they are the Rapha branded numbers obsessed antithesis of the beauty and instinct of sport. To others, like me, they are a British cycling team who produce British winners of the Tour de France. I grew up at a time when spotting Chris Boardman in the peloton was the closest thing we had to a Tour de France contender, and I couldn’t ever imagine a time when it might get better than that. So I was preconditioned to give Brailsford and Co. every benefit of every doubt when it came to performance, and any accusations of enhancement.
Sometimes colleagues in the office with a passing interest in cycling would ask me “so, are Sky on drugs then?”
“It’s complicated”, I’d tell them. I’d explain that they’re almost certainly not on drugs in the way that Lance was, but they’re probably doing things that, out of context, don’t look right, but are within the rules. The conversation would drift off – they wanted a black or white answer.
Now Sky are being subjected to trial by media over the use of TUE’s – therapeutic use exemptions which allow a rider to take a banned substance for the purpose of treating a medical condition. It doesn’t look good, certainly, but sections of the media are taking what, to me, is an excessive amount of pleasure in all this.
I always accepted they might operate in grey areas. I wondered if they were dabbling with things; legal things, but things nonetheless. More knowledgeable people than me wondered about the wisdom of their zero tolerance approach, whereby anyone with historic links to doping was expelled from the team.
Admirable in principle, a minefield in pro-cycling.
They talked about a line they’d go right up to, but never cross. But that line is the problem. Where is it, and what is it – is it a regulatory line or a moral line?
In what is a fairly grubby situation Sky don’t appear to have broken any rules on TUE’s, but most us instinctively think that wrong is wrong, regardless of whether rules have been broken. Call me naïve, but even as a Team Sky fan the ‘moral’ bit is more important, however this ends up playing out.
Thankfully, in real life, any poking of bears or tickling of badgers usually involves fairly mundane office based stuff which doesn’t drag me into a moral maze, blindfold me, and expect me to find my way out.
In my workplace I can find no evidence of any suspiciously high levels of performance, and no cover up involving hastily scribbled and perfectly legitimate TUE’s from our HR department.
That’s what I’m told, anyway, and I’m not poking that particular bear.