Monday, September 17, 2012

The French v. the American Take on Armstrong's Doping

The general response in American academic circles to the Lance Armstrong doping denouement has been to criticize the US Anti-Doping Agency for too doggedly pursuing one man, making him their primary target (he began winning about the time USADA came into existence), and for violating his right to privacy. (1) In France, the articles have tended to be exposés of how he went about beating the tests and have featured testimony from his most ardent detractors.

In other words, in the US the response is to keep Armstrong on a pedestal and condemn USADA for overreaching, in France the response has been a cynical, "We knew this all along."

Given that Armstrong still has the benefit of the doubt in the US, it is not at all surprising that he gave up the fight when he did. A protracted legal battle would have definitively turned even his most faithful fans into doubters as testimony of his doping would have become a regular feature in the press. By bowing out now, Armstrong can still deny testing positive and cast dispersions on USADA while maintaining a good reputation with US fans who see the good he has done in the fight against cancer.

As with all Armstrong's decisions, this one makes good economic sense.

(1) I am speaking specifically about the Sports Literature Association here but have seen similar comments in other American news venues.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The New Yorker, The Olympics, and the Franco-Prussian War

In a very interesting piece about the Olympics published in The New Yorker (Aug 6, 2012), Louis Menand writes that Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympics in an effort to make the French "more manly, meaning more disciplined and self-reliant (he was reacting partly to the country's defeat, in 1870, in the Franco-Prussian War), and he believed that introducing sports into education could be the basis for this transformation in the national character" (71).

This is one of the most repeated clichés about Coubertin and the Olympics. Unfortunately, it's wrong.

After the defeat to the Prussians in 1870 and well before Coubertin, the French put in place a system of gymnastic exercise in the schools in order to instill physical "discipline" in the male citizenry--all with an eye to retaking Alsace and Lorraine.

Coubertin, in fact, wanted to overturn this militarized form of exercise. Instead of discipline he hoped to instill a sense of creative joy through the implementation of British sports in the French system.

And Coubertin, a good aristocrat, was not interested in petty national interest or seeking revenge on the Prussians. He went so far as to write that, "This perpetual 'protest' directed toward the victor of 1870 exasperated me.... I cannot say how often during my adolescence I suffered from this attitude that a false and petty conception of nationalism imposed upon my generation" (Mémoires olympiques 17).

Coubertin was far more interested in establishing a pan-European event that would allow the elite to join together with an eye to rejuvenating the monarchy. It was less about national character and more about the European aristocracy; less about revenge for the French losing the Franco-Prussian War and more about monarchical restoration.

Vivent les jeux!