Cyclists are fiercely protective of their sport – it’s an odd mix in that as a minority sport, fans are keen to show how ‘hip’ they are by supporting such a sport, and how unique they are for doing so etc, but of course in doing so are promoting the sport to other people, who it seems they don’t really want to take it up. Witness the mocking eye rolling at the new cycling fans who can over to Paris to watch Bradley Wiggins win the Tour, as the self proclaimed ‘real fans’ muttered under their breath about bandwagons and the like, and claimed (hoped) that these new people wouldn’t take up their comfortable, cosy niche and expose them as not very good.
However, all fans of cycling can unite every so often and viscerally attack another sport that claims to be better, or patronisingly scoffs that it is a cleaner sport. Take football for instance, a sport whose governing body, FIFA, claims has ‘led the way in doping control for 30 years’ and that UK football is subject to ‘more testing as any other sport’. This is the same FIFA that just shrugged its shoulders and ignored things when over 70% of the players at the U23 World Cup tested positive for Clenbuterol, and the same FIFA that argues that suprise tests and whereabouts systems are both not necessary and illegal. Of course, they can claim they are excellent testers given that 60% of players are likely to face 1 test a year…except all top level cyclists have multiple tests every year for their blood passport. Woops.
Still, the comparisons between football and cycling’s doping systems are for another day, so for the moment, just to illustrate that cycling is the superior sport, here’s a handy guide to what both sports would be like if the adopted the ethos of the other.
If Cycling was like Football…
– You tested positive for something? It’s ok, we don’t even have to release your name, and can just leave you off the team for a bit. Also, we’re paying you so much we don’t want to fire you, so we’ll keep you on the team anyway whilst coming up with a vague excuse.
– There’s a sprint for the line, but of course we haven’t embraced technology, so there’s no finish line camera. We’ll just leave it up to a couple of blokes to decide the result, but not give them the replays and camera angles that would make their job much easier, and when they say Greipel won instead of Goss even though the camera shows that Goss ‘clearly’ won by 5mm, we will mercilessly attack these officials as incompetent, useless wastes of space who have ruined the game for ever.
– Riders can casually inject drugs as they ride – we don’t call it cheating, we just call it ‘simulation’ because that makes everything better, doesn’t it. Despite it being a massive problem ruining the game, we just ignore it and indeed encourage it, with commentators claiming ‘Oh, he could have doped there…’) This is accepted as completely normal and ‘gamesmanship’
– All pre and post race talk is on the politics of the sports, arguing about the finish line officials, the fact that the governing body just give the Worlds to the Middle East for the money, and so on. During the race, fans take to twitter and call for riders and team managers to be fired when the race hasn’t even finished, decrying the season as their teams worst ever and perpetually moaning about everything, with every result deciding whether their team are world beaters (a win) or doomed to years of failure (a defeat) according to popular wisdom.
– Huge police presences are now required to separate those hooligans in the Sky fan jerseys from the mentalists in Liquigas colors, and that before those crazy Garmin and FDJ characters have turned up for a brawl. Barriers are allocated along the route to prevent skirmishes amongst these people, who are, of course, fueled purely by alcohol, just like every other sport which somehow manages to keep its fans quiet. Riders of course play up to this somewhat, but many finish line celebrations now can’t be pictured because of all the fans in the background clearly abusing and giving the finger to the rider. Oddly, this seems to be accepted as the norm.
– Fans are also required to pay large sums just to watch the match, with £50 for a ‘cheap’ ticket commonly cited, plus extortionate prices for drinks and so on. The best parts of the race, such as mythical climbs, hills and pave etc are sealed off only for the sponsors and VIPS, and access is denied to the common fan…(take note, Flanders organisers)
– Riders contracts of course mean nothing, and riders frequently break them and throw spats in the knowledge that they can get a better pay day somewhere else. Riders will kiss the team logo one month then claim the same team never really had the best fans and had no ambition the next in potty mouthed tirades on Twitter. Whenever they make an attack in their next race, they will be booed by the fans ad infinitum.
– Of course, the vast amounts of money concentrated into the sport now means that really only 4 of the 20 odd teams have any chance of winning the races, and only two of those four are real nailed on certs. All the other teams are left scrabbling for scraps left over, with the occasional upset used as evidence that it’s the ‘most unpredictable sport in the world.’
If Football was like cycling…
– Scandals rip through the sport, which has learnt that rather than burrying their heads in the sand, you have to cast a net if you want to catch the cheats. Confessions from old players as well as the efforts of anti-doping agencies have finally revealed that Operacion Puerto contained a hell of a lot of footballers, with Fuentes claiming he treated Barcelona and Real Madrid, as well as properly exposing the true extent of the EPO era in the 1990s (as seen in Germany) that the authorities has turned a blind eye to.
– Technology has finally been embraced to help ensure the game is about the game, not its politics. Goal line technology ensures that there are no arguments about whether balls crossed the line, and the coaches are given two challenges a match, which a la NFL, makes them throw a flag onto the pitch to bring in a video official on a decision to adjudicate in the case of offside, fouls and the like. Even better, the players have tiny GPS chips in their shirts, and the ball also feature tracking technology, and this can be used to show statistical data on the match to fans and pundits, as well as allowing offside decisions to be made with 100% accuracy.
– Similarly, fed up of the diving, the sport brings in tough new rules to wipe it out. There will be proper citing authorities that have the power to ban players for up to a year for persistent offending, and more importantly, the ability to dock points from teams who don’t get their players in line. Combined with the video technology seen above, the players now know that cheating will cost both them and their team, and as such the divers of yesteryear bother to stay on their feet.
– Fans are able to walk in together, and happily sit with one another chatting and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, yet manage to do so without being abusive to each other. A family atmosphere is encouraged, and thanks to miking up the referees and insisting the players call the referee ‘Sir’, the Respect campaign is at a new high, and young players are given positive role models rather than foul mouthed abusive egotists.
– Many teams have chances of winning the top races, with the talent spread out across the top 18-20 squads evenly. Of course, the offset is that there is a great deal of fluidity in the market, as the teams can fold or start up into the leagues following their financial situation, meaning teams colours and indeed names can fluctuate over a decade. This makes the sport more colourful and the like, but obviously harder for the casual follower to keep up with, although a worrying new system that encourages teams to buy the players with ‘points’ who might not necessarily be much good but help them avoid relegation is creeping in.
– However, the benefit of these sponsors and system of names is that the sport is absolutely free, and fans simply turn up and watch in confidence, with everything already paid for. For the price of a flight and a hotel, you can watch any team anywhere across the continent, free of charge.
Obviously I’m not the most impartial observer, so I’d happily welcome some input from proper footie fans (I just follow it for entertainment!) or alike, or from anyone who has any other additions!