Sport Comment: Blaming Europeans for Lance ills is sick argument

IF YOU love sport, you love Sundays. I do. It’s a time to appreciate the Saturday programme and look forward to an increasingly varied diet on the Sabbath.

But not last Sunday, dear me, no way. It began bleakly with Andy Murray’s implosion in the Australian Open. And then there was the cricket. Strewth. England had done pretty well to get to the tri-series final only for the old Aussie enemy to stuff Eoin Morgan’s side.

Yet that was not the most miserable I felt on Sunday. And while Aston Villa fans can be forgiven for believing they had the worst of it, I beg to differ. Poor sods, they probably had it coming.

But what I did not see steaming over the sporting horizon last Sunday was a declaration from a presumably perfectly intelligent and rational sportsman that shook my sense of sporting justice to the core.

I give you Scott Mercier, one-time leading member of the US Postal Service pro cycling team, who laudably quit the sport in 1997 rather than sign up to the team’s secret doping programme.

This is what Mercier said of the guy who joined a year later and became cycling’s biggest star – and biggest cheat – Lance Armstrong: “In my mind… Lance is the winner of seven Tours of France.” Mercier argued that the titles stripped from the Texan after his doping was exposed should now be reinstated.

If I’d been in the saddle when I read that, I’d have gone straight over the handlebars.

There was more. Mercier pointed out that another American, Floyd Landis, lost his 2006 Tour title for doping, yet Denmark’s Bjarne Riis held onto his 1996 crown, despite later confessing that he also cheated.

He also cited Tyler Hamilton, who lost his 2004 Olympic time-trial title when he was caught doping, only for US Postal team-mate Viatcheslav Ekimov, a Russian, to inherit it. Triple Olympic champion Ekimov has always refused to speak about doping allegations.

“This drug usage did not start with the Americans,” says Mercier, going for the least worst argument, perhaps. “It was part of the culture long before the Yankees invaded. The Europeans have gotten a far easier ride than our riders. In my mind, Tyler is the gold medallist from 2004 and Lance Armstrong the winner of seven Tours of France.”

This is a sick argument. Yes, Lance was bad and he got caught but, hey, they were all at it – especially those Old World European sonofabitches. So give Lance back his medals and his glory! Is he for real?

But this is the Mercier quote that that had me almost laughing in utter despair: “It’s time to be honest, it may be painful, but I believe honesty and transparency are the best path forward.”

Honesty and transparency: the very qualities that Lance Armstrong displayed whenever questioned about drugs allegations over the years. Thank goodness for David Walsh, the journalist who did so much to expose him. Now I am looking forward to the Six Nations – and a much better Sunday.