Thursday, July 26, 2007

Values and the Tour de France

Michael Rasmussen in the Yellow Jersey

At this time of the year for a number of years I have done my best to keep up with that toughest and most extraordinary of all cycle races, the Tour de France. I started watching about the second or third year of Lance Armstrong's long reign as Tour winner, so fascinated was I by this man's endurance and ability to overcome the agony of his body to win on the horrible slopes of the Alps or the Pyranees.

This year my interest has been no different, particularly so as it has been an extremely open race and there has been no one individual who has looked as if he could win convincingly until these last few days.

Until now it had been enthralling, but this week the whole thing has unraveled as one after another riders and teams have been forced from the race by doping scandals and dishonesty. The 2006 race was marred by similar problems, when winner, Floyd Landis, tested positive for excessive testosterone after he had stood victoriously on the podium in Paris and received the plaudits of the world. More than a year later there is still a huge legal and medical battle going on as to whether he won or not -- and he hasn't raced since then, and probably never will again.

I was driving home from the church last night listening to the sports news and learned of the latest heartbreaker: Michael Rasmussen, the race leader and wearer of the Yellow Jersey, had been thrown out by Team Rababank for lying about his whereabouts in June when he missed some crucial statutory drug tests. This was a body blow because Rasmussen cycled the race of his life yesterday as he won the hardest stage, confirming himself as the winner-elect: in the last three or four days of cycling it was his to lose. Now, not only is he out of the race, but the Dane's career as a professional cyclist is also probably over.

As I drove the rest of the way home I wondered what made these guys do such things, surely they must have known that somehow or other in due course their actions would be discovered, and that there would be hell to play. The temptation in as tough a sport as this is that even the smallest edge means the difference between success and failure. As grueling as three weeks of pedalling around France is, competitors must always be looking for just about anything to keep them going and keep them ahead of the pack, whether it is appropriate or not. But by falling into temptation and taking on board a chemical pick-me-up, some of the finest athletes have not only lost the race but their career and their good name.

All that got me pondering the pervasiveness of dishonesty in almost every realm of human endeavor, and especially in these early years of the 21st Century. It looks so easy to cut corners, tell "little white lies," cheat on your income taxes, mislead your spouse, and most of all, deceive ourselves. We certainly don't trust politicians, business moguls, and the like, and consider them guilty of dishonesty until proven innocent.

A former bishop of mine pointed out to me a long time ago that those of us who are reasonably intelligent, educated, and middle class, are among the most gifted at justifying our actions to ourselves, even when in our heart of hearts there is no justification for what we have done. The Scriptures are right in their assessment of the depth of our sinfulness. Yet I wonder whether our culture even begins to understand this, or wants to try to understand this.

It is disappointed that the likes of Michael Rasmussen have let themselves and the public down by their deceptions, but how do we know what is and what is not a deception? When relativism runs riot who is to know what is right or wrong and whether there are any gray areas? As dear old Francis Schaeffer used to thunder, value words like good and bad, right and wrong, and so forth, do not describe something the prevailing culture can understand because all values are subjective when you function without absolutes -- an ultimate point of reference. Values language is the language of those who walk the way of the revealed faith.

We seem now to be living in a strange world where differing sets of values are given differing sets of credance in differing circumstances. When an athlete wins a race or a game we want that person to have done it with their own ability, not with the help of chemicals or whatnot. When that athlete breaks the rules, then we get serious and throw them out. Yet when we personally come up against values rooted and grounded in God's revelation, rather than honestly seeking to work through the consequences in our daily lives we make special pleading or attempt to turn those values on their head.

Perhaps the time has come for most of us to do some very serious thinking...

1 comment:

izzyisrael said...

we are absolutely human....