Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why Lance Armstrong Is Being Unfairly Treated

So you ride for years and are the premier cyclist in the world (even if illegally), you win seven Tour de Frances by the rules at the time, you never fail one of hundreds of drugs and doping blood and urine tests and it seems you about to be condemned and stripped of all your titles on the basis of people saying you did it. Is this just?

On the one hand, it seems fair. The basis for this is a two-year federal investigation begun in February by USADA. They have the testimony of ten former teammates including emails from Floyd Landis (stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title), Tyler Hamilton’s testimony, and people willing to provide data of the cyclist and his teams doping activity. It is claimed that Armstrong used and encouraged others to use EPO, blood transfusion, testosterone and cortisone between 1998 and 2005 and used EPO, testosterone and human growth hormones through 1996. Witnesses also testify that Armstrong encouraged team members to do the same. Further, tests of Armstrong’s blood suggest blood manipulation during the 2009 come-back tour.
On the face of it, it seems pretty much an open and shut case, albeit a circumstantial one. Indeed, I am not questioning even whether it did or did not happen. It seems to me likely there was doping involved. Armstrong is not fighting the charges either, which seems to support that he is guilty. But is it all reasonable and just?

First, when a person competes in a sporting competition, they do so under the rules at the time. Under the rules at the time, Armstrong won fair and square. He was tested in the same way as all the other athletes at the time. He passed the tests, others didn’t. Perhaps he beat the testing system. However, who is to say that the cyclist who came second, third, fourth, fifth, etc, etc, did not do the same? Will all athletes in the particular tours now be subjected to the same scrutiny by USADA? One can only play a sport by the rules at the time. For example, should we strip the Springboks of the 1995 RWC if it is proven that a certain Suzy was working for the South African Rugby Football Union and poisoned the All Blacks? It all gets rather silly.
Secondly, while there are supposed anomalies with the 2009 tests, these anomalies are not conclusive proof, and it does not relate to his seven titles. Further, have all the riders in the tours also been tested in the same way to the same level? Is there sufficient evidence to prove use from Armstrong and non-use by the others, especially those who won the various titles in every stage and overall? Unless there is more to come out, the 1998-2005 samples have not yielded proof of doping. So, why is he being stripped of his titles again? It seems to me, you either go over the whole lot who got on podiums in every stage, and this would include the mountain, sprints, young rider, and overall categories, or you don’t bother. In that such an investigation is ludicrous, I suggest it is better not to bother with any of it and confine it to history.

Thirdly, those who are testifying are all guilty of the same thing, and as such, it is likely most teams were doing the same as well. Further, how much you can trust the likes of Landis and Tyler Hamilton is up for grabs.

Fourthly, refusing to fight the charges does not prove innocence. At the most it proves that Armstrong has chosen not to contest it. Perhaps the cost is too great? Perhaps he thinks it is loaded? Perhaps he has had enough. Perhaps he knows he is guilty, but knows everyone else is too and can’t be bothered with the whole thing? One can’t blame him. Silence is not guilt.
Finally, were the cyclists told on these tours that if any samples were retested in the future, and found to give up evidence of doping, that they would be stripped? That is, was that a component of the rules at the time? And if it is a part of the rules, are athletes told that everyone in the race who gains a podium on any stage and category, either at the time or later, will also have their samples retested? Is that even feasible? If that sort of legislation was in place, fair enough, throw the book at Armstrong. Otherwise, it is history, let it go. That said, such legislation becomes self-defeating and impractical.

There is an issue of natural justice here. I want doping out of sport and agree with the best tests possible at the time, with cheats dealt to. But I also want justice and fairness and not trolling back over history in this way. While it seems likely that Armstrong, like most in the tour, were playing the system, I don’t believe he is being fairly treated; and if he is, then I would think that the drug agencies will be very busy gathering data on all athletes and retesting samples from the said tours for a long long time. I say leave those tours in the past, tainted as they are. I say in fact, that the authorities should do everything they can at the time to ensure the sporting event in question is as clean as possible, but then let it go. There are simply not the resources to keep going back over the past in this way. The rules at the time are the rules, and then let it lie.
What about you?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Evangelical Presbyterians’ Statement On Same Sex Marriage

I am involved in a group called Presbyterian Affirm. It is an evangelical group within the NZ Presbyterian Church which seeks to promote the gospel and the renewal of churches. A group of us under the leadership of Stuart Lange have worked to put together a statement on same-sex marriage. Our hope is that the government will not pass the legislation, believing that the legislation is not necessary and strays from God’s ideals for humanity. Here is the recently released statement. I would appreciate your thoughts on it.


Presbyterian AFFIRM, a widely-supported conservative network within the Presbyterian denomination, is speaking out against the Bill which would allow same-sex couples to marry, declaring its views in a “Statement on Marriage” (see below). Presbyterian AFFIRM believes that “marriage is a unique human institution and treasure” which has “always been about the pairing of a man and a woman”, and that re-defining marriage to include same-sex couples would unhelpfully confuse the meaning of marriage.

 A spokesman for Presbyterian AFFIRM, Dr. Stuart Lange, said: “We believe, that despite some isolated voices to the contrary, the great majority of active Presbyterians in this country want the definition of marriage to be retained as the union of a man and a woman, and that (as Helen Clark and Tim Barnett said in 2004) ‘Marriage is only for heterosexuals’ and ‘Civil Unions are an acceptable alternative’.”


Marriage is a unique human institution and treasure, universally recognized as the union of a man and a woman as husband and wife.

Marriage has always been about the pairing of a man and a woman, and it is a deeply-embedded human pattern. It is inherently related to the natural male-female capacity for procreation, and to the responsibility for raising children. Marriage is thus unique in its very nature, intrinsically different from any other type of human relationship which society may recognise. The concept of same-sex “marriage” is a contradiction in terms. To change that would in effect re-define marriage itself, and would demean the understanding and practice of marriage held by the vast majority of New Zealanders. It is not a “human right” for a small minority to re-invent marriage for everyone else. Parliament should not agree to such a radical social innovation.
Traditional marriage and family is very good for society.

   Marriage is greatly beneficial to the stability and wellbeing of society. Stable families with a loving father and mother still generally offer the optimum context in which to raise children. In a country with so many social problems, Parliament must be careful not to allow a further undermining of marriage by confusing its meaning.

The claim that the current Parliamentary Bill is about removing “discrimination” is unconvincing.

Marriage is freely available, but it is not a right which individual citizens are always able to exercise. Because of the inherent nature of marriage, society rightly licenses couples to marry only if they meet certain conditions: if they are adults, if they both agree, if they are not already married, if they are not closely related, and if they are of opposite genders. That is what marriage is about. Nobody is required to be married. There are also existing alternatives, of equivalent legal status.

Society has already made generous provision for same-sex relationships to be recognized in law as effectively equivalent to marriage.

   If the issue is about “equality”, then Civil Unions should be sufficient, given that they are of equivalent legal status to marriage, with partners in Civil Unions having the same protection under law as married couples (and similar rights except for adoption). Those entering Civil Unions have often regarded them as equivalent to marriage, in effect a “civil” marriage. If in fact there are any inappropriate inequities between Civil Unions and Marriage, Parliament should amend the Civil Union legislation, not the Marriage legislation.

 The intent of this Bill appears to be a political move to further increase the societal normalization of homosexual relationships.

To proceed, Parliament would need to be sure that advancing such an agenda would be for the good of society as a whole.

This Bill may be a strategy to help same-sex couples gain the right to adopt children.

Access to full adoption rights by same-sex couples needs to be discussed directly and openly, separately from this Bill, and with primary consideration for the welfare of children.

For Christians and many others marriage is sacred, the God-ordained bond of a man and a woman.

The Christian ideal of marriage lies behind all New Zealand’s marriage legislation, and is part of our national heritage that should not be abandoned lightly. Christians believe that marriage is the gift of God, defined by God, and approved by God. On the basis of the teaching of the Bible, Christians believe that God’s intended context for sex, reproduction and family is loving, faithful marriage between a man and a woman. Marriage is not just a social custom or a legal contract which can be drastically re-defined to suit human thinking. Marriage is recognized by the State but does not belong to it. Marriage as given by God reflects the essential complementary role of male and female as created in the image of God. It is grounded in nature, and in basic male-female physiology. The concept of same-sex “marriage” is spiritually offensive to many Christian people, who still constitute a very significant proportion of this country’s population and its voters. It is also objectionable to many cultural minorities and non-Christian faiths. The Church does not seek to impose its convictions on everyone else, but can and must speak up for what it believes is right and true, and for the good of families and society as a whole.

Presbyterian AFFIRM, August 2012

 The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, one of New Zealand’s largest mainstream church denominations, does not currently have a specific policy on same-sex marriage, but since 2006 it has ruled that people who are in relationships outside of faithful marriage between a man and a woman should not become ministers or leaders in the church.

 For further comment, contact:

Dr Stuart Lange, Co-Chairman Presbyterian AFFIRM, Ph. 09-832-5775,  021-0224-2957
What do you think?





Monday, August 13, 2012

One Mans Olympic Reflectons

So the Olympics are over. Here are some reflections.

First, ‘way to go’ Kiwis! Awesome job! As an old man indoor-rower, I especially loved watching Cohen, Sullivan, Bond, Murray, Drysdales and the others smash the world. Lisa Carrington’s win was brilliant. While others were disappointed, Valerie Vili remains a superstar with her silver, beaten on the day by a better thrower. Not to mention our sailors Jo Aley and Polly Powrie, Sarah Walker, etc; and of course Mark Todd—what a legend. He gives hope to my generation, although a come-back is only possible if you have already been there! And Nick Willis will always be a hero for me despite not having his best day in the final. We see in these athletes the best of being Kiwi—humility, guts, resilience, overcoming the odds, determination, courage and beating a much bigger world.

Secondly, I am intrigued that all of our golds were won sitting down either in a boat or on a bike. Does that reflect that NZers like sitting on their buttocks? Is that what we do best? If it is, we may as well exercise as we do so. It would be good to get some medals standing or swimming in the future though.

Thirdly, we rocked by population. We came fifth by total medals per population, behind Caribbean countries, Grenada, Jamaica, Trinidad-Tobago, and the Bahamas. For gold medals, we were fourth, behind the same countries except Trinidad-Tobago. We were way ahead of Australia, USA, and China. We may be a flightless bird, but we are a good one.

Fourthly, I love the way the Olympics reflects the ideals of the Kingdom of God. It is great to see a disabled man Oscar Pistorius and women from such countries as Saudi Arabia competing—the Olympics should be about the breaking down of social boundaries in this way. I love the picture we get of humanity coming together as one, not for war or power-games, but to celebrate being human, to compete and to celebrate. Of course the ideal is not complete with inequalities masked, with much excessive consumption, licentiousness, nationalism, drug abuse and more—but we do get a glimpse of the dream of the Kingdom of God whereby all of humanity will ultimately be one. This gives me hope and spurs me on toward that final goal.

Fifthly, I continue to be intrigued by the many displays of overt religiosity by athletes. While many hate them, I love them. They show that faith is alive and well in our secular world, and that faith cannot and won’t be banished to the margins. Many, especially Africans, were seen genuflecting. Many when interviewed gave thanks to God. I especially enjoyed Lucy Van Dalen’s genuine comments about her relationship with God. I know from my daughter Annie, who runs with Lucy in the USA, that Lucy has a genuine and deep relationship with God. My favourite moment was Meseret Dafar, full of deep emotion, holding a picture of Mary and Jesus, when she won the 5000m. While some Protestants might feel a little uncomfortable, who can deny her genuine faith in God? Glorious.

Finally, I suppose it is back to the same old same old sport and TV. It has been great seeing rowing, handball, synchronised swimming, athletics, BMX, etc; rather than the usual diet of rugby, league and the NZ cricket team. Now it is back to Coronation Street, endless repeats of ‘Friends,’ and “super rugby. Bring on Rio.

Should Funding be Frozen for High Performance Sport?

So the Olympics are over. This means more sleep for us all, but what are we now going to watch?—same old, same old, I suppose—Coronation Street, yawn. Even more than usual, the Kiwis have excelled, with its equal best-ever medal haul, ending up 16th on the medal table. If we adjust this to population, we came in 4th. While there were ups and downs with a couple of athletes not living up to expectations, most excelled.

In the news today is the headline “Olympic Heroes Face Cash Freeze.” Currently high performance sport receives $60m a year and this will be frozen for the next two years. At one level this is highly understandable as times are tough and the NZ government is flatlining most of its budget. Indeed some would say, $60m is far too much anyway. From a Christian social justice point of view, one can certainly argue that there is far more need out there than for high performance sport. It all makes perfect sense at one level.
On the other hand, I am not so sure. The Olympics and other high performance sport have a huge positive effect on Kiwis. It brings a great “feel good” factor as watch NZers excel on the international stage. We all feel a part of it as “we” win medals. In an expensive world, this is largely due to the money provided to help our athletes excel. Sport is a vital part of the NZers identity and sense of well-being, and money spent here, while seemingly disproportionate, reinforces our morale greatly. If we go to the next Olympics and do poorly, what will this decision then look like?

More importantly, we have massive health problems among young people, including obesity as they sit around on social media etc. Our NZ athletes are brilliant role models for young NZers many of whom are encouraged to get into sport as a result of watching their heroes. This activity inoculates against many of the health problems Kiws are facing. A focus on high level sport gets many out of the traps of alcohol and drugs. It reduces obesity. It becomes cheaper in the long term to spend the money on sport inspiring a fresh generation of active Kiwis than to spend it on the many health related health problems later. Even old guys like me try a little harder on the rowing machine after watching Mahe Drysdale and the others. This is all good staving off heart disease and more. We also see in our top athletes the most wonderful examples of good citizenship, sportsmanship and character. We see what it means to give it one’s all for a common goal.
While understandable, I am not sure this decision is the best for the country and may come back and bite us on the bottom. What do you think?