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Western Press Review: Problems Persist for Tour de France, White House

  • Elizabeth Weinstein

Prague, 3 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Italian Marco Pantani's victory in the Tour de France yesterday marked the end of the most controversial French bicycle race in years. Western press commentary today reflects on the drug scandal that marred the event and speculates on whether performance-enhancing drugs should be part of international sporting events. Commentators also continue to assess the problems plaguing U.S. President Bill Clinton.

IRISH TIMES: Sport will continue to be blighted by scandals

The Irish Times today calls the Tour de France a "Tour of Shame." Its editorial says athletes who are said to use performance-enhancing drugs are too susceptible to the what it calls the "gold rush" of international sport. The paper says athletes should not use illegal advantages in what should be pure sport.

The Irish Times writes: "The almost daily arrests and drug revelations of the past three weeks have exposed the sheer scale of the doping problem in cycling, and sport in general. Riders and team officials on the Tour have undermined the ethics of sport by blithely claiming that their offenses didn't merit the thorough investigations by French and Belgian police in their efforts to uncover the depth of the problem." The editorial concludes: "It has been argued that this year's Tour de France will become a defining moment for cycling and that the recent drug revelations will act as a spur to clean up sport. Only the gullible will believe this. Until the potentially powerful alliance of sponsors and sporting bodies decide that it will withdraw support from drug-tainted events and athletes, it is almost certain sport will continue to be blighted by scandals on the scale of the 1998 Tour de France."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The competitive cat-and-mouse game has allowed athletes to continue seeking the edge

In today's International Herald Tribune, the New York Times' Robert Lipsyte says the real issue for the future will be the "legalization of drugs that cross the artificial line between therapy and performance enhancement." Lipsyte compares the Tour's drug scandal to recent drug controversies. He asks: "If drugs like Prozac and Viagra can be taken without apology by everyday people who want to enhance their performance in a competitive world, why shouldn't athletes, prized as models of 'human capacity,' be allowed, nay, encouraged to try out drugs for the rest of us?" Lipsyte continues: "Drug testing has not been fair --few marquee names have ever been brought down-- nor as effective a deterrent as both sides would have fans believe. Athletes have gone along with the lie (that they don't take drugs) as long as it kept reporters from snooping around their specimens. Also, athletes have tended to stay ahead of the drug police." He adds: "As the rewards for victory have (increased), a growing network of underground pharmacologists have concocted drugs too new to be detected in addition to masking agents for the old drugs. This competitive cat-and-mouse game, risky, expensive and hypocritical, has allowed athletes to continue seeking the edge while management kept the appearance of control."

NEWSWEEK: Tour coverage unites the world

An analysis by editor Michael Elliot in the current issue (dated Aug. 10) of Newsweek magazine's European edition says "sport is good in and of itself." Elliot says commentators should step away from the drug scandal to reflect on overall sportsmanship and on the unity the Tour de France still stands for. He writes: "This year's scandal-ridden Tour is interesting, largely because it follows so closely France's victory in the World Cup. Just a few days ago, it seems, the victory of les bleus, (or, more accurately, les blancs, les noirs et les beurs -- the white, the black, and the French children of North African immigrants) had become the focus for a hundred commentaries on the way that sport could reinvigorate a national mood. Next thing you know, France's most cherished sporting event is stuck in the mud and its poor journeymen left marveling at the speed with which a public mood can change." Elliot concludes: "The Tour de France and its troubles have made headlines all over the world. We should not dismiss this as somehow less serious than worrying about loose nukes or whatever it is that Saddam Hussein is up to; we should celebrate our good fortune at being able to live in a time when such shared experiences are possible."

EL MUNDO: The Tour and cycling in general need to change

An editorial in Spain's El Mundo today says sporting officials should rethink how much pressure they put on athletes to perform superhuman feats. El Mundo writes: "What has remained clear after the final of this Tour is that the world's principal cycling race needs changes. And these (should take place) without damaging the decisions that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) adopted when it convened (recently) to debate possible modifications to regulations against doping. Before the meeting, (IOC chief) Juan Antonio Samaranch said that he favored a drastic reduction in prohibited substances. But while the Committee is trying to reach a decision on the use of illegal substance, it will also have to think about redesigning the Tour." The editorial concludes: "The Tour and cycling in general need to change."

WASHINGTON POST: Clinton may yet face impeachment

Across the Atlantic, commentators are still focusing on the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal rocking the White House and U.S. President Bill Clinton. Columnist David Broder of the Washington Post today says that Clinton has "no one to blame but himself" for his current legal troubles. Broder writes: "Opinion polls have not shifted markedly during this long, sorry saga. When I wrote about them back in February, I cautioned: 'If proof appears that the president has lied, Mr. Clinton may yet face Richard Nixon's fate.' I based that on what we saw in Watergate, when a pattern of obstruction and dissembling eventually crumbled Nixon's defenses and eroded what then, too, was a palpable public inclination to preserve the president and the presidency." He continues: I wrote on Feb. 18: 'The rule of law requires any American to give truthful testimony when sworn as a witness in a legal proceeding. If it turns out that President Clinton has not done that, the props of public opinion now supporting him will collapse. I would bet anything that Americans will once again say no one is above the law.'" Broder concludes: "That bet still stands. It is only monumental folly that has forced the nation to face this test."

TORONTO STAR: Clintons sin was to be found out

Political commentator Dalton Camp in Sunday's Toronto Star says the lurid details of the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal should be put into perspective. He imagines how he would explain the scandal to his grandchildren, writing: "If I say anything to them, I would first remind my grandchildren of the fact they are attendant to a media event which has, in its essence, little to do with any search for truth or meaning, but everything to do with raw power and the lust for it by men --mostly men-- who see in the emergent possibilities new opportunities for private enrichment nearly enough to satiate even the most omnivorous avarice." Camp goes on: "In the unlikely event any of my grandchildren would consider the present occupant of the White House as a role model, I would discourage the thought. Bill Clinton is not nearly so libidinous a president as was John F. Kennedy; Clinton's original sin, if any, was to be found out."

TIMES: The real issue is whether justice has been obstructed

The Times of London today says it's time for Clinton to "tell all." Its editorial weighs the pros and cons of Clinton either addressing the U.S. people on television about the scandal or maintaining silence. The Times writes: "There are inevitable risks that would come with such an appearance. Even Mike McCurry, the President's own press secretary, has concluded that Mr. Clinton's relationship with his former intern was probably 'complicated.' An admission of even a passing intimate liaison would stand at odds with the President's forthright declaration in January that he had 'not had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.' He would, in effect, be pleading guilty to both legal and political perjury."

The editorial concludes: "Clinton will have to make a choice between the truth and further flannelling when he answers questions in front of the grand jury. Whatever that testimony is will inevitably seep out into the public domain. The real issue in 'Zippergate' is not sex or even lies but obstruction of justice. If the President has not tried to impede the law then an honest admission of his private weaknesses will not hurt him. If he has conspired to block the truth then he should use the airtime for an entirely different speech."

NEWSWEEK: Clinton shouldnt lose his job even if he lied

Finally, Clinton's former advisor George Stephanopoulos outlines a dramatic three-step plan for the President to follow in coming weeks. In a commentary in this week's Newsweek magazine, Stephanopoulos says Clinton should tell the whole truth to the grand jury this month, make a statement to the country fully explaining his relationship with Lewinsky and vow never to discuss the matter again. Stephanopoulos concludes: "Not everyone will accept such a dramatic reversal, and the juxtaposed clips of the President's January denial and an ultimate apology would be the most searing political imagery since Nixon. But polls suggest what common sense dictates: Americans don't think he should lose his job even if he lied about a sexual relationship."