Walsh vindicated after 13-year pursuit of drug pedaller

JOHN GOODBODY congratulates a colleague working on a British Sunday paper for his dogged journalism in pursuing what has been called “the greatest heist sport has ever seen”

At a time when journalism in Britain has been criticised for malpractice like never before, there is more than a sliver of satisfaction to be gained by the achievement of one of our SJA members reminding us why we are in this business.

The 13-year series of articles of David Walsh questioning the legitimacy of Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France wins, indeed most of his career, is without doubt the outstanding example of campaigning investigation in my half-century in sports journalism.

David Walsh: 13-year campaign

Walsh, a colleague on The Sunday Times, was proved absolutely right, despite facing legal problems, widespread indifference and often rank hostility.

Until the recent Olympic successes and the victory of Bradley Wiggins in this year’s Tour de France, cycling has not been a mainstream sport in Britain. You might have thought that it was more likely that a journalist from a cycling nation such as France (although L’Equipe did reveal some valuable evidence to help the case against Armstrong), Italy, Belgium or Holland would have taken up the challenge.

However, Walsh had always been interested in the sport and had first interviewed Armstrong in 1993 and found him an appealing figure. But when Armstrong recovered from cancer and won his first Tour in 1999, Walsh was reporting the race and wrote an article in which he questioned the feat. Walsh just could not believe what he had witnessed.

It was remarkable that he was able to keep his campaign going while he was covering major sports events every week for The Sunday Times. Unlike Andrew Jennings, who had the time and opportunity without having to meet weekly, let alone daily deadlines while researching his praiseworthy investigation of Olympic and FIFA chicanery, Walsh was spending most weeks writing features, columns and match reports.

And Walsh was dealing with a perversion of what was happening before the eyes of everyone, something that altered both the results of one of the best known sports events in the world and also most people’s view of an internationally celebrated athlete.

Walsh kept going, despite Armstrong suing The Sunday Times and the paper reaching an agreed settlement. But gradually, bit by bit, the evidence piled up.

Finally, Walsh was vindicated last month when the United States Anti-Doping Agency produced its report in which its chief executive, Travis Tygart, described the Armstrong doping conspiracy as “the greatest heist sport has ever seen”. And Tygart had been close to the investigation into the BALCO scandal.

People will say that I am writing this because I have been working for The Sunday Times for the last five years. It isn’t.

Nor is because he is a particular friend. We are colleagues, no more.

It is rather because, as a fellow journalist, I want to applaud someone’s work, irrespective of which media outlet for which they work. And I hope everyone will feel proud that it is a journalist working in this country who has led the way in a story about a world-famous American sportsman and his tainted victories in a foreign event.

It helps to show how healthy sports journalism is in Britain.

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