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will seldom become professional sports people unless they loved the sport
to begin with. However there are many books by ex-professional riders who
succumbed to the temptation to dope, which started with the need to
impress directeurs sportifs in order to get a renewed contract. Especially
after injury and being told to race while unfit and not recovering fully – the
pressure to have ‘a little help’ became too much on occasion.

Fifty (or maybe a little more) years ago, there was a cap on professional
footballers’ pay, the Olympics did not permit professionals, but for some
reason that ethic became eroded. There are arguments on both sides, of
course – the football club owners were making a packet out of ticket sales
and increasing TV revenues at the expense of the players; and athletes
wanted to be the best in the world, rather than just the best of the amateurs.
The prize money and – for the top participants – the wages too can rise out
of proportion, with top footballers and basketball players earning hundreds
of thousands per week. The pressure to win is enormous. The financial future
of your whole team can depend on success – so they can turn a blind eye, or
even encourage a participant to bypass the rule book on occasion.

I would argue that in the grand scheme of things – doing sport for a living is
unproductive. It isn’t being a top doctor, or scientist, or anything that really
moves the world along. If there is a justification for professional sport it is
this: To be an example, to put oneself on a pedestal and to prove to our youth
that by sheer hard work and discipline and application and fair play, you can
be the best you can be.

Youth haven’t yet gained the knowledge or worldliness to become great, but
they do have athleticism, and the example of professional sportsmen helps
to give them the confidence that working hard and honestly can help them
to achieve their life’s ambitions.

Trouble is, the example of overpaid footballers tells youths that they too can
dream to be overpaid and spoilt and own fast cars. The young tend to emulate
people they admire, and if they see people who cheat, that behaviour is
propagated. The ancient Greeks had it about right – the victor won a laurel
wreath. Should professional sport be banned?

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