Power and Organisations
Title: “Toxic power and the crisis in Professional Cycling; how the abuse of power created and then led to the downfall of a hero.”
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Word Count: 3046
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It has been evident through the publication of Willy Voet’s (2001) book ‘Massacre à la Chaîne’ which raised the issue, that there has been widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs in the International Cycling Union (UCI). I am going to observe the misuse of power and the relationship between the increase in bullying with drug use, thus facilitating him becoming a toxic leader taking part in what the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) describes “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” This will help readers understand how his misuse of power may have led to his downfall as a cyclist, whilst remaining a hero to some.
One of the most upsetting sporting revelations of recent years was the shattering of the myth of invincibility that Lance Armstrong had built around himself over the years, as the world record holding cyclist and cancer survivor. How he was able to achieve seeming immunity from the all-pervasive testing regimes of the cycling associations, through the control he held over those around him, demonstrating his toxic power. There are many occurrences of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and misuse of power within organisations. Rhodes et al. (2010:103) identifies bullying as “deliberate and intentional acts of violence by one person over another that are designed to secure advantage, material or psychological, over that person… intended to cause harm.” This helps suggest Armstrong’s use of power has a bullying toxicity. This essay examines the underlying methods used to develop his power and its effects on those around him and on sport in general.
Dahl (1957: 202-203) describes power where “ A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do”. Although power may be an obtrusive force, there is a sense of vulnerability. Armstrong said “My mother told me… if you’re going to get anywhere, you’re going to have to do it yourself, because no one is going to do it for you.” His reference to childhood memories of his mother’s advice immediately hints at the vulnerability of someone so powerful.
Narcissistic power has occurred in the UCI through professional athletes’ desire to win at any cost. This is driven by the need to succeed in order to receive the acclamation and admiration that goes with sporting greatness. This narcissism can be seen in Armstrong’s power through his manipulation and exploitation (Williams, 2005) of other athletes to get away with doping for so long, leading to his followers and other teammates feeling Powerlessness (Hodson et al. 2006). As Armstrong’s power grew, it is likely that he was able to control situations targeting those who would become more vulnerable and it is likely that he would have misused his power more as he transformed popularity into power (Plangger, 2012).
Reading many articles of the drug abuse in cycling has given me an understanding of the challenging environment that professional cyclists have to work in. Detailed interviews provided an insight into a corrupt organisation and a gripping portrait of a sport out of control, leading to the devastating result of a seven time winner of Tour de France (TDF) being stripped of his titles, none of which can be passed on to previous runners up as they too are all implicated in the same doping scandals. The corruption was all encompassing and not solely because of Armstrong per se, but more due to the passion to succeed at any cost.