If Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle’s accounts in The Secret Race are true, Lance Armstrong duped us all. He illegally took EPO, increasing his oxygen capacity during his first Tour de France victory. During the six Tours de France that followed, his team became a roaming laboratory of blood transfusions and hematocrit boosters that the U.S. anti-doping agency describes as "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen".
By all means, pull tragic heroes like Armstrong apart—but only to examine the positive pieces. You might find something that’s still worth supporting, like his Livestrong foundation for cancer patients.
Call me an optimist if you like, but I have to confess. I’ve been quietly critical of many of the world’s charities over the past dozen years. As a keen traveller to India, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal and Vietnam, I’ve cynically viewed the luxury SUVs driven by the international aid workers who appear to be living more like Paris Hilton than Mother Theresa.
Jim Rogers, in his book, Adventure Capitalist: The Ultimate Road Trip echoed similar notions. After circumnavigating the world twice, the former hedge fund manager described the average aid organization as the best con going. Many aid organizers, according to Rogers, live like royalty in emerging economies that they may (or may not) lend a token hand to help.
But like Armstrong’s cancer foundation, there can be jewels in the road if we’re prepared to look closely. The New York Times bestseller, Half The Sky, written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn reminds us of the world’s dysfunction while giving us hope. As bad as the U.S. economy might be, our troubles pale in comparison to many. The authors focus on the mistreatment of girls in developing nations: sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, honor killings and mass rape. Reading the book is both mortifying, and inspiring.
Cambodia, which is only a short flight from my Singapore home, suffered from genocide in the 1970s. The victims weren’t selected by race, but mostly by schooling. Anyone the Khmer Rouge could find with at least an 8th grade education was rounded up and killed. Even their children were murdered, leaving 1.5 million dead. It shattered the economy, and the impact is still being felt. Today, as a result, thousands of uneducated farm girls are enslaved in brothels each year, after falsely being promised respectable jobs far from home.
Organizations like the American Assistance for Cambodia are working to keep girls in school and away from traffickers. Donors can help girls for an entire year, on less than the cost of an iPod. Half the Sky expounds on the deplorable plight of the world’s women, but like Armstrong’s foundation, it also sends hope.
The world often dwells on its cheats and injustices. But there’s plenty of hope and help. It is always there, sometimes overshadowed, but it should not be overlooked Lance’s treasures should be his family and his foundation. Let’s hope he pours his fiercely determined heart into both.