But they should be given the opportunity for a second chance. We are human beings."
When David Millar announced last week that he is to retire after Glasgow 2014, it came as little surprise; the 36-year-old has been hinting at such a move for some time. Yet, as the Scot begins a year-long farewell to professional cycling, it will be intriguing to observe just how Millar will be remembered.
He is one of the greatest cyclists that Britain has produced: he won stages of each of the three Grand Tours of France, Spain and Italy and has worn the leader's jersey in each of the Grand Tours. To many, though, these achievements are indelibly tainted as a result of Millar's doping conviction in 2004, which resulted in a two-year ban and led to him being stripped of the gold medal won in the 2003 world championship time trial.
His greatest legacy, though, most probably will not be his performances on a bike; it is likely to be the period following the expiry of his doping ban in 2006 for which he will be best remembered. He became an anti-doping crusader and latterly a co-owner of the professional team Garmin-Slipstream, now Garmin-Sharp which, on its inception, had the most progressive anti-doping programme in the sport.
Millar was one of any number of professional cyclists who took performance-enhancing drugs - the Scot never failed a drugs test; he was caught as a result of a police raid and subsequently admitted to doping - but few have been quite so pro-active in challenging the doping culture within cycling as was Millar in the aftermath of his ban.
There are, inevitably, those who believe that athletes who dope, who cheat both their fellow athletes and the wider public with spurious and mendacious performances, should be banished from the sporting landscape forever. Millar, to me, is perhaps the perfect example of why this unforgiving stance is fallible.
There are few acts more heinous in sport than doping. Of course all dopers should be punished and I fully support the World Anti-Doping Agency's proposal to lengthen the ban for a first-time doping offence from two years to four. But we should not get carried away on our moral high horse with this issue: it should be remembered that this is only sport we are talking about. It is not life or death. People commit far more serious crimes and escape with less than a life sentence.
Edwin Moses, the two-time 400m hurdles gold medallist and fervent anti-doping campaigner, believes that drugs cheats should be given a second chance. "Once you serve your penalty, you serve your penalty and you come back," he says. "There should be a redemptive value in sports." I agree with this sentiment: there appears little to be gained from making every single doper into a pariah, particularly if the reformed athlete is willing to work actively towards cleaning up sport as Millar has done so zealously.
The Scot has explained eloquently that the reason he doped was because he felt that he did not have a choice in the matter. Of course, ultimately, he did have a choice. Everyone does. But is making a bad decision deserving of a lifetime ban? I would argue not. If a doper is caught for a second time then, by all means, ban him or her for life but Millar has proved that becoming a doper is not necessarily a black and white issue and, if given the opportunity, there often is a strong will from the athlete to reform.
There have been several converts in the intervening period, but Millar was the first athlete to become a bona fide anti-doping crusader. If sport cannot learn from the experiences of former dopers then all of the progress that WADA is attempting to make is likely to be futile. The anti-doping body will continue to expand its testing programme but the fact remains that doping within sport will never be wholly eradicated.
Millar's reincarnation proves that people who make mistakes can, in fact, be among the most meaningful cogs in the anti-doping machine if given a second chance.
In order to reduce the prevalence of doping within sport, education is key. If young athletes are educated about the issue, they are less likely to succumb to the pitfalls which may be presented to them over the course of their career. And who better to educate a young athlete than someone who has made these mistakes and come back stronger?
In no way am I excusing doping, nor am I advocating leniency. Doping has threatened, and continues to threaten, to destroy any faith the public has in sport and every single athlete who has taken drugs has contributed to this. But Millar is perhaps the perfect embodiment of the value of second chances. His career will be forever stained by his doping conviction but his anti-doping legacy will last for many years to come.