Rabobank has just announced they are pulling out as a team sponsor, the first announcement from a Pro-Team sponsor in the wake of the USADA report which included testimony and evidence that showed, beyond reasonable doubt, that Lance Armstrong was a serial doper and supplied team members with banned performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) plus was involved in coverups. Heads have rolled in the wake, in Australia Matt White has resigned from Cycling Australia and team GreenEDGE, Cycling Australia Vice President Stephen Hodge has also revealed that he doped during his professional cycling career and resigned today.
And it could get worse, Anti-doping researcher Dr Michael Ashenden who appeared on the recent televised ABC Four Corners report on Lance Armstrong will be involved in a discussion panel to be aired on Cycling Central on SBS on Sunday and says “There is no question cyclists are afraid to tell the truth about what has happened both in the past and what’s continuing to happen today,” said Dr Ashenden. “I’m in touch with cyclists who have told me things that I am not able to take to the authorities because they (cyclists) won’t put their name to it. Certainly I pass the information anonymously to the authorities but unless there’s a name they can then go to corroborate that evidence, there’s nothing they can do.”
Cycling is taking a hit but even if more cyclists come out and reveal a checkered past, the real effect of the actions of riders who have cheated is that they are now damaging the sport today.
On the one hand cyclists who were caught up in the system complain that the only way to survive and make progress was to cheat. Any cyclist with the integrity to resist PEDs did so knowing that this would have affected their performance and career chances. They were less likely to have a successful and profitable career – cyclists who cheated have profited.
When the Lance Armstrong decided not to challenge the USADA I wrote an opinion piece titled Ramifications of Lance Armstrong losing his Tour de France Titles in which I speculated that the sport would lose credibility and affect positive media interest, funding and sponsorship. Now the first big sponsor, Rabobank has pulled out, will they be the last?
Even just outside of Pro-Team Sponsorship, Nike was once an all-in sponsor of Lance but have now about-faced. SRAM today announced that they are officially terminating their sponsorship of Lance Armstrong. And to quote Rabobank in their official statement: “It is with pain in our heart, but for the bank this is an inevitable decision. We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport. We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future.”
The riders who doped and the team and organisational structures that encouraged and supported doping may have just been “part of the chain” however the damage now affecting cycling is a result of the strongest and the weakest links of this chain – each person involved now shares responsibility for when sponsors drop out for when cycling receives less funding and for when the media decide not to show cycling coverage and support.
For a sport that many pro-cyclists say that they love, it was a kind of selfish love.