There are a few people who I would more quickly forgive in the Lance Armstrong doping affair before the man himself, the believers. It is hard to deny that for the average punter, Lance Armstrong was an incredible cyclist and coupled with the cancer comeback he became superhuman. Why would you question his ability? Sure there is the arrogant side though it could just be pure determination.
In Australia we are more than familiar with the Tall Poppy Syndrome, a dose of cynicism lets us rightly, or wrong question success. It also saves us somewhat from the same level of sensationalism and media attention as in the United States. When accusations of doping first emerged it was easy to dismiss these as bad spirited attempts to discredit Lance Armstrong.
Allegations continued, were vehemently denied but there was a growing sense of uncertainty. Cycling fans were divided into those for Armstrong and those who were against. This seems to be the story of Armstrong, you are either with him or against him. Against him as a bitter rival or ex-teammate, against him as a journalist who questions his track record, against him as any organisation who challenges him.
Lance Armstrong’s success skyrocketed him into stardom, he was a household name and raised the profile of professional road cycling among the masses. At one stage he had the largest twitter following (currently over 3 million followers) and when he launched his charity LiveStrong to fight cancer, the appeal reached well beyond cyclists – it was mainstream. It wasn’t easily comprehensible that this was all built upon a lie – the believers were not gullible, rather the truth was well concealed.
Since the United States Anti Doping Authority released their reasoned decision that stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France victories and imposed a lifetime ban Armstrong’s support has grown thin, even the voice of cycling Phil Liggett who supported Armstrong for longer than most finally conceded “I really thought he was clean, and in 2003, he actually told me to my face, in his own room. So obviously I am devastated.”.
Cycling Photographer Graeme Watson wrote a January 1 blog post on his website and concludes, “Outright angels do not win a Tour de France. That is the domain of the most talented, hard, driven, ruthless and selfish riders. Lance did what he had to do to win, and he clearly did it very well. If he cheated, he cheated the other cheats of that era, even if by doing so he also cheated an adoring public.”
At the time of writing, Lance Armstrong has already sat for his interview with Oprah near his home in Texas and the media interest grows pending the broadcast on Friday.
The media interest has been curious, most journalists are careful what they report without facts to back them though the timing of ‘news of a confession’ was strangely convenient; on January 5 the New York Times published the first report of a confession and on January 9 Oprah reported the interview which will be broadcast on Friday 17 January. All of the sources in media reports that have provided actual substantial information have been unnamed or anonymous sources.
The US based 60 Minutes reported that Lance Armstrong has met with the USADA to explore a pathway to redemption and news reports from today (Jan 15) are from unnamed sources that Armstrong has addressed staff at his charity LiveStrong so increase the likelihood of a confession to doping in the Oprah interview.
The confession however is on Armstrong’s terms and while the team at Oprah confirm that it isn’t scripted, it is certainly a more convenient and comfortable format to admit guilt, Oprah is not deeply involved in cycling and caters to a mainstream audience. The USADA provided Armstrong the chance to come foreword and after Lance’s lawyers questioned the jurisdiction and motives, Armstrong decided not to fight because he was tired.
Why would Armstrong choose to come clean now? If he does he has a lot to lose, despite a suggested net worth of US $100 million, if he does confess there will be a few people lining up to get their money back though he has great chances of minimising loses. If he comes clean the statute of limitations saves him from lying under oath in 2005. Could it be that timing is good for Armstrong? He wants to return to competitive triathlons and a deal with the USADA could make this possible if the latest new reports of testifying against fellow cyclists is true.
In the Tyler Hamilton Biography, The Secret Race, Hamilton goes further than the USADA accusation of conspiracy, he suggested there was a program of intimidation against himself and others which was quite sinister. The force at which Armstrong’s opponents have been publicly discredited has been more visible to the public and it is well known that he has friends in high places.
If Armstrong is able to minimise loses and create an advantage for himself with clever PR, does this truly make up for the damage; to the cycling fans who believed, to the LiveStrong charity supporters; to clean cyclists who missed a fair chance; to young riders, clubs and team who have lost sponsors, to the average person who views cycling as a tainted sport.
So is Lance Armstrong worthy of forgiveness if he confesses? No, not at this stage. It doesn’t seem like this is a confession “because it is the right thing to do”. What the confession however does do is create a sense of closure, confirmation that it wasn’t a witch-hunt after all.
When the interview is broadcast a lot of eyes will be watching, even a few ex-pros who have not been targeted, could we see a few of these step forward and lay their cards on the table. If anything, the Lance Armstrong doping scandal is a strong warning for younger cyclists.
On the eve of the Tour Down Under where Lance Armstrong made is 2009 comeback this will be a hot topic, the South Australian government is requesting the money it payed Armstrong (thought to be in the millions) which was initially announced as a charity donation though later acknowledge as personal income.
This is an opinion article that does not reflect the views of Bicycles Network Australia
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