Cycling: Lance Armstrong finds door to redemption
Shamed cyclist's tearful TV confession may yet pay off over life-time ban
Emily Dugan is social affairs correspondent for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards.
Sunday 20 January 2013
The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) said yesterday it might re-examine disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong's lifetime ban from sport. However, its chief said the "show-business confession" was not enough: the cyclist would need to give detailed evidence. The statement was a small sign that the cyclist's carefully choreographed television confession could pay dividends.
Meanwhile, Armstrong's fall from grace is to be turned into a Hollywood biopic, with Paramount Pictures buying the film rights to a forthcoming book that unravels his career.
The usually steely-eyed cyclist saved his tears for the finale of his two-part interview with Oprah Winfrey, broadcast in America early yesterday morning UK time. The Texan welled up as he described telling his mother and son that he had used performance-enhancing drugs to win his Tour de France titles.
The former professional cyclist also used the second interview to suggest that a lifetime ban from competitive sport was "a death penalty" and too harsh compared with the six-month bans meted out to 11 colleagues who got reduced bans for testifying against him. Critics will see this as further evidence that his agreement to do the interview was motivated by a desire to compete again – something he denied when asked by Winfrey.
His lifetime ban bars him from both professional and community or social sporting events, such as the triathlons and mountain-bike races he previously enjoyed.
Armstrong said: "I deserve to be punished. Not sure I deserve a death penalty." He added: "I would love the opportunity to compete but that isn't the reason why I'm doing this... It might not be the most popular answer but I think I deserve [the chance]."
The head of Wada, John Fahey, said that the lifetime ban could be lifted if Armstrong asked to reopen his drugs case and gave substantial information about drug suppliers, corrupt officials and other drug cheats.
Mr Fahey criticised Armstrong for choosing a television interview over giving formal evidence to doping investigators, adding that just weeks ago Armstrong had turned down the chance to give evidence to the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada). "He chose Oprah instead of giving evidence under oath and to be cross-examined", he said.
He added: "We would want specific details and new information, names, times, places, who supplied the drugs, which officials are involved, not just confirmation of what Usada already knows. He needs to do it properly, not just for show business."
While Armstrong appeared calm and even withdrawn in the first interview, which attracted 4.3 million viewers in the US for its two airings, he used the second to show a more emotional side. Welling up with tears, he recalled feeling compelled to tell his 13-year-old son, Luke, the truth: "When this all really started, I saw my son defending me, and saying: 'That's not true, what you're saying about my dad is not true.' That's when I knew I had to tell him. And he'd never asked me. He'd never said: 'Dad, is this true?' He trusted me... at that point, I decided it was out of control and I had to have a talk with him here over the holidays."
He spoke at length about his ex-wife Kristin, claiming that she was "not that curious" about his drug use; "didn't want to know", and later encouraged him to stop using them. The assertion seems to contradict the Usada report into Armstrong's doping, which included witnesses saying she had helped. But Armstrong recasts her as a truth-teller who was the reason he came back to the sport clean in 2009 – a statement that also directly contradicts evidence found in the Usada investigation.
Betsy Andreu, the wife of Armstrong's former teammate Frankie Andreu, whose evidence to the Sunday Times journalist David Walsh was crucial in bringing down Armstrong, said the former champion was not telling the truth about his ex-wife. She told CNN: "Lance is being really disingenuous... I am not so sure I buy that."
Andreu also hit out at how inadequate Armstrong's apologies had been, saying: "Boo hoo. He's not getting it. What about Greg LeMond's bike company, that was completely destroyed? It doesn't make sense. What about Scott Mercier not having a career? Christophe Bassons not having a career? Other guys who didn't want to do what he wanted them to do not having a career? You can't put a price on opportunity lost and we're not even talking millions of dollars, we're just talking about people who want to make a living so they can pay a mortgage and save some money after."
Armstrong on Oprah: the winners and losers
This was an exercise in reputation management: two prime-time chances to win back the American public and steer the narrative away from the more damaging USADA allegations – such as bribing the UCI and continuing to dope in his comeback. He was also able to win back extra sympathy by appearing to be contrite and honest, replacing the flinty defiance of the first interview with schmaltz and tears for his family in the second. Despite admitting that he hoped one outcome of the interview would be the chance to compete again, he denied that was his motivation for confessing, instead casting it as something he was doing for his kids, saying: “The biggest hope and intention was the wellbeing of my children.”
Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)
Armstrong insisted that cycling’s world governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), was not complicit in covering up a a positive test at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland. The United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) report detailed a $100,000 donation to the UCI which Armstrong denied was a pay-off.
By detailing how he has stepped away from the foundation he set up to ‘inspire and empower’ cancer survivors – and by showing emotion about it - Armstrong has begun to decontaminate the brand he established.
In part two of the Oprah installment, Armstrong’s ex-wife Kristin was recast as a saint and lover of truth who made him go clean. USADA’s “reasoned decision” on Armstrong that was released last year said Kristin Armstrong was very much a part of her ex-husband’s doping culture. In several eyewitness accounts, she witnesses Armstrong’s doping and, in at least one instance, even helped administer drugs by “wrapping pills and handing them to riders”.
Lawsuits were already streaming in following the USADA ruling and now Armstrong’s confession has opened the floodgates. Among the ones we can expect are a whistleblower lawsuit from fellow cyclist, Flloyd Landis; SCA promotions that underwrote his Tour De France wins, The Sunday Times and many sponsors.
Oprah, OWN and the advertisers
A worldwide scoop means major publicity for Oprah Winfrey. The first segment of the interview, broadcast at 2am GMT on Friday, was the most-watched programme in the history of the Oprah Winfrey Network, drawing an audience of 4.3m to the US broadcast. Anyone with advertising in the breaks will also be laughing all the way to the bank.
The sport gets a rash of publicity and can recast itself with a clean start. British cycling has done particularly well at painting themselves as the squeaky-clean new dawn for the sport).
An apology was not enough for years of vendetta against Andreu’s attempts to blow the whistle on Armstrong’s doping and bullying. In the interview he still refuses to admit that he ordered his teammates to dope. She has said she is “very disappointed” by the interview.
Frankie Andreu, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis - among others - have all given evidence against Armstrong. He is still denying much of what they said about the way he led the team and pushed out those who wouldn’t dope.
Huge swathes of the USADA report into Armstrong are still being denied by the cyclist, such as the allegation that he tested positive during the 2001 Tour de Suisse and conspired with officials of the International Cycling Union officials to cover it up — in exchange for a donation. “That story wasn’t true. There was no positive test, no paying off of the labs. There was no secret meeting with the lab director,” he said.
The masseuse also received a paltry half-apology and, like the others, her statements have attempted to be undermined by Armstrong maintaining that his critics made false allegations as well as true ones. He still won’t back up most of the things she testified.
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