James Lawton: Lance Armstrong and Luis Suarez - a tale of two cheats

Armstrong has the cold-eyed contrition of a man seeking to evade justice

Lance Armstrong's performance was blood-chilling, as cold as any wind that ever blew through Texas hill country, and when it was over it was impossible not to shudder again at the scale and the relentlessness of both his deceit and manipulation.

Yes, he told Oprah Winfrey he was contrite but always there was another hard message in his eyes.

It was the contrition of someone in a corner who would never stop looking for some kind of escape and right at the end of the first lap of his ordeal by celebrity television he said almost as much.

He was in no position, he conceded, to call for the truth and reconciliation process by which all manner of crimes are sometimes wiped from the record but, he added, "if there was [such a process] I would be the first through the door".

You bet he would. Armstrong mostly said what he had to say without losing control of his emotions but if there was an overwhelming sense of damage limitation as some ultimate endgame, it was inevitable when you considered how so many of the remaining questions were deflected or obscured.

The one which will surely shape the course of the second half of a life which, its owner was bound to agree, had become nothing so much as a towering lie concerns the decision of the US Justice Department to abandon two years of probing, which Armstrong said he felt at the time was an extraordinary reward for the years of brazen defiance. Yes, he said, he felt the wolves had left his door, that he was out of the woods with their departure – "and these are some serious wolves".

But why did the wolves betray their nature and decline to go in for the kill when their victim had become so disabled?

More vitally, will they spare him again now that his old defence against such crimes as perjury, drug-trafficking and witness-tampering have been laid bare as a result of the work of the US Anti-Doping Agency? It is not only a multimillion dollar question in relation to Armstrong's carefully constructed but now besieged financial empire, it also holds the key to the cleansing of a culture that he still swears he did not create but inherited.

Of course he didn't make the culture, no more than he tipped the balance between good and bad.

He operated ruthlessly but also according to what he claimed was a common understanding that, as he put it so lyrically to Winfrey, all the devices of cheating, the cortisone, the blood-doping, the whole chemical armoury, were the same as having air in your tyres and water in your bottles. He wasn't inherently crooked, he told Oprah, he just wanted to be able to compete on a level playing field.

It is only here that the position of Armstrong, the superhero turned pariah, makes any kind of sense. Now that Armstrong is no longer the icon, so many in cycling authority – no doubt alarmed by the suggestion of the veteran anti-dope warrior Dick Pound that the sport's right to compete in the Olympics should be called into question – are painting him as the repository of all evil.

Of course it is nonsense. If Armstrong's guilt is massive, it is not exclusive. To say differently is the latest defence mechanism of a sport so profoundly compromised down the years, not just by the competitors scrambling to make their professional mark, which in most cases is to say survive, but also all those officials who drew down a veil on reality.

Of course it is open season on the hard-eyed man from Texas and if he got anything right in the small hours of today it was that he had no right to protest.

As we wait for the final moves in this Shakespearian tragedy, we are naturally told by Sir Chris Hoy that we should remember that the overwhelming majority of professional cyclists are clean.

It is a pretty thought in an ugly world but there can be no certainty it would survive a renewed attack on Armstrong by the wolves of the Justice Department. If that should happen, the really serious plea-bargaining would surely start. So, along with it, there will surely come the possibility that Armstrong, for all his sins, will not be quite so lonely in the dock.

if armstrong's guilt is massive, it is not exclusive. should the wolves resume their attack he might not be so lonely in the dock.

Was it Suarez's blatant dive, or his confession, that enraged his club?

Did we get quite so much rage from Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers when Luis Suarez committed the tragi-comic dive against Stoke City to which he owned up this week to a Latin American TV audience? No, we didn't because back then Suarez was not a self-advertised cheat but a victim of prejudice.

Any questioning of this offended Rodgers at the time when Stoke manager Tony Pulis was describing the Uruguayan's move as embarrassing – in fact, there were several moves because this was a dive that came in three instalments, each new one more preposterous and shameless – and more or less ever since.

Right up to the point, indeed, when Suarez revealed that his cheating tendency was not some untutored speculation but in one instance at least a cold and extremely unpleasant fact. Heaven help anyone, and not least the experienced football commentator Jon Champion, who touched anywhere near such a proposition.

The reward was more or less untrammelled abuse from the Merseyside bastion of the social network and a more general admonition from most corners of the professional game, including the new manager of Scotland, Gordon Strachan, that it was bizarre to expect today's footballers to conform to some basic standards of sportsmanship.

Suarez, a month before the handball goal controversy at Mansfield earlier in January, was the victim not of character analysis – no one disputes that he is a superbly gifted player – but "vilification" when he was booked for directing a ball towards the Southampton goal with his hand. Now we are told by his manager when seemingly discussing his confession: "Certainly from our point of view it is unacceptable. It is not something we advocate here. Our ethics are correct.

"This is a big club and whatever people do say goes around the world and what was said was wrong and not acceptable. He takes that – and we move on.

"There is no one bigger than the club or the club's image."

This was not the overwhelming impression last season when the then manager Kenny Dalglish approved T-shirts backing Suarez in the middle of the racism affair that led to the player's eight-match ban. Nor is it now when are told Suarez's admission that he tried to con the referee against Stoke came because there was a pressing need to "invent" something.

At the time Pulis was demanding a retrospective punishment for something that left any reasonably attentive observer torn between laughter and tears, Rodgers said: "I haven't seen the incident so I can't really comment on it. But whatever Luis does there will always be a problem, whether it is media or referees or whatever. It is something that is not new. I thought he was terrific."

He is not so terrific now that he has volunteered a truth that was previously asserted only by someone prepared to have their own integrity vilified at an almost industrial level. Liverpool say it is the crime he admitted to rather than the confession of it that is the heart of their anger.

That is their right, of course, but it is a bit of a reach imagining that one of the most famous clubs in football do not recognise a piece of quite egregious cheating when they see it. Do they really have to wait for the culprit to come clean?

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