So many shoes now have dropped on Lance Armstrong he has enough stock to open an Infamous Footwear store. The lies and threats that were Armstrong’s stock in trade have led just about everyone – sponsors and international sports bodies like – to give him the boot. The latest is the International Cycling Union (UCI), which announced Monday it had agreed with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to strip Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and ban him for life.
The UCI’s move prompted yet another company, Oakley, to become another ex-Armstrong sponsor. That means all the companies for which he once was an endorser – most notably Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Oakley and Trek bicycles – have bailed on him. The tens of millions in future earnings Armstrong likely loses from the end of those deals is just one of the financial issues he may face for having defrauded the world about how he became one of its most renowned athletes.
Make no mistake about it: Lance Armstrong is a fraud – the greatest in sports history. The scope of the doping operation he masterminded and in which he took part means Armstrong’s infamy surpasses that of Barry Bonds, Rosie Ruiz, Ben Johnson, China’s 1990s swim generation, Mark McGwire, Marion Jones and Roger Clemens – to name a few.
“Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling. Lance Armstrong deserves to be forgotten in cycling,” UCI President Pat McQuaid told a news conference Monday in Switzerland.
That almost is beside the point now. The point is McQuaid, UCI president since 2005 and a member of its management committee since 1998, also should have no place in cycling. Nor should his predecessor, Hein Verbruggen, who ran the UCI from 1991 through 2005 and remains both its honorary president and a member of its management committee.
McQuaid, of Ireland, and Verbruggen, of the Netherlands, were running the sport during an era when doping became so commonplace and widely accepted nearly every elite cyclist felt compelled to cast ethics aside in favor of Machiavellian pragmatism. It also was the era when Armstrong’s success made the sport popular in the world’s richest market, with everyone – sponsors, bike and bike equipment manufacturers, broadcasters – drinking up the spoils.
Nobody wanted to stop milking that cash cow. (Notice how Nike relentlessly defended Armstrong until the USADA evidence made him such damaged goods he was no longer of any commercial value.)
Better to turn a blind eye to doping, as late International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch did regarding East Germany in the guise of preserving Olympic unity. And better to be so blind to the appearance of conflict of interest in the UCI accepting $125,000 in donations from Armstrong at a time when two of his doping controls were questionable.
“It would be better if we hadn’t done it,” McQuaid said Monday about taking what plainly looked like a bribe, even if it wasn’t. “There is no connection between the donation given to the UCI and a test being covered up because there was no test covered up,” he continued.
So he says. But why should anyone take a word McQuaid says at face value? How can competitive cycling’s attempts to clean itself up be taken seriously with its old guard still in charge?
McQuaid and Verbruggen aren’t the only ones who need to step aside or get the boot. So should admitted doper Jonathan Vaughters of the U.S., a member of the UCI professional cycling council and manager of the Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda team, and Bjarne Riis, 1996 Tour winner, admitted doper, and manager of the Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank team.
It is one thing for cyclists banned for doping to return to competition after their suspensions end, as rules allow. It is another for ex-dopers to run teams or be on UCI councils. Any argument that it is good to have former dopers help in the fight against doping is specious. Which leaves us to follow the money again.
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said Monday the seven titles Armstrong won will be vacated rather than reattributed – a nod to how ridiculous it would be to let other suspected or busted dopers inherit the victories. Prudhomme also said he wants Armstrong to reimburse his prize money from the Tour – about $3 million aggregate, which the winner generally distributes to teammates. Then there is the $7.5 million bonus a Dallas promotions company paid Armstrong for multiple victories, money the company likely will sue to get back.
Depending on the behavior clauses in the contracts, some of Armstrong’s ex-sponsors might have claims to restitution. And, the Department of Justice could get involved should the U.S. Postal Service bring a civil suit for some of the $30 million in sponsorship money it gave Armstrong’s team.
Such financial liabilities clearly are a significant reason why Armstrong chooses to keep denying he doped while 11 former teammates fessed up after the government compelled their testimony. Tell the truth voluntarily, and he can watch lots of money quickly follow his reputation
down the drain.
The Sport Intern in a blog produced by Karl-Heinz Huba in Lorsch, Germany. Mr. Huba can be reached via email at ISMG@aol.com. This article is reprinted here with the permission of Mr. Huba.