Don’t fall for Arm­strong’s Sav­ile-like char­ity card

Why the for­mer seven-time Tour de France cham­pion does not de­serve to have his lifetime ban re­laxed

The Herald - Sport - - COMMENT - DOUG GIL­LON

THE world cy­cling body es­tab­lished an in­de­pen­dent re­form com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate dop­ing al­le­ga­tions fol­low­ing the Lance Arm­strong af­fair. This will in­clude whether UCI of­fi­cials them­selves have been com­plicit. The com­mis­sion is due to re­port in the next few weeks.

Brian Cook­son, who won an ac­ri­mo­nious bat­tle for the UCI pres­i­dency on an in­tegrity ticket, has hinted that a life ban from all sport which was im­posed on the seven-time Tour de France win­ner may be re­laxed. So has Travis Ty­gart, head of the US Anti-dop­ing Agency (USADA)

We fer­vently hope this is not re­duced. Arm­strong’s ti­tles were due to what USADA de­scribed as “the most so­phis­ti­cated, pro­fes­sional, and suc­cess­ful dop­ing pro­gramme sport had ever seen”. Be­ing such an in­su­lar na­tion, one might ex­pect this de­scrip­tion. The state-spon­sored for­mer East Ger­man regime cov­ered all sports and in­fil­trated the Olympic med­i­cal com­mis­sion. This as­suredly sur­passes the Arm­strong af­fair, shame­ful though it was.

On Thurs­day, BBC News (8.30pm) screens a 30-minute doc­u­men­tary, The Road Ahead. It is Arm­strong’s first TV in­ter­view since his eva­sive and ar­ro­gant per­for­mance in a mu­tu­ally self-serv­ing ap­pear­ance with Oprah Win­frey two years ago.

The lat­est in­ter­view was filmed in his Austin bike shop, Arm­strong’s seven Tour yel­low jer­seys (1999-2005) hang­ing “de­fi­antly” on the wall, as BBC sports ed­i­tor and in­ter­viewer Dan Roan put it.

Pre­dictably Arm­strong wants his life sus­pen­sion lifted, say­ing it has, “gone too far”. There is still no ev­i­dence of con­tri­tion. He wants his for­feited ti­tles back: “I feel like I won those Tours,” he in­sists. He thinks he is “get­ting close” to a time for for­give­ness.

He con­tin­ues to be­lieve he is a vic­tim of his era’s pre­vail­ing cul­ture, ig­nor­ing how he or­ches­trated mat­ters to help make se­rial cheat­ing an ac­cepted norm, bul­ly­ing, brib­ing, and ef­fec­tively black­mail­ing. He ruth­lessly at­tacked any chal­lenger, in­clud­ing the me­dia, even though they were right.

There is a hint of re­morse as he ad­mits to hav­ing been: “a com­plete ass­hole to a hand­ful of peo­ple”. Yet to a sig­nif­i­cant de­gree he re­mains in de­nial. Tellingly he says: “I’d prob­a­bly do it again,” but said he would not have to now, be­cause dop­ing is no longer “to­tally per­va­sive”.

He de­scribes us­ing banned drugs as: “a bad decision in an im­per­fect time.” He is quick to re­mind how he helped drive bike sales from $100mil­lion to $1bil­lion.

Did pro­tec­tion of such vested in­ter­ests im­pact on dop­ing? The in­de­pen­dent CIRC re­port may tell, but has al­ready been de­layed. Though this is not on the Chilcott scale, the per­cep­tion that cy­cling has too much at stake for the whole truth to emerge is dis­turbingly fa­mil­iar.

In wait­ing for Arm­strong to ap­pear, the in­ter­viewer con­sid­ered whether he had be­come a recluse. Was he broke? De­pressed? Wracked with self-hate? No sign of that. Though he has sold a £6.6mil­lion man­sion, Arm­strong still owns a beau­ti­ful home in Austin, a house in the ski re­sort of Aspen, another in Hawaii. A pend­ing £80mil­lion fed­eral law­suit may change that, but he seems un­con­cerned.

Ground rules for the BBC in­cluded a po­lite re­quest that they avoid film­ing Arm­strong with a par­tic­u­lar range of bi­cy­cles. The company cut ties with Arm­strong, yet his shop still sells their prod­uct. So he still ap­pears to be mak­ing them money, and earn­ing from them. Per­haps I’m naive, but an eth­i­cal cul­ture might ques­tion to con­tinue sup­ply­ing Arm­strong.

He is unim­pressed by Cook­son. He cites a decision to “rush” through Team Sky’s re­quest that Tour de France win­ner Chris Froome be al­lowed emer­gency steroid treat­ment for asthma, and a fail­ure to with­draw As­tana’s li­cense after five of their team failed dop­ing con­trols last year. Tour de France cham­pion Vin­cenzo Nibali rides for As­tana and Arm­strong claims “every­body thinks” As­tana should have been thrown out.

Ex­actly the kind of al­le­ga­tion Arm­strong him­self went bal­lis­tic about dur­ing his time as a se­rial cheat. He has learned noth­ing. If he claims he would not have to cheat to­day, then he should not cast as­per­sions – even if his­tory teaches us to be cyn­i­cal about any above-av­er­age rider who emerges.

Roan does not give Arm­strong an easy ride, yet it is hard to avoid the con­clu­sion that the Texan has his own agenda, that he has agreed to the in­ter­view in an at­tempt to le­git­imise his po­si­tion and pave the way for re­lax­ation of the life ban.

This must not hap­pen. It would be over the bod­ies of those cy­clists whom drugs have killed and of oth­ers whose lives Arm­strong de­stroyed, whose ca­reers he stole by es­tab­lish­ing a quasi­le­git­i­mate cul­ture of dop­ing so strong that clean rid­ers dared not ac­cuse him.

One is re­minded of Jimmy Sav­ile, whom I in­ter­viewed sev­eral times when he was the celebrity face of the Great Scot­tish Run. He was un­fail­ingly cour­te­ous, charm­ing, and ap­proach­able. Dan­ger­ously, ob­scenely, crim­i­nally so, as we now know in hind­sight. Yet I re­call him en­quir­ing about the ab­sence of one of Glas­gow City Coun­cil’s or­gan­is­ing team, and head­ing im­me­di­ately to the hos­pi­tal where she lay ter­mi­nally ill. Sav­ile raised mil­lions for char­ity, as has Arm­strong. And just as Sav­ile claimed char­ity would be the loser if he were ex­posed, Arm­strong is now plead­ing the right to do things for char­ity. He says he should not be ex­cluded “at the ex­pense of oth­ers. I don’t think any­body thinks that’s right.”

Cy­cling should not fall for Arm­strong’s char­ity card.

PLEAD­ING HIS CASE: Arm­strong wants his life ban from sport for dop­ing re­laxed, say­ing it has “gone too far”

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