Cyclist Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles and banned from the sport for life after refusing to fight the most recent drug allegations by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
The ban and loss of results since Aug. 1, 1998, come from anti-doping rules violations including possession, trafficking, administration and use of prohibited substances, according to an e-mailed release from USADA. Armstrong yesterday announced he would not seek arbitration of the agency’s accusations, but did not admit guilt.
“Nobody wins when an athlete decides to cheat with dangerous performance-enhancing drugs,” USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said in the statement. “Any time we have overwhelming proof of doping, our mandate is to initiate the case through the process and see it to conclusion as was done in this case.”
The 40-year-old Armstrong said yesterday that the allegations were part of an “unconstitutional witch hunt.”
“If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and -- once and for all -- put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance,” Armstrong said in a separate statement. “But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair.”
His decision came three days after a federal judge in Armstrong’s hometown of Austin, Texas, rejected the cyclist’s request to block USADA from proceeding with its case.
Armstrong won the Tour de France every year from 1999 to 2005, a record for the sport’s most prestigious race. He survived testicular cancer early in his career, and created Livestrong, a charity that has raised more than $470 million for the fight against cancer, according to its website.
Best for Livestrong
Armstrong’s refusal to fight the charges was the best decision he could make for Livestrong, which changed its name from the Lance Armstrong Foundation in 2009, Columbia University professor Doug White said in a telephone interview.
“Charities have to be above and beyond reproach and since he’s the impediment to the charity, he did the best thing he could do,” said White, 59, who will teach courses in fundraising and ethics this fall. “I think there will be a real fragile period of probably a year where people will have to separate that issue from the good work he is trying to do and if they can’t do that then the charity is not going to go very far.”
Livestrong Vice Chairman Jeffery Garvey said in a statement that the charity supports Armstrong’s decision to avoid “a biased process.”
“Lance chose to put his family and his foundation first and we support his decision,” Garvey said. “Lance’s contributions to the fight against cancer are invaluable and we look forward to continuing the important work at hand.”
The foundation raised $51 million in private donations in 2011, after generating $50.8 million in 2010, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. It was ranked 343, the only athlete’s charity to be in the top 400.
John Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society, said he hoped the foundation would not be affected by the aftermath of Armstrong’s decision not to fight USADA’s charges.
“Reducing suffering and death from cancer is a moral imperative, and the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s contribution is sorely needed,” Seffrin said in a statement on the Livestrong website.
A “great deal of damage” has been done to Armstrong personally, Jason Maloni, Senior Vice President of Washington, D.C.-based Levick and chairman of the communications firm’s Sports & Litigation Practices. He called the recent events a “death by a thousand cuts” to Armstrong’s brand as an athlete.
Armstrong’s website lists Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (ABI)’s Michelob brand, Nike Inc. (NKE:US), Trek Bicycle Corp. and RadioShack Corp. (RSH:US) among his current sponsors, most of which have stood by him through doping allegations in the past.
Anheuser-Busch, Nike and energy nutrition company Honey Stinger, another sponsor, said in separate statements that they planned to continue to support Armstrong and Livestrong.
“Our partnership with Lance remains unchanged,” Paul Chibe, vice president of U.S. marketing for Anheuser-Busch, said in an -emailed statement. “He has inspired millions with his athletic achievement and his commitment to help cancer survivors and their families.”
Trek spokesman Bill Mashek said today in a telephone interview that the company was monitoring recent developments and had made no decisions regarding the future of its business partnership with Armstrong.
“This is extremely damaging for cycling and very damaging for the Tour de France,” Nigel Currie, director of London-based sports marketing agency brandRapport, said in a telephone interview today. “Armstrong has been such a big part of the Tour de France for the past 20 years, and took it to new levels for the American market.”
The Amaury Sport Organisation, a French family business that has controlled the Tour de France since World War II, declined to comment on the outcome of the Armstrong case. Spokesman Fabrice Tiano said the company would issue a press release following the USADA announcement.
USADA, the anti-doping organization for U.S. Olympic sports, notified Armstrong in June that he, three doctors and two officials from the cyclist’s former U.S. Postal Service racing team were accused of using and trafficking prohibited drugs, according to court filings. The Colorado Springs, Colorado-based agency said Armstrong could choose to have an independent panel of arbitrators decide the matter.
No Failed Test
Armstrong has said for years that he has never failed a drug test and has repeatedly denied using banned substances. The USADA case was based on “more than a dozen witness” who testified and provided evidence about the doping activity of Armstrong and the others in the court filing, the release said. Specific names were not mentioned.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks threw out Armstrong’s lawsuit Aug. 20, saying he had to arbitrate the group’s allegations under the terms of his cycling contracts. Armstrong claimed USADA had no authority over him and that its proceedings were rigged. The cyclist faced a deadline of last night to respond to the agency.
Cycling’s world governing body, the Lausanne, Switzerland- based International Cycling Union, or UCI, said in an e-mailed statement today that it had noted Armstrong’s decision and would not comment until after USADA issued its final decision.
The Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee said in an e-mail today that “in the first instance, the IOC will have to study the USADA/UCI decision, once made, before deciding its next steps.”
Armstrong won a bronze medal in the individual road time trial at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Sparks, while rejecting Armstrong’s claims, said there were “troubling aspects” in the lawsuit against the USADA, including the appearance of conflicts of interest on the part of the agency and an international cycling federation that has backed Armstrong’s position, as well as the cyclist’s claims that the USADA’s procedures violate his right to see and question the evidence against him before an arbitration hearing.
In February, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles ended a criminal probe involving Armstrong and his racing team without filing charges.
Floyd Landis, Armstrong’s former teammate who was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title because of doping, sent cycling authorities e-mails in 2010 accusing Armstrong and U.S. Postal team officials of breaking doping rules.
Tyler Hamilton, another teammate, alleged Armstrong used a blood-boosting drug while winning his first Tour de France title in 1999. Hamilton tested positive for blood doping at the 2004 Athens Olympics and was suspended twice for using performance- enhancing drugs. The International Olympic Committee stripped Hamilton of his gold medal in the individual time trial from the Athens Games on Aug. 10.
Armstrong’s attorneys said Landis and Hamilton weren’t believable as witnesses against their client.
After retiring from cycling in February 2011, Armstrong had been participating in triathlons until he was banned in June from events organized by the World Triathlon Corp., which owns the Ironman series, because of the USADA allegations. Armstrong started his career as a triathlete before switching to cycling in the 1990s.
“He has done a lot of work in bicycling and given it all away now,” White, the Columbia professor, said. “That’s a hell of a lot to walk away from, so something in his head is saying there is something more important, more important in my life and maybe it is the foundation.”
USADA said in its release that its decision was final because Armstrong chose not to fight the charges in court. Armstrong said he would no longer address the case, regardless of the circumstances.
“I know who won those seven tours, my teammates know who won those seven tours, and everyone I competed against knows who won those seven tours,” Armstrong said in his statement. “Nobody can ever change that. Especially not Travis Tygart.”
The federal case is Armstrong v. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, 1:12-cv-00606, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (Austin).
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