British cycling is currently enjoying a period of success more fertile than a Viagra laced stud farm. Pseudo Mod Bradley Wiggins has recently been knighted as a result of being the first Brit to win the “Tour De France,” as well as winning gold in the road time trial at London 2012. Meanwhile, also at last year’s Olympics, Great Britain’s cycling team were so all conquering, it seemed for a moment, that they only needed to turn up at the velodrome dressed like a spandex clad member of the Death Star crew to be flung a gold medal.
Despite this renaissance, and my countries new found love of all things bipedal, my knowledge and passion for cycling is on a par with my knowledge and passion for the mating habits of tree toads. Unless the cycling involves a Raleigh Chopper, trick nuts or spokely dokelys, quite frankly I’m not that interested. I’ve tried watching the Tour De France, and in all honesty, there is way too much lycra and sweat for my liking. However, despite my ambivalence towards cycling, I found my interest piqued by Lance Armstrong’s “confession” to Oprah Winfrey. As someone who found his cheating disappointing at most, I found his very public mea culpa a lot more disturbing.
Showing all the contrition and sincerity of a minor politician who had been caught having an extra marital affair with a root vegetable, Armstrong spent the two hours of his WORLDWIDE EXCLUSIVE divulging to Oprah what was already an open secret (since the USADA reported that there was overwhelming evidence of drug taking in October 2012) and very little else. Far from being the first step on the road to redemption, all this regret laden publicity stunt did, was sap up any remaining goodwill and give the impression of a stage managed sociopath giving a long scripted sorry.
He often gave the air of a chastised child telling his teacher what he thought she wanted to hear, without really meaning it. In fact, his reason for starting doping in the first place to “level the playing field” is the ultimate example of “but all the other kids are doing it”. While his delusional hope that one day he would be allowed to compete again, showed a childlike ignorance to his actions.
A lot of the ill feeling towards Armstrong is not centred around his doping but his bullying, and his actions towards his past accusers, but he barely touched on these episodes, preferring to concentrate on the effect that his doping had on himself. On one of the occasions the talk strays to Betsy Andreu (the wife of his former riding partner who spoke out about Armstrong’s doping, and in turn felt his self absorbed maniacal wrath). He actually attempts to turn to brevity by making an ill advised and extremely unfunny joke about not saying she was fat. It’s moments like this during the interview where you come to the conclusion that rather than a two hour Oprah special, Armstrong needs 24 hour psychiatric care.
There is a school of thought that Armstrong should be forgiven for his actions, due the huge amount of money raised by his charity “Livestrong.” You’ll be unsurprised to learn that I don’t subscribe to this mindset. Since its inception in 1997, the charity has raised $470 million towards the fight against cancer which is a truly breathtaking amount. Of course this amount would not have been raised without having such an inspirational founder and figurehead.
But should Armstrong get a free pass because of this? Absolutely not. The ends do not justify the means. The foundation itself was built on a falsehood. A fallacy that destroyed numerous careers and impacted negatively on many lives, and while the money raised is the only good thing to come out of the sorry saga, it is money that has now been tainted by Armstrong’s actions.
After the Oprah appearance, I even find myself questioning the reason behind the creation of the charity, as Armstrong does not come across as man who regularly carries out selfless acts. To ease his conscience about his cheating? Unlikely, as, for that you would need a conscience. So the only conclusion that I can have any confidence in, is that it was set up as a vanity project to promote brand Lance. This may come across as cynical premise, but it appears that I am not the only one to have given it some credence, as donors have been looking into ways of getting their donations returned from the charity.
So what now for Lance Armstrong? It may be a good idea that he attempts to do some bridge building that isn’t syndicated worldwide, and that he cooperates with the cycling governing bodies and relevant authorities to ensure a fraud of this scale does not happen again. He also could do with putting all self indulgent talk of a return to competitive sport on the back burner. On the financial side of things, he should rightly return all assets received as a result of his numerous libel actions against people who (rightly) accused him of cheating along with a full, frank, and most importantly, sincere apology. I have less sympathy for the sponsors and advertisers trying to claim back assets from Armstrong, as they made healthy profits on the back of his sullied success, a better idea would be any sponsorship money claim back being paid straight to Livestrong in an attempt to make up for the losses as a result of their founder’s actions.
My stance may come across as harsh from someone who had no investment in Lance Armstrong, emotionally or financially. This may be so, but as he enjoyed all the kudos and rewards of being one of the most famous sportspeople on the planet, I think it is only right that his penalties reflect the scale of his deception. And for those who actually thought there was an element of sincerity in the Oprah appearance, it’s worth taking a look at this clip from Lance Armstrong’s last major interview back in 2005…
[dailymotion width="820" height="400"]http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xitaua_2005-lance-armstrong-denies-doping_sport#.UP1iRI6sSTM[/[/dailymotion]
The old Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly once said; “Football isn’t a matter of life and death. It’s much, much more important than that” and Armstrong seems to encapsulate that “win at all costs” mentality. Alas, this is a mentality that I have never truly understood, give me a gracious loser over an ungracious victor anytime. This probably explains why I am sitting in my underpants writing this and not fielding calls from agents or preparing answers to questions from the media in the comfort of my mansion. While I may not possess the material trappings that come along with “winning”, I have my happiness, humility and my humanity. Perhaps over time, Armstrong too can gain these positive qualities.