This past week has seen cycling’s biggest name finally admit to the allegations that he and his team were part of “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program the sport has ever seen”. His two-part interview with Oprah Winfrey, that took place on her network, has been making headlines on both front and back pages, and has even led to an Australian library to joke about moving his autobiography into the fiction section.
Justification for Armstrong’s actions according, to him, stemmed from his battle with cancer, in which he adopted a “win at all costs” approach, giving him a sense of invincibility that was so great it didn’t even feel like cheating. Such was the routine nature of doping that Armstrong compared taking performance-enhancing drugs to having air in his tyres or making sure there was water in his bottle.
Armstrong’s apparent lack of remorse when questioned by Winfrey about his decision to sue his former masseuse Emma O’Reilly (whom Armstrong described as a “whore”, and also referred to former teammate Frankie Andreu’s wife Betsy as a “crazy bitch”) substantiates the opinions that he used his stature in the sport as a way to bully those who spoke out against him, or kick out those who refused to dope too.
Naturally, the reaction to this whole incident has sparked feelings of disappointment, anger, and betrayal. There is no denying that Armstrong has let down a significant number of people, no one more so than himself.
However, one must remember the other things Armstrong has done. His founding of the Livestrong Foundation has made an enormous impact on the lives of cancer patients, raising $500 million for treatment. His drive to overcome this disease should still be held in high regard.
I am not suggesting that just because Armstrong went through a brutal battle with cancer that this makes him a good person regardless of the misdemeanours that followed. The fact that he has shown a remarkable amount of commitment to this charity does not mean he should be forgiven, but rather raises the point that there is more to the man than the bike.
It is a case of looking at the bigger picture and not being overly dismissive. Granted, despite not being a huge cycling fan – I still felt angry when this story came out. However, it is also important to take into account the environment that allowed him to get away with these disgraceful actions.
He may well have bullied to encourage the culture of silence but the institutions in cycling as a whole need to dramatically change practices to make sure something like this never happens again. The fact that over 50 per cent of Tour wins since 1980 have been ‘won’ by cheats speaks volumes of this need for change. I like many others no longer count Armstrong as a sporting great, for obvious reasons. But I also believe is name should not solely be associated with these deceitful acts. Don’t forget the good he did too.
By David Ahluwalia