As London’s carnival of sport comes to an end with the closing ceremony of the Paralympics, the city will close the curtain to what will be seen as a defining summer not only for sport, but for the nation as a whole. Team GB’s success in harnessing the public’s attention and its ability to capture medals, many of them gold, will ensure that the London Olympics will be recognised as the most success modern games on record.
Even the achievements of our Paralympians have exceeded expectations. The British public have filled out the arenas and have continued to enjoy the relentless success. Many commentators are arriving at the belief that all athletes should be held as equals, despite any physical or mental handicap. And, whilst the athletes would prefer journalists to ask questions about their training and their hopes for the games, for most, it would be odd not to ask about their disability. This year’s games have seen injured members of the armed forces to a survivor from the 7 July terrorist bombings in London; all with unique and harrowing stories.
Whilst we marvel and are inspired by their success, a man who overcame his own challenges and rose to the top, inspiring millions along the way, has seen his reputation dissipate before him. Lance Armstrong, the cancer surviving cyclist, who went on to win Tour de France seven times, announced in August that he would not be challenging charges made by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in relation to doping offences during his cycling career. In doing so, Armstrong has been banned for life from the sport and all his successes, including medals and victories, will be stricken from the record books.
The subsequent press release from Armstrong signalled that he had spent his entire professional life fighting against doubters and doomsayers and that ‘enough is enough’. Armstrong felt that the ensuing investigations and allegations were having an effect on his family life and towards the work of his foundation. This in effect was not a confession of guilt, but a submission to the investigation.
Yet, as most involved in the sport point out, this is very un-Armstrong like. The Texan was renowned for his combative spirit, as well determination to take on obstacles. He fought his battle with cancer as he did when ascending the Alps; with the ultimate goal of winning. Why then is he suddenly stopping the pursuit?
It is likely that the investigations will uncover the scale of doping, not only committed by Armstrong, but by the whole US Postal Service team – maybe wider. Examinations and testimonies will apparently reveal that Armstrong was part of cycling’s dirty secret. Sport’s ultimate survivor did not possess superhuman qualities, but was tainted like many of others in the sport. Perhaps the prospect of seeing these allegations thrown at him in the courtroom was a step too far?
Undoubtedly, Armstrong will remain defiant despite what is thrown at him. Beyond witness testimony, there is no scientific proof of his guilt.
And it is that defiance which ultimately prevents Armstrong from saying anything further.
Anyone who has read his first autobiography ‘It’s Not About the Bike’, would not be moved by the American’s overcoming of cancer. His subsequent Livestrong foundation has helped raise millions of pounds and much more in awareness of the disease. Armstrong’s philosophy was that anyone can beat cancer and who knows how many it inspired in their own fight. This is perhaps where his reluctance-cum-intransigence stems from. Perhaps Armstrong feels that a confession of guilt would undermine his beliefs and everything the foundation represents. Not only would his reputation as an athlete be tarnished, but so too the charity he believes in anymore.
Are there any other precedents? It is now over a decade since the South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje died in an airplane crash. Cronje, a man who had led the country out of the sporting wilderness of Apartheid, inspiring millions of South Africans helped the team become one of the most feared sides in the 1990s. Yet, Cronje’s reputation was destroyed after allegations of match-fixing led to his ultimate confession in front of a South African courtroom. Cronje, a man of international standing, wept as he relayed his involvement in illegal match-fixing syndicates.
Cronje’s decision to confess all, perhaps partly down to the history of truth and reconciliation in South Africa, illustrated his willingness to confront the mistakes he had made and for the better of the game. His own personal reputation would forever be tarnished, even after his death. Yet people still recognise Cronje for his work to help rebuild South Africa, particularly his work in black townships, despite the match-fixing.
For Armstrong this is not even worth considering. He rode from the front in his career and it appears it is where he will remain.