Questions remain on agency’s power to strip Armstrong titles
Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 17:08
AUSTIN, Texas - The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles on Friday and banned him from sanctioned sports for life, but it’s still unclear whether the international cycling community will recognize its actions.
After USADA’s announcement, it was clear that agencies in the United States and Europe were undecided over who had the authority to punish Armstrong. The International Cycling Union asked USADA for its evidence, which it has yet to reveal, while Tour officials declared they were monitoring the situation.
Armstrong’s legal team still was considering whether to appeal a ruling made earlier this week by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, who said he didn’t have the jurisdiction to issue a permanent injunction against USADA.
Armstrong’s two main endorsers - Anheuser-Busch and Nike - stood by the cyclist Friday while his Austin-based foundation received 400 donations totaling $75,000, said Livestrong Foundation spokeswoman Rae Bazzarre. That’s an increase of more than 770 percent from the day before. And Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell issued a statement saying, “I’ll ride bikes with Lance Armstrong any day.”
Meanwhile, the 40-year-old Armstrong plans to compete in two Aspen, Colo., sporting events this weekend - a mountain bike race on Saturday and a marathon on Sunday, events that don’t fall under?USADA’s umbrella.
On Friday, he told the American-Statesman that “I’m fine.” And he tweeted his thanks to his supporters worldwide.
Armstrong, who retired from cycling a year ago, announced late Thursday that he would not go through arbitration to fight USADA’s charges, declaring he would always be the true winner of the Tours from 1999 to 2005. USADA acknowledged that it took Armstrong’s decision as an admission of guilt, which is why the agency moved so quickly on Friday to penalize him, even changing its own rules to wipe away an eight-year statute of limitations.
“Nobody wins when an athlete decides to cheat with dangerous performance-enhancing drugs, but clean athletes at every level expect those of us here on their behalf to pursue the truth to ensure the win-at-all-cost culture does not permanently overtake fair, honest competition,” said Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive. “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.” Tim Herman, Armstrong’s Austin-based lawyer, explained the cyclist’s decision to give up the fight against USADA in an interview Friday with the Statesman.
“Lance has been going through this; he’s been hounded for over a decade,” Herman said. “He’s actually been in the cross hairs for the last two years.
“It’s taken a huge toll emotionally on Lance and his family. And if he decided to go through arbitration, we were looking at another two or three years.” Herman said the arbitration process is unfairly weighted in USADA’s favor and would probably take years to proceed before an arbitration panel and on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. USADA has won 58 of its 60 arbitration cases.
“It was just too tall a mountain, and you didn’t know if you got to the top that you didn’t have to climb another one,” Herman said.
In his career, Armstrong was investigated by the French government, an independent attorney from the Netherlands hired by the International Cycling Union, and then by the U.S. government. No penalties ever were issued.
An arbitration panel awarded Armstrong $7.5 million in damages in 2006 after Dallas-based SCA Promotions refused to pay him a $5 million bonus because of what it claimed was Armstrong’s drug use to win his Tours.
Yet on Friday, USADA, a quasi-governmental agency, wiped away Armstrong’s Tour results from Aug. 1, 1998, onward for what it described as “overwhelming evidence” of rules violations.
Armstrong never failed a drug test - he has said he passed more than 500. But USADA stated that based on testimony from 12 people, Armstrong used, distributed and trafficked in prohibited substances, including steroids, blood-boosting products and masking agents.
USADA also said Armstrong administered the products to others, then assisted and encouraged a cover-up of at least one doping violation. The agency never revealed the identities of its witnesses in its official charging document. But in an Aug. 10 court hearing, USADA said two of those witnesses were Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, both of whom flunked drug tests yet vehemently denied their guilt for years. Landis lost his 2006 Tour championship, while Hamilton was stripped of his 2004 Olympic gold medal.