The US cyclist Lance Armstrong, who last year was stripped of seven Tour De France titles as a result of doping charges, looks set to admit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in order to return to the other sporting activities – such as triathlon – that he enjoys.
Due to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show that airs on Thursday 17th January, a statement released by the TV network has promised a “no holds barred” interview with the athlete, leading to speculation that Armstrong plans to, at least partially, admit his guilt and apologise to the general public. This was further reinforced after reports that Armstrong apologised to the staff at Livestrong Foundation – the not-for-profit support network for cancer sufferers, founded by Armstrong – for “letting them down” were released earlier this week indicating that perhaps Thursday’s interview will once and for all put an end to speculation regarding Armstrong’s history of alleged doping and drug abuse.
Glancing back over the athlete’s career, allegations and complaints regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs have dogged Armstrong. Indeed, back in 1999, Armstrong was accused of doping, while in 2010 cyclist Floyd Landis accused Armstrong of taking prohibited drugs. Although the US Federal investigation failed to find any conclusive evidence to support allegations against Armstrong, the inquiry lasted two years and by the time it had ended, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) had taken the decision to open up their own investigation.
Although at the time the USADA announced the decision to open the investigation, Armstrong released a statement calling the charges “baseless” and “motivated by spite and paid for by promises of anonymity and immunity”, he has since remained silent. When offered the opportunity to come forward and acknowledge any wrongdoing, the cyclist instead chose not to contest the evidence compiled against him and accepted the disqualification of his sporting achievements alongside a lifelong ban from recognised sporting competitions.
The decision to appear on the popular television show this week, therefore, has caused controversy and divided public opinion. While many have maintained Armstrong’s innocence and protested against the decision to ban the athlete from all sporting competitions, others cite the statement released by the USADA, which branded Armstrong and the US Postal Service’s cycling team’s doping programme as “the most sophisticated, professional and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”, as reason to question Armstrong’s reputation.
For the time being at least, Armstrong is caught between a rock and a hard place. If no admission or apology is made, Armstrong is set to disappoint thousands of viewers yet if he does indeed admit to doping allegations, even partially, he could face fines from newspapers who printed the allegations, among which are The Sunday Times who are seeking to recover approximately $500,000 paid out in a libel lawsuit against them, as well as legal cases for perjury. Furthermore, Armstrong could run the risk of re-opening a full investigation following any admission of guilt, true or false.
Indeed, Armstrong’s motivation for appearing on Oprah has been linked to his desire to return to competitive sports and some publications have suggested that the cyclist is “giving in”, as Armstrong’s guilt has never been conclusively proved, in order to overturn a lifelong ban. That this can even be considered to be a possibility in this case raises serious questions over the sport industry’s rulings on performance-enhancing drugs on two different levels.
Firstly, the decision made the USADA to open an investigation against Armstrong following the ruling by US Federals that no substantial evidence had been found to support allegations made in 2010 has led to questions over whether officials can open another case regarding the same issue. While in most criminal law cases a person cannot be investigated more than once for the same crime following an acquittal, sporting organisations have in the past chosen to pursue their own investigations following court decisions.
Indeed, this was the case for John Terry back in 2012, according to the Law in Sport website. When the Football Association decided to pursue their own investigation following Terry’s acquittal of any charges filed against him, calls were made to introduce a “double jeopardy law” into sporting regulations that would prevent sportsmen from facing more than one investigation into the same alleged offence. With this in mind, should the USADA have pursued an investigation into Armstrong?
Secondly, the USADA decision to pursue a case against Armstrong has sparked debate into whether regulations regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs need to be radically updated. Back in 2012, Chris Smith of Forbes called for the legalisation of performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids. Arguing that “stiff punishments have done little to reduce the number of cyclists caught cheating every year”, Smith suggests that in legalising certain drugs, distribution and categorisation would improve making the drugs easier to regulate and ultimately levelling the playing field.
Armstrong’s appearance on Oprah is set to divide opinion further, with many wondering if the athlete should be able to compete if he does admit his guilt after remaining silent for so long. While Armstrong remains silent, all we can do is speculate over his innocence, whether he will be allowed to return to sports or even if sporting regulations should be updated. One thing is for sure: Thursday looks set to ruffle some feathers among the sporting world.