The International Cycling Union (UCI) has endorsed the decision of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to ban Lance Armstrong for life and strip him of his seven Tour de France titles on doping charges. Confronted with a mountain of damning evidence, painstakingly compiled by USADA, the UCI perforce had little option but to put its stamp of approval on the ban. “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling,” said UCI president Pat McQuaid, a stand that should clinch the argument over an iconic cyclist whose possible flirtations with doping had long been debated by his peers and the media though he had never tested positive. The evidence placed in the public domain by USADA — including emails and testimonies of 11 of his colleagues on the US Postal Service pro cycling team, all of them part of the ‘conspiracy’ — is staggering. The Ben Johnson doping scandal of 1988 and the ‘Festina affair’ of 1998 that brought to the fore large-scale doping practices in the Tour de France, pale in comparison. It probably matches the 2002 BALCO affair that exposed some of the top athletes of that era, including sprinter Marion Jones.
The sport of cycling has long been high on dope and low on credibility. Of the 45 podium finishes in the Tour de France during the period between 1996 and 2010, 36 were by riders who were either caught out or who are now being branded as “dope-tainted”. As questions are being raised over the UCI’s acceptance of $1,25,000 from Armstrong as donations in the past, doubts are also being expressed over the efficacy of dope-testing in sports as a whole and the implied collusion of testers and others that might have emboldened the ‘dope doctors’ in the USPS team to cut corners. Armstrong, who beat cancer to conquer the Alps, is estimated to have amassed $125 million from the sport. He now stands to lose more than that amount in endorsements and motivational talks in his post-retirement phase. Major sponsors have deserted him; others are cutting their ties with the sport. A window for an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport may still be open for the American but many doubt whether he would exercise that option having refused to go through a hearing process at home. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which has supported the USADA action and is critical of the UCI, cannot be expected to bail him out, no matter that the eight-year ‘statute of limitations’ in the WADA Code was breached in taking away five of his Tour titles, from 1999 to 2003. As USADA has noted, the code of silence might have been broken, but there are miles to go before the war against doping can be won.