As Lance Armstrong has decided not to contest charges of doping against him, despite threats of litigation the question arises ‘what will happen to a convicted doper?’ Most former athletes would be vilified in the press, reputation in tatters, some would consider ending it all. Certainly it would lead to financial ruin for many former athletes but this doesn’t seem the case for Armstrong, more so, there seems to be support for him.
Cult of Armstrong
Armstrong’s life really is best described as a Venn diagram. There is Armstrong the 7 time Tour De France winner a champion in an era rife with doping. He wasn’t likeable, he bullied competitors and intimidated the press, a throughly unlikable man but aren’t many champions like this?
On the other half of the equation is Armstrong the champion who beat cancer then went on to win the world’s toughest race seven times in a row. He is now a campaigner who battles on many fronts for those affected by cancer, an all round good guy. This is where the cult of Armstrong begins
Many who have followed Lance’s cycling career have very mixed feeling. When he arrived he was a breath of fresh air, someone with a very ‘American’ attitude sticking it to the Europeans. Armstrong wasn’t a dull rider, excelling at time trailing like all good tour winners, but he rode with panache in the mountains dropping many of his rivals. However as the years went by and many of his competitors confessed or were caught doping it became very hard for people to believe that Lance Armstrong was a clean athlete. Then as former team mates pointed the finger many felt there was no doubt in him doping.
That’s where many people feel a great sense of injustice.
They feel injustice because he must have had help from those designated to protect the sport, in covering his tracks. He bullied anyone who came forward to implicate him in doping and he also intimidated any who implied there was doping in the peloton. In all people were incensed that he got away with what he did with all the ‘evidence’ there was.
Many did not discover Lance Armstrong through cycling. They would have encountered a yellow wristband on a friend or had the misfortune of having a loved one struck with cancer. And I do mean misfortune because cancer is a very ‘random’ disease and can strike anyone at anytime. These people are not cycling fans, they were introduced to cycling through Armstrong’s foundation. In most cases they don’t know the history of cycling and drugs, know little about his competitors and have no interest to investigate allegations when rightly they could use that time to combat this terrible disease.
What do they want?
As per the title of this post the survivors take on a cult mentality. There is no real understanding of the allegations and what they are rooted in i.e. a very dark era for cycling, there is no desire to investigate these claims because its ‘old news’ as far as they are concerned. Cult may be a strong term because survivors don’t really have much contact with Armstrong himself, its more his organisations support, visibility and advocacy for the cause that brings so much devotion. However you can’t separate the founder from the cause and that’s the inherent problem, coupled with the fact that there are more people affected by cancer than those affected by bike racing, then the survivors have an overwhelming majority.
What do the haters want? They want old school justice. They want Armstrong to be convicted of doping, stripped of his titles, reputation in tatters and more…they want a contrite, tearful, humble confessed. You see the haters are not happy with sanctions or stripped titles, they want humility.
What will they get?
For the survivors cycling is but a footnote in the story of Lance Armstrong and most are happy to look beyond whatever he may have done and look only at his deeds since leaving the sport. The status quo will suit them. The survivors have what they want.
The haters want it all including that all elusive confession. Justice will be done legally in their eyes but morally it will always fall short as its unlikely that Armstrong will ever confess.