The Lance Armstrong doping scandal: What's next?


First aired on The Current 23/10/12

media clip


The saga of cyclist Lance Armstrong's fall from grace continues. To explore the legal implications of the doping scandal and what might happen, The Current guest host Laura Lynch spoke to Daniel Coyle, co-author of a new book called The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs, law professor Michael Straubel and Daniel Borochoff, from the American group Charity Watch, a nonprofit charity watchdog.

The segment kicks off with a clip from 2009, when Armstrong was returning to the world of professional cycling after a four-year layoff (he had retired in 2005). The question came from Paul Kimmage, an Irish reporter pursuing doping allegations. Kimmage,a former professional cyclist himself, had referred to Armstrong -- in print -- as a "cancer in cycling." At the time, Armstrong was indignant.

Now he's been found guilty of doping by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and stripped of his seven Tour de France victories by the International Cycling Union (Union Cycliste Internationale). He's also facing a lifetime ban. Still, Armstrong claims that he never used performance-enhancing drugs while in competition.

Daniel Coyle co-authored The Secret Race with Tyler Hamilton, one of Armstrong's former riding mates who had been found guilty of doping. "It was sort of like a giant trap door opened and swallowed him up," Coyle said, likening the atmosphere in the culture of cycling to a form of omertà, the Mafia code of silence. "In the culture of cycling, you don't speak of it. No one does. So when Tyler was busted, as he was in 2004, he simply disappeared. He tried to appeal, he lost. He received almost no support, he tried to come back, he had no support," Coyle said.

But Hamilton has gone public lately -- a U.S. federal investigation into doping made him change his mind about keeping quiet. The investigation started in 2010, and he was interviewed in front of a grand jury, with the threat of penalties for perjury. Hamilton told the truth. And according to Coyle, it changed him. "He felt he had the right to tell his story," Coyle said.

Coyle defended his co-author, saying that in The Secret Race, "he's coming clean, he's ready to face up to what happened." But Hamilton has been called "a scumbag" by Pat McQuaid, the head of the International Cycling Union. Hamilton's comeback was that McQuaid should step down.

"The UCI treated Lance as the golden goose," Coyle said. "Whenever Lance tested positive or had a suspicious test they would have a meeting with him to figure out how to avoid it again."

Coyle wrote a 2005 book on Armstrong, called Lance Armstrong's War. He spent time with Armstrong and some of his cycling teammates when they were training in Spain. Although he suspected that Armstrong was doping, he couldn't prove it, and he avoided making the accusation because, as he put it, "there was no legal proof, and Lance Amstrong had five lawsuits going at the time. That was a pretty good disincentive. "

Things changed as a result of the U.S. federal investigation, because the legal ramifications were serious. The cyclists were faced with "investigators with a gun and a badge and a penalty of perjury if you lie," Coyle said. "That changed the game. When Tyler Hamilton, when other cyclists started talking, that changed everything. "

Coyle pointed out that the culture of doping in cycling existed before Armstrong came along. "Armstrong perfected the way of doping and not getting caught," he said. Young athletes coming up were encouraged to dope, because it was seen as the way to get ahead. "You can either quit or you can join."

Armstrong may also face legal battles, because there are advertisers who paid him millions for endorsements who may well try to get their money back. The Current spoke to Jaimie Fuller, chairman of SKINS, an Australian company that makes cycling clothing, who has called for a broader investigation into doping in cycling. "He's taken a lot of money from a lot of people, and I think this is going to get really ugly," Fuller said.

Michael Straubel, who teaches law at Valparaiso University in Indiana, and also runs a legal clinic for athletes, agreed. "I think there will be a lot of civil claims," he said. "Even the Sunday Times of London is talking about suing." Straubel cited SCA Promotions, a Dallas-based insurance company that insured the bonus that Armstrong would get if he won the Tour de France six times. So the company was on the hook for the cash after Armstrong's sixth victory. "But SCA challenged it, claiming there was fraud, that doping was taking place," Straubel explained. "It went to an arbitration process, and there was a settlement, roughly a $7.5 million settlement. So that settlement, they're going to attempt to reopen that and get the money back."

The legal fall-out may also include criminal investigations. Straubel said that prosecutors could revisit the criminal inquiry against Armstrong, which was dropped earlier this year, and he described the potential criminal charges as "pretty hefty." The charges include being investigated include "defrauding the U.S. government, drug trafficking, money laundering and general conspiracy," he said. "And we've got the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], the U.S. Postal Service and the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] behind that."

In the past, it's been difficult to get a conviction in other cases involving high-profile athletes, like baseball player Barry Bonds. But Straubel thought that the case against Armstrong is different. "All the direct evidence seems much stronger than in the Bonds case," Straubel said.

Doping itself is not illegal. But Straubel is concerned about what effects this scandal will have on other athletes. "It makes it more difficult for athletes to prove their cases," he said. "There will be this idea that they're all doing it, and their credibility will be called into question all the time."

He also cited changes in the regulating bodies. The Australian anti-doping organization is reportedly seeking greater legal power from the Australian government, and there's a movement afoot to change the international anti-doping code to strengthen its ability to go after athletes.

Straubel finds this "a little troubling." He's involved with what he calls "accidental dopers," athletes who take a supplement they don't know contains a banned substance. "There's no intent," he said, adding, "they're the ones I think are going to suffer."

The Current also spoke to Daniel Borochoff, from the American group Charity Watch, a nonprofit charity watchdog. Though Armstrong has stepped down as chair of LiveStrong, the organization he founded to support cancer survivors, he's still on the board of directors.

"LiveStrong needs to distance itself from its controversial and tainted founder," Borochoff said. "And one of the first steps it can take is to have Lance Armstrong step down from the board and have 15 very independent board members that can govern and oversee the organization. Also, LiveStrong needs to get away from all the imagery of Lance, the cult of Lance, and emphasize the quality of its programs and how it's operating efficiently and effectively to help cancer survivors."

Note: In an earlier edition of this post, we referred to reporter Paul Kimmage as British. He is actually Irish. CBC Books regrets the error.

Related links: