Lanced – Armstrong support runs dry

It has taken the best part of two months but the corporate sponsors that had stuck by Lance Armstrong have now bowed to public pressure and walked away from the one time hero of cycling and well beyond the sport.

Nike were the first to go, breaking a relationship that had survived all the rumours, thrived in the good days but ended in a terse statement that the relationship was over in light of “seemingly insurmountable evidence” about doping.

Within hours, Anheuser Busch had followed suit, saying that the contract in place to the end of this year would not be renewed and no further activations would take place.

Perhaps most powerful was a decision made by Armstrong himself to step down from the Chairmanship of Livestrong.  He did so in order to spare the charity from the reputation damage he was suffering as a result of the USADA investigation and seemingly endless trail of witnesses against him.

It is of little credit to anyone involved that such evidence, now so widespread, was somehow hidden away from view during his years of dominance of the sport and his reach to a much wider audience as a heroic survivor against the odds.

We wrote in the immediate aftermath of his giving up the fight to prove his innocence that no man would do so if the allegations against him were false.  We received much criticism from his still loyal fans who protested that no proof of guilt had been laid out.  Those voices of protest are now considerably less vociferous.

Cycling has suffered immensely but it has done so at a time when new heroes in the shape of Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and Laura Trott have come to the fore.  They look clean, talk clean and almost certainly are clean.

It is the strength of belief in them as individuals that will enable the sport to survive both in elite and participation formats.  Heaven knows what would happen if one of this new generation proved to have the same feet of clay as exhibited by their predecessors.

There are difficult times ahead for the administrators on whose watch Armstrong scaled the heights.  UCI President Pat McQuaid worked hard to introduce testing and procedures that will in many ways have helped to clean the sport up.  He never caught Armstrong though, and his defence of Armstrong’s record, together with the acceptance by the organisation of contributions from him will undo much of that good in terms of a lasting legacy.

Away from sport and commerce the future of Livestrong is also in some doubt.  It has achieved great things, raising hundreds of millions for cancer research and sufferers.  But it is very closely tied to the image of Armstrong and with that tarnished, there may be other charities and causes that will do equal good that will fill any void created.

Armstrong did inspire millions with his fight back from cancer, his persuasive personality and his ability to make things happen. Who knows whether he could have achieved all or many parts of that without resorting to doping.

The evidence is now compelling that he did, and in so doing took away a small piece of the magic that following sport brings to fans and the benefits of association that business can derive from a close relationship with it.

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