This was a terrible weekend in world sport. In perhaps the biggest story to ever break, the USADA reports into the systematic doping programmes of Lance Armstrong and his US Postal cycling team were released. There is no bigger or more respected sports person in the world than Armstrong. Together with Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, he was part of the big three – Nike’s superstars with truly global reach. His story – cancer survivor – seven time winner of the Tour de France – celebrity friends and wives – founder of the Livestrong Foundation – was a marketer’s dream and Armstrong attracted corporate support like no other. However, his success masked a dirty existence.
The reports released show that Armstrong was a cheat. He was not only a cheat – he was the leader of many other cheats. He was a protected species in the cycling world and his strategies were brazen. The most disappointing facts released in the reports included:
- That Armstrong paid an Italian doctor over $700,000 in one year for EPO
- That discussion of taking EPO was so blatant that they referred to it openly as Edgar (as in Edgar Allan Poe, the writer)
- That in hospital, when being treated for cancer, he told the doctor in front of three witnesses that he took steroids, EPO and a range of illegal substances
- That he was so confident in his own invincibility that he kept his drugs in vials in the fridge without any fear of being caught
- That he bullied his team mates into taking the drugs. As soon as they did, he was known to say: “now you are on EPO you cannot write a book about me”
- That when people refused to partake in drug taking, he bullied them so strongly that they were forced to leave the sport
To me, it seemed as though Armstrong felt as though he was bigger than the sport. His continual denials are as breathtaking as his drug use. Armstrong, it seems, was not only a drug user himself. He was a drug peddler and a bully. He felt that he was above the sport and above the law. It reminds me very much of a Seinfeld episode where George Costanza said that: “it is not a lie if you believe it”. Armstrong believed that he was entitled to do as he pleased when he pleased. He never thought that he would get caught.
There are some pretty interesting lessons here for us all. My late father always said that people who cheat and take short cuts will always trip over sometime, be it before the finishing line or after. It doesn’t matter what you do in life, if you cheat and take short cuts, you only cheat yourself. Eventually you get caught and the ramifications are huge – just ask Lance Armstrong (and Nike).
Brad McMahon – Managing Director