Rebecca Hopkins, an expert in global sports brand promotion and protection public relations, says that Lance Armstrong has always divided the sports world on the “has he, hasn’t he” issue of doping. “In May 2011, my agency published a post on our blog defending Armstrong. Like many others we were happy to stand by an outstanding athlete who had never failed a drugs test and, as we saw it, was being besmirched by a group of naysayers acting as judge and jury. Armstrong’s recent announcement that he will not contest the long standing doping charges from the USADA has made us, along with many other previously steadfast supporters, question our stance,” explains Hopkins.
Clearly, Armstrong is as much a champion in the fight against cancer as he was as a cyclist, says Hopkins. His Twitter feed consistently offers messages of support for cancer sufferers, which must be enormously heartening for them and their families. “The problem is that cycling put him in this position and if his prowess was tainted, then inevitably the good work he has done off the back of it will be sullied too,” notes Hopkins. “This isn’t an overstatement; a doping survey conducted during the London 2012 Olympics by Versapak Doping Control Ltd showed that 77 percent of respondents wanted to see athletes banned for at least one Olympics or equivalent tournament, whilst 20 percent of respondents would like to see athletes failing dope tests banned from sport in every capacity. Sports fans don’t like cheats.”
Hopkins points out that a USA Today poll suggests that Americans feel this is a witch hunt, so by stepping down, Armstrong currently appears to be more wronged that in the wrong. “However, along with losing all seven Tour de France titles, at the very least Armstrong will always have a permanent question mark against his name and sporting achievements,” she says. “Armstrong’s statement read ‘We’ve got to stop with this. For my own mental health. For my family. For the foundation. And for the sport of cycling. Cycling doesn’t need this.’ While it isn’t anyone’s fight but his, stepping down from this fight disappoints his believers and, at some point, will be widely seen as an admission by omission. This may be the one summit of his career he fails to breach.”
Rob Tobin, a screenwriter and novelist, says that he understands the power of performance enhancing drugs and the disappointment of losing because of a refusal to take them. “In my youth, I was a competitive power lifter who competed in the Canadian equivalent of the state level. I then watched while lifters I had easily beaten started taking steroids and went on to compete at the national and world level while I faded from the sport, unable to keep up,” he recalls.
But he thinks the Armstrong event will have little impact on the sport of cycling. “Cyclists will probably continue to use performance enhancing drugs, but with a bit more caution or take different types of drugs that have not yet been officially banned. They may also take them in combination with masking and flushing agents that help beat the drug tests or stacking the drugs in harder-to-detect combinations,” says Tobin. “The pressure to succeed in competitive sports and the rewards one can achieve from succeeding at sports will ensure that drugs continue to be developed, perfected and used by all top athletes. And the choice will remain: either take the drugs to be able to win or refuse to take them and leave the sport.”
Ray Blumenfeld, an expert in marketing and communications, says that we look to our sports heroes to motivate and inspire us, and Lance Armstrong is one of those at the top of the athletic mountain. “This is a man whose body was riddled with cancer, who miraculously got back on his bike, and through his will and determination did something that no other professional cyclist has been able to accomplish. He won the toughest, cruelest endurance race ever devised; he won the Tour de France seven times. Experts say that cycling in the Tour de France is equal to running a marathon a day for 21 consecutive days. That is almost an imaginable feat of human courage,” says Blumenfeld.
Did he dope? Blumenfeld thinks we will never know the truth or how performance enhancers affected his ability on the bike. “Nor will we ever know how these allegations will tarnish his reputation going forward, especially since he has withdrawn his defense against the charges brought forth by the U.S. Anti-doping Agency. What we do know is that he has been tested more than 500 times over his athletic career and did not fail once. Lance Armstrong should be recognized as one of the world’s all-time greatest athletes and that his charitable foundation has to date raised nearly $500 million to aid in cancer research,” he says.
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