Paul Lewis: Cheats never prosper, but what about Livestrong?

By Paul Lewis

Lance Armstrong. Photo / Getty Images.
Lance Armstrong. Photo / Getty Images.

News of Lance Armstrong facing a US$100m lawsuit in November which could ruin him financially - with fellow cycling drug-taker Floyd Landis standing to benefit - further underlines the tawdriness of performance-enhancing drugs in sport.

Armstrong was in New Zealand recently, making a TV commercial and holding a cycling event where hundreds of celebrity-struck Kiwis turned out to ride a bike alongside him.

It's a moot point whether any thought of the victims from the Armstrong saga - one of them the Livestrong cancer foundation Armstrong founded under his own name years ago after his much-publicised 'kicking of cancer's ass'. There were others; 11 former team-mates received six-month bans after agreeing to testify against him, with the United States Anti-Doping Agency finding him guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.

But the diminishing fortunes of Livestrong and its inspirational work for cancer sufferers is the most unfortunate collateral damage from Armstrong's aggressive denials, deceit and eventual downfall at the hands of USADA, who stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him for life in 2012.

Now the biggest financial chicken of all has come home to roost. After years of legal battles, the way has been cleared for the US government to seek US$100m from him. The original lawsuit was filed by Landis with the government joining in after Armstrong's public confession of drug-taking. Landis, himself stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title for drugs, alleged Armstrong had defrauded the government when riding under the US Postal Service sponsorship.

That sponsorship paid out about US$32m from 2000 to 2004, with Armstrong allegedly trousering nearly $13.5m. The law allows Landis and the government to sue to recoup the sponsorship and to pursue treble the amount in damages.

In theory, Armstrong could be forced to pay all of it. In practice, no one really knows what a jury might decide - though presumably some of the yet-to-be-empanelled jurors saw Armstrong's tweeted picture in 2012 where, after his public disgrace, he showed himself reclining on a lush couch underneath framed copies of his seven yellow Tour de France jerseys, with the caption: "Back in Austin, just layin' around".

If so, they may perceive that study of you-can't-touch-me arrogance worthy of harsh financial censure.

Landis, if damages are awarded, stands to receive up to 25 per cent of them; the prospect of one drugs cheat benefitting from the downfall of another just another ugly aspect of an ugly story, even if Landis has legal fees to pay.

Livestrong, other than Armstrong himself, has suffered the most. Even though Armstrong retreated from the foundation in 2012 lest his infamy drag it down, it still went into a downward spiral as it tried to maintain its suite of services helping people to survive cancer (including negotiating health insurance hurdles, counselling for children and financial help).

In 2011, the charity raised nearly US$50m in revenue and had helped more than 600,000 people. Since 2012, it has suffered three consecutive years of revenue declines and helped only 470,000 people in 2015; it has also had revolving CEOs - three came and went between 2014 and mid-2016.

It has US$70m in reserves but is having to cope with smaller revenues; some forecast only $10m a year, as opposed to the height of nearly $50m, because of the loss of their celebrity figurehead and competition with other conventional charities. Meanwhile, the scourge of cancer is no smaller; demand for help is growing.

Armstrong himself - said to be worth US$125m at his peak - lost all his major sponsors (he estimated the loss at US$75m) and paid more than US$10m in damages and settlements in a series of lawsuits. In January last year, he put up his Austin house for sale for US$8m, leading to speculation he needed the money.

The coming court case will establish the truth of the old saying that cheats never prosper. Maybe he or Landis will. Somehow it looks like Livestrong, the one worthy thing to come out of the Armstrong saga, won't.

- NZ Herald

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