Armstrong's Ironman Ban Not Necessarily a Done Deal
Written by: Dan Empfield
Date: Fri Jun 15 2012
Earlier this week USADA announced a doping investigation against Armstrong and, while any censure or sanction against Armstrong would be many months away even if USADA's prosecution is successful, WTC immediately suspended Armstrong from racing any of its races, in accordance with a stringent policy that enjoined any athlete under a doping investigation from taking part in an Ironman or other WTC-owned or licensed event.
Triathlon is one of those federation sports, and neither its World nor U.S. governing bodies has issued any ban on Armstrong, nor would they prior Armstrong exhausting his rights, which include a current presumption of innocence.
The other option is for WTC to leave its current policy in place. This policy is one that Andrew Messick, WTC's chief executive for just under a year, inherited from his predecessor. Draconian by almost any metric, the policy was modeled after the agreements professional cyclists are forced to sign with the teams which employ them. This contract provision became an imperative because of a systemic doping problem in cycling that has chased sponsors away in droves. Top level bike racing is particularly vulnerable to the departure of large non-endemic sponsors, who have grown averse to the stream of doping stories that emanate from cycling. These doping scandals have largely sidestepped the sport of triathlon.
"Racing is a privilege, not a right, and therefore is not subject to the same rules as the justice system. In sport we do not grant an athlete under investigation the same privileges as those athletes not under investigation. The rule was in place for a reason and should not be changed on the impetus of Lance Armstrong providing exposure for the sport. Lance is already a polarizing figure in the sport and in the country, the WTC need not jump into bed and amend rules based on a single athlete with celebrity status. The rules are the same for all athletes, and the privilege of racing belongs to those abiding by the rules. Abiding by the rules includes sitting out while under investigation."
"I would fully support a revision of the WTC 'open investigation' policy that would allow Lance to continue to race. I support the reasoning behind the policy. However, given that there is not a rigorous or well defined set of rules for what allows a NADO (or NGB in the absence of a NADO) to make an open investigation, I feel that the WTC policy is not underpinned by a robust set of rules and laws and therefore do not support the policy as it is currently worded. The WTC policy would be fine if there was a legal process with some recourse to an investigation being opened. But there is not. And that concerns me. If USADA/WADA issues a ban, I think it's absolutely right and critical to honor that. But if not, I think it's wrong to disallow someone simply because he or she is being investigated. That seems to me to make a firm presumption of guilt, and no matter how strongly the deck is stacked, I don't think it's ever right to simply presume guilt in the absence of evidence. Certainly, absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence, but I do think it's unfair to disregard the fundamental right of being considered innocent until proven guilty, a right which USADA itself recognizes.
"I ask myself, simply, would I want to be fired from my job simply because someone was investigating me for wrongdoing? And the answer is that I would not. And that is, basically, what I believe the [existing] WTC policy does. Suspicion alone should not keep someone off of the race course."
Armstrong had been in Nice, France, preparing to participate in Ironman France. The Ironman ban prompted him to schedule a return to the United States. Rumblings of a possible amendment by WTC in its policy began to surface yesterday, and triggered an itinerary change for the superstar cyclist and triathlete. He chose to remain in France to compete in the upcoming Ironman there. Now he's in limbo, awaiting a decision that is likely to be made today, or over the weekend.
As noted, Armstrong has options. Contrary to what has been reported elsewhere—including, initially, here on Slowtwitch—he is under no sportwide ban. Should WTC leave its policy in place, Armstrong can compete in any triathlon he wishes, anywhere in the world, federation sanctioned or not, with the sole exception of Ironman and other WTC-owned races.
In a poll currently ongoing, 72 percent of Slowtwitchers feel WTC should set aside its current policy and allow Armstrong to race pending the outcome of his NADO hearings, 28 percent feel the policy should stay in place. Seventy-five percent of Slowtwitch readers list WTC's Ironman or 70.3 events as their "A" races in any given year. The poll is less than a day old, with about 800 having responded as of this writing. This, out of about 85,000 unique visitors over the past 2 days, and about 600,000 unique visitors over the past 30 days.
At an extraordinary Friday meeting of World Triathlon Corporation's board of directors, the decision was made to leave in place the anti-doping policy as written. 6.16.12
A lot of triathletes are confused and conflicted by today's action, by USADA, banning Lance Armstrong from racing triathlons. How ought the triathlon enthusiast feel about this? We'll take a shot at answering that. 6.13.12
It has been reported in that Lance Armstrong "is banned from competing in triathlon," and that, "USADA suspends Armstrong over doping investigation." Not so. 6.13.12