Is Livestrong bigger than Lance?28th August 2012
Lance Armstrong is more than a man who has won seven Tour de France titles. He is more than a man who has beaten cancer. And he is more than a man who has raised £300m for his Livestrong Charity.
Lance Armstrong is a global brand, a global icon.
Lance Armstrong was never one for giving up. The champion cyclist overcame life-threatening testicular cancer to win the Tour de France seven times. He did more than most athletes for charity, in building a global foundation helping millions of cancer survivors.
But no matter how hard he pedalled, he could not shake off the tide of doping accusations that pursued him for years and have now overwhelmed a man once regarded by millions as a sporting hero. On Thursday, he finally did what he rarely has in the past and abandoned the fight.
Lance announced he would no longer challenge an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency into allegations that every one of his Tour de France victories from 1999 to 2005 was tainted by the use of banned substances and practices. On Friday USADA banned him from competition cycling for life and stripped him of his Tour de France titles.
Armstrong has a solidly loyal band of followers who believe his claim to be the victim of a witch hunt, but his withdrawal from the case was widely interpreted as an admission of guilt.
The bottom line in this debate is that this announcement is likely to damage Livestrong, the foundation Armstrong created after he won his battle with cancer.
The foundation has raised about £300m to fight the disease and help other survivors. Millions of people at one time or another bought a Livestrong yellow bracelet in support of the charity, and its jerseys were popular at sporting events.
The Lance Armstrong Foundation said that it had seen a 30 percent spike in donations on Friday, and that the non-profit group had seen an outpouring of support for the cyclist. This is a reassuring sign for a charity dedicated to doing good and raising vital funds to beat cancer.
Armstrong’s sponsors will be embarrassed and some are likely to drop him although his principal backer, Nike, said it would stand by the shamed athlete. Nike plans to continue to support Lance and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, a foundation that he created to serve cancer survivors.
Surely that’s the point, Lance founded Livestrong and inspired people to donate and try to beat cancer, just like he had done. It was founded on the belief that you can be at death’s door, and come back, and not only take part but win one of the most gruelling races in the world. Whether or not this was done on sweat and hard work alone does not change the hope his story gave to many and the belief that you can beat this terrible disease.
From a reputational perspective I believe (and hope) Livestrong is bigger than Lance. Goodness, I might even sport a yellow band again.