Seven Deadly Sins, A Review

The Pursuit (and Fall) of Lance Armstrong

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I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles. But this is one hell of a race. This is a great sporting event and you should stand around and believe it. You should believe in these athletes, and you should believe in these people. I’ll be a fan of the Tour de France for as long as I live.  And there are no secrets – this is a hard sporting event and hard work wins it”.  – Lance Armstrong, 2005

In an effort to shine light on the censorship complex, HART – and others – have been exploring how the truth gets suppressed.  It seems that despite the aphorism that the “Truth will out”, untruths & lies seem to be remarkably resilient. And as was so amply demonstrated following the unwinding of the apartheid regime, without truth, there is little hope of reconciliation.

As we discovered in our July article on self-censorship, a devastatingly successful tactic seems to have been the ruthless destruction of a few brave speakers so as to encourager les autres:

At heart is the realisation that it is not just a question of eradicating the physical act of censorship, as bad as it is.  A much more insidious and evil practice seems to be rife, that of silencing a few outspoken people such that a larger minority choose to self-censor for reasons of self-preservation. The ‘official’ narrative – promoted by nefarious outfits – therefore prevails, unchecked.

So what is the truth, and who can speak it? While the answer to this question may not be clear-cut, one thing is absolutely crystal clear: if we are not allowed to talk about it, then it seems very unlikely that the mainstream narrative will resemble anything that is even remotely close to the truth.

Threats, bribery, litigation, violence… anything to suppress the truth, and ‘encourage’ otherwise right-thinking people to keep their heads down well below the parapet.

In our late July exploration of the complicity of public figures in abetting the horrendous harms of societal shutdown and forced pharmaceutical interventions, we discovered the extent to which Lance Armstrong (a serial user of “Safe And Effective Medication”) used these techniques to promote a fiction which very nearly succeeded in permanently burying the truth.

The whole Armstrong saga is worth revisiting.  Here is how the man is described by Next Ventures, the ‘Health Technology’ Venture Capital firm of which he is the Founding Partner:

A globally known cyclist and endurance athlete, Lance remains passionate about the benefits of an active lifestyle. Through his decades of competitive racing, Lance has developed extensive worldwide contacts in the sports, fitness and health markets, regularly being invited to review early stage companies. His extensive connections have resulted in highly successful early investments in Docusign and Uber that reflect his strong investment insights. In this digital age Lance understands the importance of digital brand building and the power of influencers.

Lance currently hosts a podcast that provides analysis of stages of the Tour de France and other cycling and endurance races; this podcast has had millions of downloads and has been ranked in the top 10 in the sports and recreation category on Apple’s iTunes. He also hosts a podcast where Armstrong interviews authors, musicians, athletes, politicians and influencers from all walks of life. These form the cornerstones of … a budding community of endurance athletes who go Forward, Never Straight.

This is a somewhat eyebrow-raising vignette. ‘Never straight’? There’s an admission… of sorts. And as for the power of influencers?

Well, have we got a sob-story to sell you. Armstrong is, of course, ‘globally known’ not just for being a cyclist, but for having pulled off one of the greatest sporting heists ever, conning almost everyone over a period of almost 15 years by ruthlessly cheating, during which time he ‘won’ seven Tour de France titles after recovering from testicular cancer.  These tour victories have been rescinded, and he is banned for life from competing in cycling and triathlon events. 

Many have attempted to trivialise his behaviour as those of just one of many drug cheats – “everyone was doing it”.  Such excuses of course totally grind into the dust the existence of honest characters who missed out on professional survival, or who were forced to go along with team orders to pollute their bodies with – in some cases – lethal cocktails of ‘effective’ medication, or who lost their ability to earn a living as they could not conscientiously condone the misdeeds of teammates, or who were silenced by draconian libel laws that prevented them from reporting the truth.

David Walsh, the Sports Editor of the Sunday Times and a cycling fanatic, had previously hero-worshipped Irish cyclist Sean Kelly, only to be disillusioned by a realisation that Kelly had not raced clean. Awakened by this, he was part of a group of seasoned journalists that were immediately suspicious of the Armstrong post-cancer miracle in the 1999 Tour.  

However, in an example of how an ‘official narrative’ can run away with itself despite having more holes than a lump of Swiss cheese, officialdom was desperate for a good-news story to wash away the stain of the drugs scandals of previous years, culminating in the 1998 Festina affair.  Only very few of this group of sceptics dared question Armstrong, with many taking the easy road, sidelining professional scepticism and joining the adulating throngs, despite the fact that Armstrong had “never been a contender, he’d never been remotely competitive in the mountains”.

There followed many, many years in the wilderness for Walsh and a few fellow sceptics.  A book co-authored by Walsh and Steve Ballester was published in 2004 in French, LA Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong, which did not make it into print in English due to libel laws in the UK.  A Sunday Times article reporting on LA Confidentiel resulted in legal action being started by Armstrong – and was ruled in pre-trial to have conveyed the impression that Armstrong was guilty of doping, resulting in a £1 million settlement being paid by the Sunday Times to Armstrong in 2006. 

Have you spotted the pattern yet?

Whack the outspoken critics with a stick, offer carrots to those who toe the party line… the thing is, Armstrong very, very nearly got away with it.  The extraordinary concatenation of events that led to his fall from grace and humiliation – and justice being served in terms of the righting of some of the wrongs (such as the libel settlement paid by the Sunday Times) – are described in Walsh’s riveting account, Seven Deadly Sins.  In short, had LA Confidentiel not been published, then a maverick sports insurer would not have insisted on obtaining sworn depositions on the matter from all parties involved.  And had Armstrong not bullied – and contributed to the financial hardship of various bit-part players – who had been witness to his activities over the years, then these whistleblowers may never have talked.  These sworn depositions may have never got into the hands of an FDA investigator, Jeff Novitsky, who had the ‘scalps of Marion Jones and Barry Bonds hanging from his belt’.  And had Novitsky not been able to pass the baton to Travis Tygart at the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) when higher-up US authorities were leant on to stop the FDA investigation, then the 2012 denouement might never have come to pass.  Walsh describes how the vultures were happy to circle once the danger had passed:

After the USADA report was published, the media world took ownership of the story that it had orphaned for so many years.  Those of us who had kept that story alive for so long were just glad to relinquish custody.  The time for recriminations had long passed.  We smiled of course when the voices which had been struck mute for so many years suddenly chorused in joyful condemnation.  We wondered at the miracle of the call the crippled fingers, which for a decade couldn’t type a question mark lest a question mark offend Lance.  Suddenly those fingers were clawed and grasping stones to hurl at Lance. 

Now a decade on, Armstrong has re-established himself – he made a large amount of money from investing the spoils of his tainted sporting success.  Hopefully this means that he will have been able to make good those that he cheated, and he will never be able to live down his public evisceration at the hands of Oprah Winfrey.  However, how can those who might have won races in a clean competition be recompensed? How can those who were coerced to inject themselves to save their place on his team extract the chemical from their bodies?  Christophe Bassons – a clean rider who was hounded from the peloton for standing up to Armstrong – cannot be given back those years, even if he was given a (rare) Armstrong apology.

Are there any lessons in this sorry saga? It is somewhat disheartening to realise that one man in a what is a popular – if fairly inconsequential sport – should be able to carry out a brazen heist in the glare of the media spotlight and broadsheet coverage.  It is concerning that a £1 million libel claim can be enough to almost shutter the truth for ever. 

What might happen when governments and pharmaceutical companies ‘co-operate’ for the ‘greater good’, perhaps ratcheting such defamation or libel claims to a level that no individual can hope to pay?  Some, no doubt, like the wretched Admiral Byng, will have paid the ultimate price as scapegoats for bureaucratic ineptitude or to cover up failed leadership.  What conceivable consequences could there be if the government can restrict your freedom of speech just because you disagree with its politics?  How do we tackle some of the gigantic lies made by people in power without incurring the wrath of shady establishment figures that cannot extricate themselves from a densely spun web of collusion?

Further reading / watching

  • Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, by David Walsh, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2012. 
  • The Program: Champion Hero Legend Cheat, directed by Stephen Frears, aired in 2015.

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