The Center for the Study of Sport and Leisure in Society

Lance Armstrong, the Anti-Doping Campaign, and the Civil Rights of Athletes

In Cycling, Doping on September 4, 2012 at 2:42 pm

By Richard Holt

Regardless of how you feel about Lance Armstrong there are still a number of questions that have surfaced as a result of the recent finding from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).  I have read many of the articles concerning the USADA and Lance Armstrong but I am still searching for answers.  What is the intent of the USADA?  Is the USADA here for the athlete, corporate sponsors, or themselves? Is this a violation of the civil rights of an athlete?  How will this affect Lance Armstrong’s impact on the sport of cycling and the community at large?

Sally Jenkins, columnist for the Washington Post, wrote in her article “Lance Armstrong doping campaign exposes USADA’s hypocrisy”, that “I have so many problems with USADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) — which is supposed to be where athletes can appeal, only they never, ever win — that it’s hard to know where to begin. American athletes have lost 58 of 60 cases before the CAS. Would you want to go before that court?  What has happened to fairness, and due process?”

A Los Angeles Times article “Anti-doping authorities don’t play fair against athletes”, written by  columnist Michael Hiltzik, alludes to this by stating “It’s all well and good to say the goal of the anti-doping system is to ensure that sports stay clean, and it’s certainly true that clean athletes have every reason to resent having to compete against cheaters.  He goes on to say “But we’ve created a strange way to uphold these principles — a system that writes its own rule book, moves the goal posts at will, lies and fabricates to get the score it wants and fiercely resists playing before an objective umpire. Whatever you choose to think of Lance Armstrong, his case is just one more indication that the supposed guardians of honesty and integrity in sports are among the filthiest players of all.”

Elite athletes by the nature of their pursuit of excellence will bend and stretch the rules to get an edge on their competitors.  Whether this is through new training techniques, new equipment, new nutritional practices, or recovery techniques, each athlete is different.  As long as they stay within the rules they should be considered as “competing fairly”.  It is both unethical and unfair for the USADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to change the rules years after an event took place just to satisfy their need to be able to say an athlete was cheating.

In “Civil Rights, Doping Control and the World Anti-doping Code”, Barry Houlihan writes, “In relation to public policy toward sport in general and doping in particular athletes are routinely relegated to the margins of debate often on the unsubstantiated, if not patently false, assumptions that their interests equate to those of their national governing body and that the NGB officers have their best interest at heart.”

He further states that, “The key question is not whether the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) would provide a bulwark against the rich, greedy and vexatious athlete nor whether it would provide a secure foundation for the World Anti-Doping Code, but whether CAS would protect the interests of generality of athletes in disputes with their international federations.”

Perhaps Lance just took notice of how the USADA, CAS, WADA and other doping/governing agencies have handled previous cases.  In “The Scapegoat”, Verner Moeller’s research showed that the doping agencies did not abide by their own rules by leaking confidential information and changing the rules to fit their accusations.  As a result, the Danish cyclist Michael Rasmussen was unfairly banned from professional cycling.  With cases involving the anti-doping agencies a cyclist is guilty until they prove themselves innocent.  Armstrong has been tested on a number of occasions and has never been found to have used banned performance enhancing substances.

Moeller stated in his earlier post on the CSSLS blog concerning the Lance Armstrong situation that “whatever the outcome of the USADA versus Armstrong case will be, it is a clear indication that anti-doping authorities are moving away from the sport rule approach toward a criminal offence approach. This turn of events makes it worthwhile considering if it is possible in the future to accept the legal vulnerability of athletes or they should be given proper legal protection according to the requirements and legal standards applicable to criminal proceedings and employment matters.”

Perhaps it is time to reexamine the state of sport in relation to the civil and legal rights of the professional athlete.  Athletes have to be included in these discussions if there is to be a fair and just resolution to the current state of affairs involving the anti-doping effort.

Regardless of the fallout from the current controversy it appears to me that Lance has already made a positive impact that cannot be changed, or rewritten.  One of the results of his Tour de France victories is the renewal of the interest in cycling in the United States.  His athletic accomplishments have served as a catalyst to increasing the number of participants in cycling as a sport, as a recreational opportunity and as a way to commute to work.  This is good for the sport, business, health, wellness and the environment.  Another positive and long lasting impact will be the Lance Armstrong Foundation, now known as LIVESTRONG.  Since the foundation was started in 1996 it has changed the lives of many with a focus on cancer research and helping individuals with cancer.

Apparently there are many people who believe more in Lance Armstrong than the USADA.  After the USADA announcement contributions to the LIVESTRONG cause were up significantly. According to an article written by the Associated Press on August 28, the same day Armstrong was banned, the number of donations to his foundation nearly doubled to $60,900 US from $32,300 the day before. And the number of donations nearly tripled to 937 from 313 the day before, according to the foundation’s data.  The money kept coming on Saturday with 373 people donating a total of $22,658. In comparison, just four people made donations on the previous Saturday, the foundation said.

Another sign of support is the continued support of sponsors for the LIVESTRONG effort.  A recent Associate Press article indicated that corporate sponsors including Nike Inc., Anheuser-Busch and sunglasses maker Oakley have pledged their continued support for the charity. Johnson Health Tech, which licenses the Livestrong brand for a line of exercise bikes and other work-out equipment, has also said it’s sticking by the foundation.  And the home of Major League Soccer club Sporting Kansas City will continue to be called Livestrong Sporting Park. The club, which has promised to donate $7.5 million in stadium revenues to Armstrong’s foundation over six years, says it will not consider renaming the Kansas City, Kansas, venue.

Lastly, it might serve well for people to read about the history of the Tour de France.  When it was created in 1903 it was designed to stretch the ability of the cyclists and the imagination of the public.  Many things have changed over time except that the race still puts high demands on the body.  In 1903 cyclist’s endured 6 stages covering 2,428 km traveling at an average speed of 25.68 kmph. In 2012 cyclist’s endured 20 stages plus a prologue covering 3,488 km at an average speed of 39.83 kmph.  The physiological and mental strain on the body is intense.  The cyclist, along with the support of their coach and physician, will continue to look for ways to keep stay healthy, recovery quickly and prepare to meet the ongoing physical demands of the race.  Is it any wonder that they will push the envelope when it comes to finding new methods that may not be covered by the current rules?


Giulianotti, R., & McArdle, D. (Eds.). (2007). Sport, Civil Liberties and Human Rights (Sport in the Global Society).  Routledge.

Moeller, V. (2008). The Doping Devil. Books on Demand GmbH, Norderstedt, Germany.

Moeller, V. (2011). The Scapegoat: About the Expulsion of Michael Rasmussen from the Tour De France 2007 and beyond. Akaprint, Aarhus.

Verner, V., & Nauright, J. (Eds.). (2003). The Essence of Sport. Univ Pr of Southern Denmark.

  1. I can’t have any respect for an organization like the USADA when they have to violate their own rules in order to punish a rule-breaker. Who needs “rules of evidence” when you can just make up new rules or change the old ones when you feel like it?

  2. What proof is there that WADA and USADA changed any rules in regards to Lance Armstrong? I’ve been waiting for such proof for weeks and I all get are accusations. If Lance doesn’t like USADA’s protocols maybe he should ask his agent/business partner Bill Stapleton why he helped create them in the first place.

    Armstrong has in fact tested positive but gotten out of those situations on technicalities and possible bribery to the UCI (200K in “gift” money). Failing a test and testing positive are not always the same thing. That said, not failing a drug test doesn’t mean an athlete can not be convicted by other means. WADA, USADA and CAS, with the backing of the UCI, have sanctioned a slew of athletes via non-analytical (no test) findings. If other evidence were not taken into account, 50% of dopers would get away with their violations. And in this case, we don’t know what all the evidence was because Armstrong refused a hearing that would’ve included a vetting of it.

    Finally, almost none of Livestrong’s proceeds go to research but to awareness as the link below makes clear.

    • Fair point that currently more money goes to raising awareness and providing information versus research. Note in the article below from the Chicago Tribune that the foundation has evolved from a focus on research to addressing the needs of cancer survivors.


      The Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) believes that in the battle with cancer, unity is strength, knowledge is power and attitude is everything. Founded in 1997 by cancer survivor and champion cyclist, Lance Armstrong, the LAF inspires and empowers people with cancer. We provide the practical information and tools people with cancer need to live life on their own terms. We take aim at the gaps between what is known and what is done to prevent suffering and death due to cancer. We unite people to fight cancer and pursue an agenda focused on: prevention, access to screening and care, improvement of the quality of life for cancer survivors, and investment in research.

      Article from the Chicago Tribune News, August 24, 2012

      Armstrong, 40, founded the organization (LiveStrong) in 1997, after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and before he ever won the Tour de France. Since then, it has raised nearly $500 million and has evolved from a focus on testicular cancer research to addressing the needs of survivors of all cancers.

      Information from Charity Navigator,

      Charities Performing Similar Types of Work

      Charity Name, Overall Score, Overall Rating

      Lance Armstrong Foundation – TX 64.24 4 stars
      American Cancer Society – GA 48.86 2 stars
      The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society – NY 54.72 3 stars
      Children’s Cancer Recovery Foundation – PA 44.55 2 stars
      Cancer Fund of America – TN 53.89 3 stars

  3. For more information on the anti-doping effort, and WADA’s approach to athlete’s rights, please read the following books, “The Scapegoat” and “The Doping Devil” written by Professor Verner Møller, Department of Sports Science University of Aarhus, Denmark, and Visiting Professor of International Sports Studies at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

  4. [...] Holt’s recent post, “Lance Armstrong, the Anti-Doping Campaign, and the Civil Rights of Athletes,” is a thoughtful examination of the implications of the Armstrong controversy, the fairness of the [...]

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