Too Big To Fail?

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In an anticlimactic end to a twenty month Federal investigation into Lance Armstrong, the office of the federal prosecutors issued a quiet statement on the Friday before the Super Bowl stating that they have abandoned their investigation. Somewhere along the way, someone determined that this wasn’t a case worth pursuing. I’ve taken a couple days to digest this news and had a good conversation with Martin Hardie, Lecturer in Law at the Deakin University and anti-doping researcher.

Martin Hardie was never involved in case and is often just as polarising to people as Lance Armstrong is, but he has a wealth of knowledge about the law and anti-doping. I truly believe his head and heart are in the right place, so I value his opinions. The first thing that Martin teaches his students is that the law is not justice. I think we’ve all seen enough evidence of that throughout our lives.

I’m not going to try to convince you that Lance did or didn’t use PED’s to win seven TdF’s. You most likely already have your mind made up and I won’t change that. I too have my mind made up and I’m afraid that you’ll find this post tainted with bias.

What Happened?

First thing to understand is that federal prosecutors have closed their investigation of Lance Armstrong without filing charges. There was no ruling. Authorities are under no legal obligation to explain themselves and the news caught everyone involved in the case by surprise. Announcing the decision on the eve of the Super Bowl was convenient timing for the news to be pushed to the back pages of the papers.

People can only speculate as to why the Federal prosecutors chose to close the investigation. Mr. Hardie understands from people close to the case, “there was an enormous breadth and depth of crushing evidence. The doping evidence was clear cut.”

It’s important to understand that the prosecutors did not build a case around doping charges. Doping in sport is not federal crime in the US and the case was built around tax fraud and other charges related to the violation of the USPS sponsorship contract which prohibited doping.

Unlike Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens who testified before a federal grand jury and were accused of lying under oath, Armstrong was not called to testify. However, Yaroslav Popovych, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer were subpoenaed to testify under oath and according to Martin Hardy who has spoken to people close to the case, they all “spilled the beans”. They also had Dr. Ferrari’s computer records which were damning.

Too Big To Fail?

Like Goldman Sachs and Citibank, is Lance and Livestrong too big to fail? Are too many hearts and wallets at stake? There will be speculation that there was pressure put on the attorney general’s department from high up and outside to make this investigation go away. Lance is no stranger to the world of politics. Armstrong’s lawyer is Mark Fabiani who was Bill Clinton’s counsel for the Whitewater scandal. Lance golfs with Bill Clinton, goes mountain biking with George Bush, gets on well with Mike Rann, and has announced his political aspirations himself.

Lance has far more political power than Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. If you put together all the difficulty they had with those cases, the potential of this drawing out forever and the amount of money that Lance would throw at it, plus the political connections and pressure Lance could put behind it, the Federal Prosecutor may have concluded that this is just too hard.

What’s Next?

The USADA has formally announced their intentions to continue their investigation into the doping allegations. Although USADA does not subpoena power, they have seen some of the evidence in the federal investigation and try to bring out more. Will previous testimonies go public? It depends how the USADA goes about it. If they have a public hearing it may all come about.

What can come out of this? If the USADA concludes that Lance used PED’s, then it’s up to the UCI to decide whether or not to take away his victories. You can already see that they’ve set the ground with statements about “let’s not live in the past.” Whatever conclusion the USADA comes to, it will largely be symbolic.

There could still be a civil whistleblower case brought under the False Claims Act that goes forward (possibly by Floyd Landis with the claim of past fraud committed against the federal government). This will again bring up the question of whether or not the $32 million in sponsorship contracts towards the USPS cycling team was spent on systematic doping.

What this signals is that there will be more of the same. Those who are connected to the right power centers in cycling are going to continue to get away with doping. The ones who are dispensable will fall.

My Thoughts

You might think that from what I’ve said in this post that I’m a Lance Armstrong hater. The truth is that he doesn’t polarize me in the same way he does to many.

I suppose for me it’s a bit like when I was a kid and the slow realisation that Santa Claus wasn’t true. My parents didn’t need to pull me aside and tell me. Over the years I put 2+2 together, figured it out something wasn’t right, kept my mouth shut to my younger sister, and know that the truth doesn’t hurt anyone. If you’ve been a cyclist and a fan for a long time you’ll be able to put 2+2 together as well. I have a lot to thank Lance Armstrong for. He inspired my obsession in road racing which has given me a tremendous amount of joy. He helped bring road racing to the level of popularity we enjoy to this day. He has done a lot for cancer, even though it’s debatable if the money is put to good use. I don’t lose any sleep over what I think the truth is. It is what it is, and we’re not going to turn back time if anything is revealed. No matter what the truth is, I cannot deny the excitement that Lance brought to the sport which had me fixated on the Tour for seven years and on the edge of my seat. Whatever happens, my memories of that will not diminish.

That said, I believe the USADA still needs to proceed with their investigation so the people who still work inside the sport from the U.S. Postal era are exposed. They are the future which harm the sport.

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