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Nike abandon shamed Lance

THE decline and fall of Lance Armstrong, once one of the most iconic sports stars in the world, gathered pace yesterday when he was dropped by his largest corporate sponsor, American clothing and footwear company Nike, and forced to step down as chairman of the cancer charity he founded 15 years ago.

NIKE, who just six days earlier had pledged its continued support for Armstrong following the publication of a damning 1,000-page dossier exposing the him as a serial drug cheat, reversed its decision by announcing it was ending its long-standing endorsement deal with the former cyclist, which has been reported as being worth $7.5m (£4.6m) a year.

In a hard-hitting statement, Nike said: "Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him. Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner."

The company said it would continue to support the Lance Armstrong Foundation, also known as Livestrong, though the cancer charity faces an uncertain future as the doping scandal continues to engulf the man who founded it in 1997 after surviving an aggressive form of testicular cancer.

Another of Armstrong's main backers, RadioShack, said last night its relationship with the disgraced cyclist was also over. "RadioShack has no current obligations with Lance Armstrong," a spokesman for the electronics store said.

Less than an hour before Nike went public with its decision to sever its links with Armstrong, the 41-year-old Texan announced he was stepping down as the foundation's chairman so that it could concentrate on its fund-raising and awareness-raising mission rather than the furore that has raged around him since the United States Anti-Doping Agency accused him last week of being the ring-leader of "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping program that sport has ever seen".

Armstrong said in a statement: "This organisation, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart. Today, therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship.

Devoted

"My family and I have devoted our lives to the work of the foundation and that will not change. We plan to continue our service to the foundation and the cancer community. We will remain active advocates for cancer survivors and engaged supporters of the fight against cancer."

Nike's association with Armstrong dates back to 1996 and his success in the saddle was instrumental in the company's expansion into cycling.

He was the face of numerous marketing campaigns, including a 2001 advertisement featuring footage of Armstrong having blood drawn for a drug test and challenging those who accused him of doping.


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