Monday 11 December 2017

Eamonn Sweeney: Two choices, one last chance

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Eamonn Sweeney

What Lance Armstrong should say on Oprah. "I'm sorry for being one of the biggest cheats in the history of sport. Not just because I took drugs to help me win the Tour de France but because I then spent years insisting, in the face of evidence which became overwhelming, that I was actually the victim of some huge conspiracy.

I'm sorry that I bullied the people who tried to reveal the truth about me. I slagged them off on Twitter, I had my lawyers pursue them through the courts, I attacked them at press conferences.

I'm sorry that I didn't just take drugs myself but was instrumental in organising the doping carried out by my subordinates on the US Postal Service team. I'm sorry that I paid large sums of money to the UCI in circumstances where some people could later allege that this was akin to a bribe and that I offered a similar payment to the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

I'm sorry that I compromised team employees by asking them to transport drugs and syringes. I'm sorry that I let down the fans who maintained that I never doped, probably because they couldn't believe a guilty man would so brazenly proclaim his innocence. I'm sorry for threatening the livelihoods of more honest people than myself. I'm sorry that my position as the world's most famous cyclist encouraged other cyclists to go the same route and made it impossible for cycling to tackle its drugs problem.

I'm sorry that when my former masseuse Emma O'Reilly told the truth about me I tried to bankrupt her and, in her words, "demonised her as a prostitute with a drinking problem." I'm sorry that when Betsy Andreu, wife of my former team-mate Frankie Andreu, told how I'd admitted using drugs to her, I said, "she hates me," and portrayed her as being motivated by "bitterness, jealousy and hatred," and accused Frankie of lying "because he's trying to back up his old lady." And I'm sorry that UCI president Pat McQuaid described the cyclists who conclusively blew the whistle on me as "scumbags."

I'm sorry that during the 1999 tour I told the young French cyclist Christophe Bassons, who was known for his anti-drug stance, that he "should get out of cycling." I'm sorry that I told the Italian cyclist Filippo Simeoni, who'd testified against Dr Michele Ferrari, that I'd "destroy," him. I'm sorry that I paid Ferrari, who's serving a lifetime ban for doping offences, $1m and lied by claiming I didn't have a close relationship with him. I'm sorry that when Greg LeMond criticised Ferrari I offered one of LeMond's former team-mates $300,000 to say he'd seen him take EPO. And I'm sorry I chickened out and refused to co-operate when the USADA finally had enough evidence to damn me.

But I know it's not enough for someone to say they're sorry, they've got to prove their repentance in a concrete manner. That's why I'm going to do the following things.

It's pretty clear that I couldn't have avoided a positive drugs test without assistance from people in the higher echelons of the sport. USADA said that the doping programme carried out by my team was the most sophisticated in sport. I will be meeting with them to detail exactly how the programme worked so that they can foil similar programmes in the future.

I will be returning the prize money I won during my career, the sponsorship money and the money I won in libel cases from newspapers who told the truth about me. This may put me in financial trouble but sometimes a man has to do the right thing. I'm sorry that over the years I've impugned the integrity and character of journalists David Walsh and Paul Kimmage and suggested they were pursuing some kind of vendetta against me. Now I'd like to acknowledge that they acted honestly and I was the one who was in bad faith all along.

I'm sorry. But I'm not going to cry or make excuses for myself because it takes a real man to beat cancer and compete in the Tour de France. And only by making a complete, sincere and abject apology can I prove that I'm still the same Lance Armstrong who did those things and not the shameless con artist I subsequently became.

Thank you Oprah for giving me this opportunity to come clean."

What Lance Armstrong will probably say on Oprah.

"I'm sorry. But mainly for myself (sniffles). I'm afraid that there have been times in my life when I didn't make the best choices and, through no real fault of my own, things happened that maybe shouldn't have happened.

But the important thing to remember is the hope that my victories gave to those suffering from cancer and those who were helped by the Lance Armstrong Foundation, now trading as Livestrong.

I know in my heart that people are alive today thanks to my foundation. If I did wrong in some way, okay. But to admit that would have damaged the cause to which I have dedicated my life away from cycling. And to do so would have damaged the community I really care about, the Cancer Community (Tears).

I want to ask those people who tried to tear me down: if people believed that I was a cheat, what would have happened to the Lance Armstrong Foundation? Would we have raised all those millions of dollars to help cancer patients? Would it have been worth destroying all that I'd built? I hope they'd have been able to live with themselves. Because people with cancer don't care about a USADA report, they care about hope. And it wouldn't have been fair for me to take that away from them. (Tears).

In cycling, Oprah, all the leading riders were taking drugs. Coming to Europe from America, I was amazed to discover this. And if someone did take drugs to help their performance, well all they were doing was levelling the playing field, right? I won those Tours de France fair and square. I had no advantage over anyone I was racing against. You're lucky, Oprah, because you can make your living here in the USA. But I had to compete in Europe. And the Europeans didn't like to see an American winning a race they'd always won. Above all, they hated to see a guy from Texas winning when my friend George Bush was making the world safe for democracy. They don't like us over there so they hounded me.

I never made anyone take drugs. The thought that I'd do that (voice wavers), God (fights back tears, carries on bravely). Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton can't blame me for their poor choices in life. They've got to take responsibility for their actions just as I'm doing now. I'd say to them, guys don't let your lives be destroyed by resentment and bitterness. It's not worth it. There are a lot of things I wish I could say but for legal reasons I can't. And a lot of things I won't say because my mom raised me better than that. In the words of that great American President Richard Nixon, "Others may hate you but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them and then you destroy yourself."

Listen, Lance Armstrong is going to bounce back from this. You know this is small stuff compared to being told that you're probably going to die from cancer. But I beat cancer. I'm a winner and winners don't quit.

Those journalists and critics don't matter to me. What matters to me is the Cancer Community, and my kids. And I want to be able to look them in the face and say straight out that if I did anything wrong, I'm sorry. Really. (Tears).

Thanks for giving me the chance to get closure on this issue. It's time to move on and to learn to love sport and myself again. Everyone makes mistakes in their lives. I'm sure your viewers have done things they wish they hadn't done. But it's how you come back from these mistakes which defines who you are. From now on, I'm going to live stronger. (Big hug). Here's my mom's recipe for Texas Style Bar-B-Q Spare Ribs. God Bless America."

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