Lance Armstrong,making his first public remarks since he was branded the key figure in a massive doping scandal,alluded to recent tough times but made no other concession to controversy.
“It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for me and my family,my friends and this foundation,” Armstrong told some 1,500 supporters at a gala fundraiser for cancer charity Livestrong.
On a more defiant note he yesterday added: “We will not be deterred. We will move forward.”
Armstrong,a cancer survivor,founded Livestrong 15 years ago. But on Wednesday he stepped down as chairman in an effort to protect the foundation from the scandal swirling around him.
That was the same day that corporate sponsors,including sportswear giant Nike,stampeded away from him in the uproar over the US Anti-Doping Agency’s damning report,which accused Armstrong of being at the heart of “the most sophisticated,professionalised and successful doping programme” ever seen in sport.
On Monday,the International Cycling Union is to announce it’s response to the report,and whether it backs the American agency’s demand that Armstrong be banned for life and stripped of the seven Tour de France titles that made him a sports icon.
An outcast now in cycling,Armstrong said it was imperative that Livestrong continue to fulfill its aims.
“The mission absolutely must go on,” Armstrong said.
Even so,it remains to be seen if the foundation will weather the scandal,with some saying Armstrong — who remains on the board — should break with the organization completely.
Livestrong,however,said donations continued flow in. “In addition to funds raised this evening,between October 17-19,Livestrong received nearly $240,000 in online donations with an average donation of $94,” the foundation said in a statement,adding that the number of donations Wednesday through Friday doubled that of the same days the previous week.
Early Sunday morning,Armstrong is expected to address nearly 4,000 cyclists before the start of the Livestrong Challenge,an annual fundraising race that starts in the heart of Austin.
Access was tightly controlled for Friday’s event,but Livestrong posted video of Armstrong speaking on the internet and announced the event raised $2.5 million.
“I just have one last request,” Armstrong concluded,”let’s have a helluva good time tonight.”
Sean Penn,among the actors lending a bit of Hollywood glamour to the occasion,said he came to support both embattled Armstrong and the foundation. “I’m here for both,” the Oscar-winning actor said as he headed into the Austin Convention Center via the “Yellow Carpet” — a nod to the yellow rubber Livestrong bracelets worn to promote cancer awareness.
“Lance has developed an organization that has become an inspiration to me and to others — and I think it will remain.”
Asked if Armstrong himself is still an inspiration,Penn said: “I think anyone who looks at this with a clear eye will see it as hypocritical to think otherwise.”
It’s a different take on Armstrong than the one painted in USADA’s bombshell report,which cites more than two dozen witnesses — including some former teammates — who say they had knowledge of Armstrong’s doping.
The report has roiled world cycling,with long-time sponsor Rabobank announcing Friday it was pulling out of a sport that it said has been irrevocably damaged by a succession of drug cases.
“We are no longer convinced that the international professional world of cycling can make this a clean and fair sport,” Rabobank board member Bert Bruggink said in a statement. “We are not confident that this will change for the better in the foreseeable future,” he said.
“What the USADA showed us is that international cycle racing is not only sick but also at the highest level within cycling,including a number of the relevant authorities,including checks on the use of doping,” he added.
Meanwhile,a report in Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper on Thursday claimed that a host of top riders and even whole teams were linked to the sports doctor who oversaw Armstrong’s doping programme,stoking fears of fresh controversy.