His was a story that transcended the sport of cycling; a cancer survivor who came back to be the sports biggest star. But on Monday, the International Cycling Union upheld sanctions by the U.S. Anti Doping Agency and stripped Armstrong of the seven Tour de France titles which he won from 1999 through 2005 - two more than any other cyclist - and banned him for life from the sport for doping.
Following the decision, President of the UCI, Pat McQuaid, was quoted as saying "Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling."
I have a hard time with McQuaid's statement. While by no means am I advocating for doping, I struggle to see how what Armstrong did was different from what the vast majority of cyclists around him were doing during that era. According to a New York Times article, the racers who finished behind Armstrong in those seven tours will not be elevated because doping was so prevalent during that time period. Given that information it can be argued that the playing field was level and Armstrong still dominated.
The current situation with Armstrong is similar to what happened in Major League Baseball. During the eighties and nineties, steroid use ran rampant and commissioner Bud Selig turned a blind eye to what was going on. At no time was this more true than the 1998 season.
At the time, baseball was on life support; being only three years removed from a strike that resulted in 931 to 948 games being cancelled and the loss of the 1994 postseason and World Series. Then the slugfest between Mark McGuire of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa ensued in the chase to break Roger Maris's record of 61 home runs in a season. It revitalized baseball. Even those who were not fans of the Cardinals or the Cubs were glued to their TV screens until the end of the season when McGuire ultimately set the record with 70 home runs. Barry Bonds ultimately broke the record in 2001 with 73 home runs, a feat which also captivated baseball fans throughout the country.
Armstrong did the same for cycling. Armstrong's seven consecutive victories in the Tour de France not only made Armstrong a household name, it increased the popularity of the sport dramatically.
Just like Bud Selig and Major League Baseball, the UCI seemed willing to turn a blind eye. But now that Armstrong is retired and efforts are being made to clean up the sport, it's okay to not only cast Armstrong aside, but make an example out of him as well.
Armstrong deserves to punished for doping, but stripping him of all his Tour de France titles and banning him for life from the sport is far too excessive. It has been suggested that potential Hall of Fame candidates that used performance enhancing drugs in baseball be allowed in the Hall of Fame with an asterisk placed next to their name denoting that they used steroids. The same should be at the very least considered for Armstrong.
As it is Armstrong has been punished in a number of ways. He had to step down as chairman of his charity, Livestrong. He may lose his bronze medal from the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. He has been dropped by all of his sponsors, which will cost him about $35 million. Tour director Christian Pudhomme wants Armstrong to pay back the prize money from his seven wins that amounts to $3.85 million and the Texas insurance company SCA promotions is now demanding the return of $7.5 million in bonuses.
As to McQuaid's remark that he has no place in cycling, I disagree. Armstrong is almost singlehandedly responsible for the popularity the sport enjoys today. Trying to airbrush him out of the sport's history is absurd. If the UCI is going to ban Armstrong, then in my opinion they should erase the accomplishments of all other riders who doped, either currently or in the past, and ban them from the sport as well.