CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Lance Armstrong must cooperate fully if he wants to win back some of his reputation and help cycling recover from its drug-stained past, the head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said.
There has been speculation that Armstrong may seek to lessen his sanctions in return for helping USADA’s ongoing investigation into doping in cycling.
“I think it’s premature (to talk about it) until he comes in and is truthful on all fronts,” USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Technically it’s legally possible under the WADA code that currently exists. That said, it all depends on the assistance and the value. Certainly the value of the information is less today than it was 12 months ago or back in June of 2012 when we were bringing the case.
“And clean athletes have suffered, to a certain extent, because of his delay and his refusal to come in. That said, we’re overly hopeful and we want it to happen. It ultimately would be good for the sport, which is our goal. It would be good for him. It would help him for the public forgiving if he was finally truthful on all fronts.”
Tygart spoke in an interview in Cape Town before this week’s World Conference on Doping in Sport, a four-day summit that will deal with issues connected to the Armstrong scandal. It comes just over a year after USADA issued its report detailing systematic doping by Armstrong and his teammates.
The future of cycling and a possible truth and reconciliation commission may be discussed behind the scenes at the conference, which opens Tuesday in Johannesburg and will be attended by new UCI President Brian Cookson.
In its main business, WADA will vote on proposed changes to its code, including doubling the standard ban for serious doping offenses from two years to four. WADA is also considering re-examining some of its testing procedures, placing more emphasis on investigations and intelligence gathering to catch dopers, and strengthening punishments for trainers and officials who assist in doping — all factors in the Armstrong case.
The move to four-year bans appears to have widespread approval, including with Tygart’s USADA.
“We’re comfortable with the four years on a first offense,” Tygart said. “Obviously trafficking, distribution, cover-up can be a higher level of offense and we think that’s appropriate, particularly for athlete support personnel, coaches, doctors, team owners that are complicit in a conspiracy.”
Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life last year after USADA’s investigation. The American admitted to doping in January and last week publicly commented on some of the details surrounding his ban in a series of interviews with the Cycling News website.
Armstrong claimed he was “singled out” by USADA and that the agency had a personal “vendetta” against him. Tygart said he hadn’t read Armstrong’s comments, but there was nothing personal for USADA.
“Play 1 out of the defense playbook is to identify a single person and then vilify them,” Tygart said. “And that’s how you try to bully them or intimidate them or scare them away from doing the job and exposing the truth that they know our job was to expose. Look, we were very methodical, very judicial. It’s a very clinical process. We went through it, treated him the same as everyone else was treated.”
Tygart acknowledged, though, that Armstrong was “no worse” than a lot of other riders.
But “he was the one that won, obviously. He was the one that profited the most,” Tygart said.
“It can’t be a good situation where he’s at right now,” Tygart said. “That was a large part why we gave (him) the opportunity back in June 2012 to come forward. We were as disappointed as anyone back then when they rejected that and went on the attack. And we still, I think, remain open.”
Armstrong has said that a truth and reconciliation commission for international cycling is crucial. It’s something on which WADA and the UCI’s new leadership may make progress in Johannesburg this week.
“We’ve been pushing for it from Day 1,” Tygart said. “When we saw the evidence that we saw during the course of this investigation, we knew this was not just about one individual athlete. It was about a system that corrupted a sport. … To get to the bottom of the dark culture during that time is critically important for the success of the sport going forward.”