Armstrong peddles through reputation minefield

Last updated 11:30 19/10/2012
Lance Armstrong
LANCE ARMSTRONG: Nike says the famed cyclist "misled" the company for a decade about doping.

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Lance Armstrong may feel he's now doing the right thing, but leaving his charity limits his options for salvaging his reputation.

It's almost impossible to exaggerate Armstrong's fall from grace. From the moment the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) report revealed the gory details of his doping, his public persona began disintegrating.

Now Nike - which has a history of supporting its athletes through thick and thin - has concluded the famous swoosh can no longer be associated with the former seven-times Tour de France champion.

And there's much left to this story that will keep people interested in the months, and even years, to come. What actions will the International Cycling Union take? Will the US attorney general pursue criminal charges? Will the IOC strip him of his bronze medal? But what the world awaits most is the first truly personal statement from Armstrong.

He's scheduled to make an appearance at the 15th anniversary celebrations for his Livestrong charity this Saturday. That will probably be the first time we hear what he's got to say. He has one decision to make: continue the "I've never failed a drug test" defence or go for a public mea culpa (though one hopes he avoids the Tiger Woods' staged approach to a public apology).

Regardless of what road he chooses to take, one thing is certain - he needs to divert attention from his doping to his cancer charity. The diversionary tactic is straight from the PR play book - he needs to provide a stronger narrative from which people will judge him.

The impact of the Livestrong charity in raising awareness and money to fight cancer as well as inspiring millions of sufferers to "live strong" is undeniable. The yellow Livestrong wristbands are perhaps the most visual demonstration for people to attach themselves to the fight against cancer.

So while his legacy in cycling is finished, the achievements of Livestrong remain intact. And that's where his battle to win the public hearts and minds should be fought and won.

He needs to keep repeating the line that he's moved on and his sole focus is leading the fight against cancer - eventually, that's what people will take out: "he may be a drugs cheat, but he did great things for cancer sufferers".

But by stepping down as chairman of the foundation, he's made this job that much harder to do. It provided a more direct and meaningful link with the fight against cancer - far more meaningful than just being the public face of the campaign. It gives him credibility, and therefore believability, when he says he has unfinished business with the cancer fight and that he's got a job to do.

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Armstrong says he is stepping down to spare the charity from negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding his cycling career.

Whether the charity's work will be impacted - say with people donating less money - is highly debatable. But by distancing himself further from the yellow wristband, he's taken away his best chance of salvaging his reputation.

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