(UPDATED) AUSTIN, Texas, USA – Cyclist Lance Armstrong has admitted to talk show host Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs in a lengthy interview to be aired later this week, USA Today reported Monday, January 14 (Tuesday, January 15 in Manila).
The newspaper cited an unnamed person familiar with the interview ahead of its Thursday night air date.
Before his taped interview with Oprah, Armstrong also personally apologized to staff members of Livestrong cancer charity, which the cancer survivor founded in 1997.
“Lance came to the Livestrong Foundation’s headquarters today for a private conversation with our staff and offered a sincere and heartfelt apology for the stress they’ve endured because of him,” Livestrong spokeswoman Rae Bazzarre told AFP.
(Read: Lance Armstrong the fall of a sporting icon)
For years, the celebrated American athlete that became the face of cycling has repeatedly denied taking performance enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France and other big cycling events.
In October, US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) stripped Armstrong of his 7 Tour de France titles and slapped him with a lifetime ban after releasing a damning report that said he helped orchestrate the most sophisticated doping program in the history of the sport. The massive report by USADA included hundreds of pages of eyewitness testimony, emails, financial records and laboratory analysis of blood samples.
The International Cycling Union effectively erased Armstrong from the cycling history books when it decided not to appeal sanctions imposed on Armstrong by USADA.
US federal officials investigated Armstrong and his cycling team for two years but failed to charge him. Late last year Armstrong resigned as chairman of the Livestrong foundation.
The disgraced Texan’s decision to talk to the famed US talk show host has had divided opinion, as some say he needs to do something radical to rehabilitate his public profile, while others say speaking out will only make matters worse.
But above his image, there is a likelihood that Armstrong could face criminal charges following his confession, depending on how thorough or detailed his admission.
The threats to Armstrong’s liberty stem from the fallen icon’s role in the US Postal Service team, where he spent his most successful years in the saddle.
Having been paid by the government, the former team leader could face criminal charges for making fraudulent statements to his bosses.
He could also be accused of perjury over disclosures made under oath to a US federal jury in 2005. If convicted, each false statement could lead to five years in jail.
Another case that could come back to haunt the cyclist is an arbitration hearing in Dallas in 2005 where he said under oath that he had never taken banned substances, a statement which raises the specter of perjury charges.
But Armstrong’s profile, albeit diminished, as a cancer survivor who raised awareness and hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the disease, is likely the chip that could spare him the worst possible outcome.
“Regardless of whether he comes out and makes a flat admission, I guarantee there will still be a majority of US citizens who will say ‘I don’t care what he did, he’s still my hero,'” Kobritz said, citing Armstrong’s cancer survival.
“Unless there’s a prosecutor who wants to stake his reputation and his future political career,” on putting Armstrong in the dock, “I suspect they’re going to leave him alone,” Kobritz added.
But Michael McCann, director of the sports law institute at Vermont Law School, said there could be an upside to speaking out, if not immediately then in the mid-term, even if that means going to jail beforehand for perjury.
“It wouldn’t be five years, but it could be six months, any amount of time would be pretty bad,” he said.
But there could be “a sense of coming clean, having a cleaner conscience… public forgiveness, and relief maybe,” added McCann, who is soon to head up a new sports and entertainment law institute at the University of New Hampshire. – Rappler.com with Agence France-Presse
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