Can you nominate in order now the degrees of the lie?
…. I will name you the degrees.
The first, the Retort Courteous; the second, the
Quip Modest; the third, the Reply Churlish; the
fourth, the Reproof Valiant; the fifth, the
Countercheque Quarrelsome; the sixth, the Lie with
Circumstance; the seventh, the Lie Direct. All
these you may avoid but the Lie Direct; and you may
avoid that too, with an If. I knew when seven
justices could not take up a quarrel, but when the
parties were met themselves, one of them thought but
of an If, as, ‘If you said so, then I said so;’ and
they shook hands and swore brothers. Your If is the
only peacemaker; much virtue in If.
Shakespeare’s As You Like It, V, IV
Somebody lied about some money just a little while ago.
More generally somebody lied about having doped in professional cycling, got caught, and after a four-year interval, the suicide of his best friend, the destruction of his marriage, a costly arbitration hearing, a tell-nothing book, a suspension and a grudging return to the uglamorous domestic racing scene, admitted to some key cycling officials in a private email that he lied about having doped.
But somebody perhaps lied before that, and it seems this earlier lie is a key to the unravelling.
Cast back to the deposition Lance Armstrong gave in 2005 in order to get his money from SCA Promotions, the company that wanted to check out whether Armstrong had in fact doped to win any of his Tours de France before they paid out on an insurance policy bonus the cyclist’s management company Tailwind Sports had bet on.
Fair enough, after all David Walsh and Pierre Ballester’s 2004 book LA Confidentiel, published in French so as to avoid the libel-friendly UK courts, was chock-full of interviews with former Armstrong associates who said that Big Tex, the Nike-sponsored athlete, the cancer survivor who inspired millions, was using performance enhancing drugs to win. A $5 million payout without due diligence on this would be like a government bailout of a too-big-to-fail financial institution without a stress test.
An attorney for SCA asked Armstrong in the deposition whether it was true that he had, as a competing athlete subject to the governing sanction of the sport’s highest body, made a lump-sum payment to the UCI at some point?
"Yeah", the cyclist said in a videotaped statement.
The attorney asked him why.
"I’m doing it to — to fund the fight against doping," Armstrong said. "It’s still a fight I believe in."
In the transcript of the deposition it becomes clear that Armstrong remembers pledging between $25,000 and $30,000 to the UCI after taking a tour of their offices. Probably in 2000, maybe later. Armstrong says several times in the deposition that he can’t recall, or that he doesn’t remember the exact dates.
Now cast forward to the damning email leaked to the press during the Tour of California, subsequently confirmed to be a communication between Floyd Landis and key officials in the US Cycling federation and USADA concerning, among so many other things, Armstrong’s contact with the Italian trainer Michele Ferrari in 2001.
"In the first year that the EPO test was used he (Armstrong -ed.) had been told by Mr Ferrari, who had access to the new test, that he should not use EPO anymore but he did not believe Mr Farrari (sic) and continued to use it. He later, while winning the Tour de Swiss (sic), the month before
the Tour de France, tested positive for EPO at which point he and Mr Bruyneel flew to the UCI headquarters and made a financial agreement with
Mr. Vrubrugen (sic) to keep the positive test hidden."
On May 20th this year Armstrong stood outside his team bus and faced a phalanx of reporters with cameras and, amid some rolling confusion as to whether the accusations were about the Tour de Suisse in 2001, which he won, or 2002, which he skipped, admitted he had seen the Landis accusations prior to the start of the Tour of California, and, when asked about the allegations therein, denied he had ever given money to the UCI.
"Absolutely not. No. That is the other thing, if you get into it. Obviously we’ve seen the email and that is not correct. But a lot of other things in the email, the timeline is off, if you go year by year," Armstrong said on a Thursday morning in Visalia.
Armstrong a little more than a day later published a clarification on the internet when pressed over his known donations with regard to the UCI.
"The question was did I pay off the UCI wrt a pos test in 2002 from TdS (which I didn’t contest). Answer – of course not, no way," Armstrong tweeted on May 21st.
Flip back to the 2005 court deposition in Texas with Armstrong and his $5 million bonus on the line. The lawyer for SCA Promotions asks him a question.
"Did you ever tell the public that you had made that donation?"
Armstrong, under oath, remembers a detail.
"Hein Verbruggen told them at some point, and I confirmed that."
Hein Verbruggen, it should be said, was the president of the UCI from 1991 to 2005. In his years at the helm the Dutchman oversaw the merger of amateur and professional cycling federations, the creation of the UCI ProTour, the 1998 Festina doping affair that nearly killed bike racing and the seven Tour de France victories of Lance Armstrong.
Verbruggen told Eurosport in the Spring of 2005 that Armstrong made the payment to the UCI in order "to discover new anti-doping methods."
“He gave money from his private funds, cash. He didn’t want this to be known but he did it," Verbruggen said, according to Eurosport in 2005.
Last week the current president of the UCI, Pat McQuaid, gave a press conference at the Giro d’Italia, where he upped the donation Armstrong gave to $100,000, pegged it’s promise to 2002, and said the money did not arrive in their accounts until 2005. Allegations of bribery and positive-for-EPO drug results were harshly denied, and McQuaid said the UCI used the money to buy an expensive blood testing machine.
"The UCI take seriously the accusation that the UCI took a bribe to hide the positive test of Lance Armstrong in 2001," McQuaid said. "We’ve contacted in recent days the labs involved for testing for EPO at that time. I have statement here from those labs that support what I am about to say … that there is no way that the UCI or its former president Hein Verbruggen could have accepted a bribe. It’s just not possible."
McQuaid also said that accepting a donation from Armstrong while he was an active, testable athlete under their sanction, was, in hindsight but not at the time, a conflict of interest.
"You have to consider that at the time, in 2002, no accusations against Lance Armstrong had been made. They’ve all came up since then. We accepted the donation to help develop the sport," McQuaid said. "The UCI is not a rich organisation and we have many demands from around the world for demands for support and material. We will listen to anyone who can help us."
Further muddying the pool are claims from 2005 by Sylvia Schenk, who was president of the German cycling federation from 2001 to 2004 and a key member of the UCI, and who now heads Transparency International, a global nongovernmental organisation tracking corruption around the world.
She told German sports television channel Sport1.de at the time that Verbruggen had done much to clean up doping in cycling since 1998, but that "everything is suddenly different when it comes to Armstrong…There is obviously a close relationship to Armstrong. For example, the UCI took a lot of money from Armstrong – as far as I know, $500,000. Now of course there is speculation that there are financial relationships to Armstrong as well as to the American market."
Armstrong, for his part in 2005, as quoted by Eurosport, said, "If I’ve donated money to the UCI to combat doping, step up controls and to fund research, it is not my job to issue a press release. That’s a secret thing, because it’s the right thing to do."
There is much virtue in Armstrong’s "If", and at face value it’s a laudable notion. After all, Armstrong was earning more in annual sponsorship fees and advertising contracts than he was in combined salary and race winnings. His story of cancer, survival and victory is responsible for the initial rise in cycling’s popularity in the past 10 years, and with it the increase in money flowing to the sport. He could afford to share some of the largesse.
But in the end what we are left with are some truths and some lies, and our position as fans of the sport and also journalists is to wade around in the marshy shallows and discern, perhaps by smell alone, which words float and which sink into the mire.
Armstrong, Verbruggen and McQuaid all confirm that the cyclist gave the federation a lot of money. Landis says it was to cover up a positive EPO test, the other three say it was to fight doping in some unclear way.
But the other three versions differ in degrees. Armstrong, under oath, said it was between $25,000 and $30,000. McQuaid, many years later, said it was $100,000. Verbruggen said it was to discover new detection methods. McQuaid said it was for a machine. Armstrong said it was a secret.
Schenk dropped a subtle bomb in 2005 with what seems to be a fourth version when she claimed Armstrong had given as much as half a million dollars.
Landis lied at least once, and now pays the price of shattered credibility in the court of public opinion.
But Armstrong, in order to claim his full $5 million from SCA Promotions in 2005, under sworn oath, said he gave one quarter of the sum that McQuaid admitted to this year. Either they both told the truth, and there are other, unknown payments out there, or one of them at some point, for reasons that are unknown but increasingly curious, fudged the numbers.
The question we are left asking is, to what degree is somebody lying?