Has Adelaide’s Flinders University and its Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer — incorporating the LIVESTRONG Cancer Research Centre — been caught up in the murky web of relationships around Lance Armstrong and his related companies the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Livestrong.org and Livestrong.com?

There is now no doubt Armstrong is a fraud. As ABC journalist Francis Leach said yesterday on the ABC’s Offsiders:

“The thing about Lance Armstrong that really gets to me … is the lying, conceit and the deceit … and what I believe is increasingly evident that he [Armstrong] built a firewall around his integrity with the Livestrong charity by which he basically made us all accomplices to his fantasy.”

The Livestrong charity is a strange creature. As Bill Gifford noted in a revealing article on Armstrong and his associated compainies in Outside Magazine in February this year:

“Livestrong and Lance are like conjoined twins, each depending on the other for survival. Separating them — or even figuring out where one ends and the other begins — is no small task. The foundation is a major reason why sponsors are attracted to Armstrong; as his agent Bill Stapleton put it in 2001, his survivor story ‘broadened and deepened the brand … and then everybody wanted him.’ But the reverse is also true: Without Lance, Livestrong would be just another cancer charity scrapping for funds …

“Most people are unaware that there are two Livestrong websites. Livestrong.org is the site for the non-profit Lance Armstrong Foundation, while Livestrong.com is a somewhat similar-looking page that features the same Livestrong logo and design but is actually a for-profit content farm owned by Demand Media.”

I believe it is fair to say Armstrong and his associated companies had — have — at least some of the hallmarks of a cult. There was a degree of control and uniformity: the branding using the ubiquitous yellow LIVESTRONG rubber wrist-bands; the importance of joining and attending mass rallies; the implied stigma of leaving and the emphasis on the single charismatic leader.

Armstrong’s worlds — professional and business — have slowly been crumbling around him, hastened by the release last week of the damning report by the US Anti-Doping Agency, which says of Armstrong that:

“USADA has found proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Lance Armstrong engaged in serial cheating through the use, administration and trafficking of performance enhancing drugs and methods and that Armstrong participated in running the US Postal Service Team as a doping conspiracy. Armstrong and his co-conspirators sought to achieve their ambitions through a massive fraud now more fully exposed. So ends one of the most sordid chapters in sports history … Lance Armstrong violated the applicable anti-doping rules ,that his competitive results achieved since August 1 1998, should be, and are, disqualified and that he is properly and appropriately ruled ineligible for life …”

You can read the 202 pages of USADA’s “Reasoned Decision” and the 800-or-so pages of supporting material via the USADA website. There is no shortage of other material on the web and both The Guardian and the wonderful fora at Cycling News provide useful analysis, news and views.

Flinders and Armstrong entered into a relationship soon after Armstrong’s return to professional cycling at the 2009 Tour Down Under around the streets of Adelaide. Armstrong would “give” the Livestrong name to the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer (FCIC), the research wing of which would be named the LIVESTRONG Cancer Research Centre. That research centre was commissioned in late April 2012.

Soon after the announcement of the relationship with Armstrong it became clear there were some serious questions to be answered. In part these arose from analyses of Armstrong’s business dealings elsewhere and through a whispering campaign in South Australia’s small political and bureaucratic class, where, despite the best attempts by then-premier Mike Rann to keep all deals with Armstrong a secret, some real concerns were being raised about the deal between Armstrong and the Flinders Medical Centre — among other aspects of the pair’s very cosy relationship.

Peter Fray

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