Nike severs ties with Armstrong as USADA investigation fallout continues
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nike severs ties with Armstrong as USADA investigation fallout continues

by Shane Stokes at 8:41 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 
[UPDATED] Armstrong building to be renamed, long-term sponsorship comes to an abrupt end due to ‘seemingly insurmountable evidence’

Lance ArmstrongNike previously indicated that it would stick behind Lance Armstrong but, one week after USADA released evidence of widespread doping on the US Postal Service team and one day after the sports company disputed allegations that it was involved in covering up a 1999 positive test, it has announced that it has terminated its long-running relationship with the Texan.

“Due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade, it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him,” it said in a statement. “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner. Nike plans to continue support of the Livestrong initiatives created to unite, inspire and empower people affected by cancer.”

Nike later told VeloNation that the Lance Armstrong Sports and Fitness Centre at its Beaverton, Oregon, campus would not retain that title. “Nike will change the name of the Lance Armstrong Fitness Center at our World Headquarters,” confirmed North American media relations director KeJuan Wilkins. He did not specify what the new title would be.

Armstrong has been one of Nike’s top athletes for well over a decade and today’s news reflects just how far, and how fast, his stock has plummeted. Another sponsor told VeloNation in recent days that it was monitoring the situation and appeared open to the possibility that it too would sever ties.

“It's always been our position with those who endorse our brand to stand behind them until they are proven guilty,” said an Oakley company spokesperson. “For Lance, we will allow the process take its course before altering our position.”

Armstrong also has long-running sponsorship deals with Giro and Trek; they are yet to indicate their likely course of action.

Nike attracted negative publicity yesterday when the New York Daily News printed a story about his positive test for cortisone in the 1999 Tour de France, the backdated prescription which was produced and the UCI’s acceptance of his version of events. He said that he had used a cream for a saddle sore, and that this was the cause of the positive test.

His Therapeutic Use Exemption list was blank starting the race, with no declared products on it, and the-then team soigneur Emma O’Reilly later confirmed that the story about a saddle sore was a false one concocted in order to cover up the true reason for the positive; the prior use of cortisone to boost performance.

According to yesterday’s story, the wife of American Tour de France winner Greg LeMond testified in a 2005 court case that they had been told that Nike paid $500, 000 to the-then UCI president Hein Verbruggen to have the positive case dismissed. She said that team mechanic Julian Devries, who previously worked with Greg LeMond during his career, had told them that Nike and Armstrong’s US Postal Service team owner Thom Weisel had paid off Verbruggen.

Kathy LeMond was quoted by the Daily News as reiterating the claim on Monday. “I'm sure Julian was telling the truth,” she said.

The company later issued a statement rejecting the accusation. “In response to the offensive allegations in today’s New York Daily News, Nike vehemently denies that it paid former UCI president Hein Verbruggen $500,000 to cover up a positive drug test,” it said. “Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs.”

That latter part of the statement jarred with many cycling fans, who felt it inconsistent with the company’s ongoing support for Armstrong. The apparent clash was rectified today when Nike announced an end to the sponsorship relationship with the rider and confirmed to VeloNation that its sports centre would shed its title.

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