Laughter of bewilderment and disbelief

At a function one day, the soft drink this hack was using to wash down the meal spilt. Thus ensued a fizzy marinated smoked salmon salad. These things happen on this life’s journey. And it was far from the greatest indignity ever to befall allotted circumstances. The two of those occurred in glaringly public arenas and left marks which may eternally hover.

Dealing with such happenings is not so much an acquired skill as a downright necessity. Fizzy fish may not have been the most succulent feast ever encountered. Still, the curious taste soon and faded and being in the company of folk who know how things work – or in some cases don’t – meant nothing was dwelt upon for too long.

The same cannot be said of seeing Lance Armstrong gain media coverage again, and be portrayed in association with good – at least by some who can only be gullible. Notwithstanding the fact that the shamed false champion did overcome cancer, there’s something nauseating about even attempts to portray him as doing good.

Only someone whose life has been touched, directly or indirectly, by the vile disease can know what it’s like to have it linger on the horizon. It was this realisation which made Armstrong’s pinpointing of his cancer as reasoning for his doping the most reprehensible, defiant, arrogant act.

Worse than sullying and leaving a cloud over the sport for so long with his falsehoods. Even worse than the manipulation and intimidation wielded over those in his midst whom for so long strove unrewarded to expose someone who – while undoubtedly obviously talented – utilised nefarious means by which to cast a misguided veneer of greatness.

It is for that reason that all one could do was laugh at Lance being drafted in to aid a fundraising effort. Not laughter of the humorous kind. Not merriment at the idea of fundraising for cancer. And certainly not a belittling the battle with the chronic illness engaged in by former footballer Geoff Thomas.

Former England footballer Geoff Thomas

Rather, laughter of bewilderment and disbelief. At the mere notion that anybody could enlist the help of someone – effected by cancer or otherwise – who spoke so insultingly and almost flippantly about the affliction. Compounded unimaginably as the fundraising effort in question is a cycling one and, just to add another tinge of discomfort, one which coincides with Le Tour De France.

It left a taste alright, but it was far more sour than curious. Here’s one thing that rankles, by the time the rider’s misdeeds were finally unmasked owing to intrepid, heroic journalism by David Walsh and Paul Kimmage, he had long left the sport and though there were ramifications such was Armstrong’s status – and such were the worrying number of those seemingly willing to buy into same – that he still emerged more unscathed than those whose lives were impacted by his actions.

Hindsight has, to me at least, exposed the Oprah Winfrey interview to be another exercise in cynical deception. Aimed not at displaying any semblance of remorse. More an attempt, yet again, to make himself the only show in town. Lance Armstrong the public figure should have been shelved there and then.

That’s not to say he shouldn’t be allowed get on with his life. As disgusting as the former rider’s actions and behaviour were, there are those who – whether it’s totally acknowledged or not – were involved in altogether more heinous activities yet acquired quite the profile and ended up as figures of public stature, possibly because of their past.

Where the sole comparison between those latterly referred to and the shamed former cyclist transpires is in a shared need for good publicity for themselves. Perhaps to the exclusion of everything else.

Some might scoff at the two journalists’ continued interest in and documentation of affairs surrounding he who was stripped of his seven Tour De France titles. However, the most recent offerings suggest that darkness surrounding the individual may spread beyond the world of cycling to envelope things that were supposed to be for the deliverance of good.

It is for those very reasons that what will take place in a few weeks – when Armstrong joins Thomas for two stages of the Tour – should be greeted with abhorrence. For all the former footballer’s courage in battling the gravest of illnesses and his attempts to increase funding so as to better efforts to tackle it are laudable, his recruitment of who he has is grossly ill-judged.

The blind indifference portrayed by the ex England midfielder to the Texan’s serially documented wrongdoing is startling. Acting as if his efforts away from cycling could in some manner airbrush the harm done. Surely there were innumerable vaunted former – or current – sports stars Thomas could’ve aligned with. Instead, his unstinting loyalty to Lance – in terms of cycling alone – serves as affront to a sport supposedly trying to redefine itself.

Which in turn raises questions for the UCI. Brian Cookson’s assumption of control of the governing body, and, more pointedly, the eradication of the Pat McQuaid era, was supposed to herald the commencement of a new dawn for the sport. Instead, there has been but vacant posturing about Armstrong being “Strongly advised to stay away” from the flagship event.

If the credibility of the sport – and specifically the governance thereof – is to hold any water, there should’ve been an outright forbiddance of Armstrong getting anywhere near what is the discipline’s signature competition. However, passive disinterest where it really counts gives the worrying impression that little has changed.


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