Sponsors Nike and Anheuser-Busch dumped endorsement deals with Lance Armstrong on Wednesday as the doping-disgraced US cyclist stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong anti-cancer charity he founded.
“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,” Nike’s statement said.
Brewers Anheuser-Busch InBev, who used Armstrong in beer advertisements, said they would not renew a sponsorship deal with Armstrong when their current three-year endorsement contract ends in December.
“We have decided not to renew our relationship with Lance Armstrong when our current contract expires at the end of 2012,” Anheuser-Busch vice president of US marketing Paul Chibe said.
Both Nike and Anheuser-Busch said they would continue to support Livestrong, the charity Armstrong founded 15 years ago that has raised nearly US$500 million.
Armstrong stepped aside rather than see Livestrong impacted by the fallout from revelations that a doping scheme was at the heart of his Tour de France triumphs from 1999 to 2005 — the worst scandal in a sport tarred by cheating.
“To spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship,” Armstrong said in a statement posted on the Livestrong Web site.
Armstrong is set to attend a gala fundraiser today in Austin, Texas, to celebrate Livestrong’s 15th anniversary in what could prove to be an emotional moment in the public spotlight, his first since scandal details were revealed.
“It has been a great privilege to help grow it from a dream into an organization that today has served 2.5 million people and helped spur a cultural shift in how the world views cancer survivors,” Armstrong said.
More than 80 million of Livestrong’s iconic yellow wristbands, launched in 2004 in collaboration with Nike, have been sold, donations that were in part inspired by Armstrong’s now-tainted cancer comeback.
The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) banned Armstrong for life and stripped him of his Tour de France victories in August after incriminating testimony from 26 witnesses, 11 of them former teammates.
More than 1,000 pages of evidence contained expert medical findings and financial documents linking Armstrong and others to an elaborate doping scheme.
“The evidence shows beyond any doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen,” USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said.
Armstrong, who denies allegations of wrongdoing, chose not to fight the charges after losing a US federal court fight objecting to USADA’s appeal process, saying he was weary from battling years of similar accusations.
Armstrong had been an inspirational figure for millions after recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs, and then winning the world’s most celebrated cycling event seven times in a row.
USADA unveiled its evidence last week in a report to the International Cycling Union (UCI), which faces growing pressure to reveal how the 41-year-old American was able to escape detection for so long.
UCI is considering the sanctions imposed by USADA. Rejecting them would likely set up a fight with USADA in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Britain’s Bradley Wiggins, this year’s Tour de France winner, is among those trying to help healing cycling’s shattered reputation, with his Sky team saying it will require all team members to sign a pledge they have never doped or be dropped from the squad.
“We want a team in which riders are free of the risks of doping and in which fans — new and old — can believe without any doubt or hesitation,” a Sky statement said. “We have been shocked by recent revelations of systemic doping in cycling’s past. So we have taken steps to reaffirm our commitment to being a clean team.”
US federal agents looked into Armstrong for 18 months, but closed their probe earlier this year without filing charges. However, the unprecedented volume and detail of USADA’s findings could lead US prosecutors and companies to consider fresh criminal and civil actions against Armstrong.