AUSTIN, Texas USA October 18 – Sponsors stampeded away from endorsement deals with doping-disgraced US cyclist Lance Armstrong, who also stepped down as chairman of the Livestrong anti-cancer charity he founded.
Armstrong was issued a life ban and stripped of seven Tour de France titles in August by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which last week revealed 1,000 pages of evidence against him, including testimony from 11 former teammates.
Sponsors to pull their support included sportswear maker Nike, 24-Hour Fitness health clubs, brewers Anheuser-Busch, Honey Stinger products and Trek bicycles — the brand Armstrong rode to French victories only to lose them all.
“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 on Wednesday.
Anheuser-Busch InBev, which 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,” said Paul Chibe, Anheuser-Busch vice president of US marketing.
Honey Stinger announced it was removing Armstrong’s likeness and endorsement from product packaging of its honey-based sports products.
“Given the evidence surrounding Lance Armstrong’s alleged actions, we have determined that our business relationship with Armstrong no longer aligns with our company’s mission and values,” a statement from 24-Hour Fitness said.
Trek, based in Wisconsin, found USADA’s report too much evidence to ignore even though Armstrong has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.
“Trek is disappointed by the findings and conclusions in the USADA report regarding Lance Armstrong,” a statement from the bicycle manufacturer said.
“Given the determinations of the report, Trek today is terminating our longterm relationship with Lance Armstrong.”
Most sponsors said they will continue to support Livestrong, the charity Armstrong founded 15 years ago that has raised nearly $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 1999-2005, 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,” he said in a statement posted on the Livestrong website.
Armstrong is set to speak at a gala fundraiser on Friday in Austin, Texas, to celebrate Livestrong’s 15th anniversary, what could prove to be an emotional moment in the public spotlight, his first since scandal details were revealed.
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.
In addition to eyewitness accounts about doping from each of Armstrong’s Tour triumphs, USADA’s evidence contained expert medical findings and financial documents linking Armstrong and others to an elaborate doping program.
“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 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.
Sunglasses-maker Oakley said it would wait to see what UCI decides before making a sponsorship decision regarding Armstrong.
Britain’s Bradley Wiggins, this year’s Tour de France winner, is among those trying to help heal cycling’s shattered reputation, with his Sky team saying it will require all members to sign a pledge they have never doped if they want to stay on the squad.
“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,” a Sky statement said.
US federal agents looked into Armstrong for 18 months but closed their probe earlier this year without filing charges, but USADA’s findings could make some firms and prosecutors reconside