Lance Armstrong

Doping admission could mean prison for Lance Armstrong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 January, 2013, 3:57am

Lance Armstrong could lose much more than his already ravaged reputation if he confesses to doping during a television interview with Oprah Winfrey - he could end up in jail.

"If I were his lawyer, I'd be telling him not to do it. I think he's crazy," said Peter Keane, law professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "He's in considerable jeopardy of some sort of criminal prosecution ... for which he could go to prison."

The threats to Armstrong's liberty stem from the fallen icon's role in the US Postal Service team, where he spent his most successful years in the saddle.

Having been paid by the government, the former team leader could face criminal charges for making fraudulent statements to his bosses.

He could also be accused of perjury over disclosures made under oath to a US federal jury in 2005. If convicted, each false statement could lead to five years in jail.

The pitfalls of speaking to Winfrey, considered the favoured TV forum for "tell all" confessional style interviews, appear to have been weighed, and a decision taken that it was worthwhile to reveal something new.

"I'm anticipating a major announcement," said Jordan Kobritz, chair of the State University of New York at Cortland's International Sport Management graduate programme, noting that Armstrong would otherwise have no reason to talk.

"You don't have to go on Oprah to do what he's been doing in his entire athletic life, and that is deny, deny and deny that he ever engaged in illegal drugs," Kobritz said, agreeing with Keane that perjury and criminal charges are possible.

One possibility is that justice officials in California will re-open a file they closed last year concerning alleged drug use and misuse of funds when Armstrong was with the US Postal Service team.

Another case that could come back to haunt the cyclist is an arbitration hearing in Dallas in 2005 where he said under oath that he had never taken banned substances, a statement which raises the spectre of perjury charges.

But Armstrong's profile, albeit diminished, as a cancer survivor who raised awareness and hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the disease, is likely the chip that could spare him the worst possible outcome.

"Regardless of whether he comes out and makes a flat admission, I guarantee there will still be a majority of US citizens who will say, 'I don't care what he did, he's still my hero'," Kobritz said, citing Armstrong's cancer survival.

Michael McCann, director of the sports law institute at Vermont Law School, said there could be an upside to speaking out, even if that means going to jail beforehand for perjury.

"It wouldn't be five years, but it could be six months, any amount of time would be pretty bad," he said. But there could be "a sense of coming clean, having a cleaner conscience ... public forgiveness, and relief maybe," added McCann.