Lance foundation remains tops
Austin - Livestrong, the cancer charity founded by Lance Armstrong, is entering a new era now that the cyclist has stepped down as chairperson in the face of a damning doping report.
"Lance's direction was 'Stay focused on your work. Do not be distracted.' And that's exactly what we've done," Katherine McLane, vice president of communications for Livestrong, told AFP on Thursday.
"Has it been tough? Absolutely. But have we kept ourselves focused, kept ourselves devoted to serving people? Absolutely."
Armstrong said on Wednesday he was stepping aside rather than see Livestrong impacted by the fallout from revelations that a doping scheme was at the heart of his seven Tour de France triumphs from 1999-2005, the worst scandal in a sport tarred by cheating.
Sponsors Nike and Anheuser-Busch promptly dumped endorsement deals with Armstrong, Nike pointing to "seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade."
However, McLane said that she believed many who had benefited from Livestrong's programs continued to view Armstrong not as a drug cheat but as a cancer survivor who used his experience to reach out to others.
"I don't think that changes," she said. "I think people are still identifying Lance as a survivor of a very, very tough experience. And that doesn't go away.
"People here at the foundation, and I think within the cancer community, know Lance in a very different way than a larger public person, as a cyclist.
"They know someone who has devoted 15 years of his life to a very noble cause, and that's helping people affected by cancer. They know someone who has donated $6.5m to the work of this foundation."
McLane said support for the foundation had been strong. Donations actually increased after the US Anti-Doping Agency announced in August that it was banning Armstrong for life for a string of doping violations throughout his career.
"We have been very very grateful that donations to the foundation and support for the foundation is remaining very very strong, especially in the last month or so," McLane said.
But Armstrong opted to step away amid the furore over last week's massive report from USADA that detailed the basis for its sanctions.
Daniel Borochoff, president of the non-profit watchdog CharityWatch, agreed that Livestrong had to distance itself from the scandal.
"The quicker they move away from him the better off they'll be," he said.
But Borochoff, whose organisation gives Livestrong a top rating, said a reduced role for Armstrong is bound to change the Livestrong.
"He's the person who brought it all together. He's created the culture within the organization having such a domineering influence over it," Borochoff said. "There certainly will be changes if he's involved to a lesser extent."