Has Adelaide’s Flinders University and its Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer — incorporating the LIVESTRONG Cancer Research Centre — been caught up in the murky web of relationships around Lance Armstrong and his related companies the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Livestrong.org and Livestrong.com?
There is now no doubt Armstrong is a fraud. As ABC journalist Francis Leach said yesterday on the ABC’s Offsiders:
“The thing about Lance Armstrong that really gets to me … is the lying, conceit and the deceit … and what I believe is increasingly evident that he [Armstrong] built a firewall around his integrity with the Livestrong charity by which he basically made us all accomplices to his fantasy.”
The Livestrong charity is a strange creature. As Bill Gifford noted in a revealing article on Armstrong and his associated compainies in Outside Magazine in February this year:
“Livestrong and Lance are like conjoined twins, each depending on the other for survival. Separating them—or even figuring out where one ends and the other begins—is no small task. The foundation is a major reason why sponsors are attracted to Armstrong; as his agent Bill Stapleton put it in 2001, his survivor story “broadened and deepened the brand … and then everybody wanted him.” But the reverse is also true: Without Lance, Livestrong would be just another cancer charity scrapping for funds …
“Most people are unaware that there are two Livestrong websites. Livestrong.org is the site for the nonprofit Lance Armstrong Foundation, while Livestrong.com is a somewhat similar-looking page that features the same Livestrong logo and design but is actually a for-profit content farm owned by Demand Media.”
I believe it is fair to say Armstrong and his associated companies had — have — at least some of the hallmarks of a cult. There was a degree of control and uniformity: the branding using the ubiquitous yellow LIVESTRONG rubber wrist-bands; the importance of joining and attending mass rallies; the implied stigma of leaving and the emphasis on the single charismatic leader.
Armstrong’s worlds — professional and business — have slowly been crumbling around him, hastened by the release last week of the damning report by the US Anti-Doping Agency, which says of Armstrong that:
“USADA has found proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Lance Armstrong engaged in serial cheating through the use, administration and trafficking of performance enhancing drugs and methods and that Armstrong participated in running the US Postal Service Team as a doping conspiracy. Armstrong and his co-conspirators sought to achieve their ambitions through a massive fraud now more fully exposed. So ends one of the most sordid chapters in sports history … Lance Armstrong violated the applicable anti-doping rules ,that his competitive results achieved since August 1 1998, should be, and are, disqualified and that he is properly and appropriately ruled ineligible for life …”
You can read the 202 pages of USADA’s “Reasoned Decision” and the 800-or-so pages of supporting material via the USADA website. There is no shortage of other material on the web and both The Guardian and the wonderful fora at Cycling News provide useful analysis, news and views.
Flinders and Armstrong entered into a relationship soon after Armstrong’s return to professional cycling at the 2009 Tour Down Under around the streets of Adelaide. Armstrong would “give” the Livestrong name to the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer (FCIC), the research wing of which would be named the LIVESTRONG Cancer Research Centre. That research centre was commissioned in late April 2012.
Soon after the announcement of the relationship with Armstrong it became clear there were some serious questions to be answered. In part these arose from analyses of Armstrong’s business dealings elsewhere and through a whispering campaign in South Australia’s small political and bureaucratic class, where, despite the best attempts by then-premier Mike Rann to keep all deals with Armstrong a secret, some real concerns were being raised about the deal between Armstrong and the Flinders Medical Centre — among other aspects of the pair’s very cosy relationship.
In January 2011 I sent the following questions to senior staff at the Flinders Medical Centre:
1 – Has the Flinders Medical Centre and/or related organisations or entities made any payment to Mr Lance Armstrong, Livestrong.org, Livestrong.com, the LAF or any other organisation or entity associated with Mr Armstrong, for the use of the trade mark “LIVESTRONG”?
2 – If any payment was made please advise of the following:
(a) Was that payment made by the FMC or a related entity?
(b) If not the FMC or a related entity, was that payment made by the South Australian government or some other entity? Please provide details.
(c) When was that payment made and what was the amount of the payment?
(d) Was that payment made personally to Mr Lance Armstrong? If not, please advise to whom, or to which entity associated with Mr Armstrong, payment was made?
(e) If the payment was for the licensing of the use of the LIVESTRONG™ trademark, what was the period of that license?
(f) Please advise of any other relevant conditions to the licensing or use of the trademark LIVESTRONG™, either on behalf of Mr Armstrong, the LAF or associated entities or on behalf of the FMC or any related entity.
3 – If no payment was made to Mr Armstrong, the LAF or associated entities, please provide details of the conditions under which the rights to use the the trademark LIVESTRONG™ was granted to the FMC or related entities.
4 – Has Mr Armstrong – or any entity related to him – been paid by FMC or any related entity by way of an attendance or similar fee for his appearances at events arranged for or on behalf of the FMC or the LIVESTRONG™ Cancer Research Centre? If so, please provide details of any such payments, including amounts, dates of payments, source of the payments and to whom such payments were made,
5 – Has the FMC or any related entity made payments to Mr Armstrong or any entity related to him in relation to concerning travel, transport or accommodation expenses incurred by Mr Armstrong or his associates for his attendance at or activities related to the LIVESTRONG™ Cancer Research Centre or the FMC. This includes, but is not restricted to, payment for items such as fuel or other costs associated with the aircraft used by Mr Armstrong to travel to and from Adelaide.
6 – Please advise of any payments or contributions by way of cash or pledges to the FMC, the LIVESTRONG™ Cancer Research Centre or related entities by Mr Armstrong, the LAF or related entities.
7 – Please advise whether staff employed by either the FMC, LIVESTRONG™ Cancer Research Centre or related entities negotiated the arrangements for the licensing of the LIVESTRONG™ trademark. If not negotiated by or on behalf of the FMC by FMC staff please advise who conducted those negotiations.
As I said in my original email to the Flinders Medical Centre I was interested in:
“… the commercial and non-commercial relationships between the Flinders Medical Centre (the FMC) and related organisations or entities, including the LIVESTRONG Cancer Research Centre, and Mr Lance Armstrong and various entities connected with him, including Livestrong.org, Livestrong.com and the Lance Armstrong Foundation, commonly known as the LAF.”
And as I told readers in the post where I first raised this issue:
“I want to make it clear that I do not know whether Flinders did pay Armstrong or any organisations associated with him for the use of the trademark LIVESTRONG™ or the other matters raised here. What I was seeking from Flinders was confirmation as to the nature of those arrangements. I think it is important that these questions be asked – particularly because we know so little … about the arrangements between Armstrong and the South Australian government and other agencies in that state.”
Last Saturday I again sent my questions to Flinders — this time a little higher up the food chain to the Vice-Chancellor of the Flinders University, Professor Michael Barber, advising I would like a response by early this morning. Earlier today I received the following response from a Flinders University spokesperson:
“The Livestrong Cancer Research Centre was established within the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer (FCIC) by the Flinders Medical Centre Foundation, the fund-raising arm of the Flinders Medical Centre. While Flinders University is a research partner in FCIC, it was not formally party to the establishment of the Livestrong Cancer Research Centre and is thus not in a position to respond to your questions regarding any financial or legal relationships between FCIC and Livestrong Cancer Research Centre. Our work with Livestrong, a large international organisation that has achieved amazing strides forward for cancer survivors around the world, aligns closely with our focus on cancer prevention.”
Those who know the details of the deal between Flinders and Armstrong would be wise to look at the recent conduct of Livestrong and its staff in defence of the brand – and its one big asset. This is from Bill Gifford in The Guardian last Friday:
“A year ago, I predicted that Armstrong would lose his Tour titles. I did not foresee, however, the extent to which Livestrong would be enlisted in his defence. Every time there was a new eruption in the doping case, it seemed, Livestrong was launching some sort of new campaign or new “outpouring of support” for cancer survivors. Anything to change the subject. His lawyers shamelessly cited Livestrong in their letters and press releases, and even in court filings. On more than one occasion, Livestrong-paid lobbyists were reported to have questioned congressmen and senators about the USADA investigation. Charity funds were apparently being used to help the charity’s founder avoid doping sanctions. Again: how is that OK? Why would anyone (but a true believer) ever write them a cheque, ever again?
“Livestrong may survive this storm. If it does, one would hope that it is because of the public’s generosity toward its cancer-stricken fellows, and not because people have suddenly decided, in the 21st century, that poor ethics don’t matter any more, so long as the person in question has done sufficient charity work (historical note: the Catholic church tried that during the middle ages, selling indulgences to make up for sins. It didn’t work out so well).
“My analysis of Livestrong’s behaviour and its spending, though, leads to one inescapable conclusion. In order to survive, perhaps it needs to strip Lance Armstrong of one more title: chairman.”