UPDATED: Lance Armstrong has reportedly withdrawn from a planned return to competitive sport this weekend at the Masters South Central Zone Swimming Championships in his home city of Austin, Texas after the sport's international governing body, FINA, wrote to organisers to block his participation.
The disgraced cyclist was banned from sport for life last year, but that only applies to events put on by organisations ultimately subject to the provisions of the World Anti-Doping Code, which ahdn't appeared to be the case here.
However, FINA, alerted to Armstrong's planned participation as a result of media coverage, wrote to organisers US Masters Swimming and said that the event did fall under its umbrella, and cited its rule 15.1, which outlines that athletes serving a doping ban cannot compete and that anti-doping sanctions must be respected.
In a statement, it said: "Therefore, FINA wrote a letter to the US Masters Swimming (with copy to US Aquatic Sports and USA Swimming) requesting not to accept the entry of Mr. Lance Armstrong in the above mentioned competition."
Armstrong has now been reported to have withdrawn from the event.
Earlier, the Austin-American Statesman, Armstrong, aged 41, would be racing in three events at the competition, which was reported not to be subject to the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s anti doping programme. The races he was due to compete in were the 500-, 1,000- and 1,650-yard freestyle, and is seeded either second or third in each of those.
If that seeding had proved accurate, it would mean that in those three races, Armstrong, who cheated his way to seven Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005, would be have denied someone else a place on the podium.
The 41-year-old’s planned presence at the meet wasn't universally welcomed by his fellow competitors, most of whom will be older than him. One, Jamie Cleveland, who owns Hill Country Running and Texas Ironman Multi-Sport Coaching, told the newspaper: “This whole masters swimming is him trying to sidestep his punishment.
“I’ve been an endurance athlete all my life,” he went on. “I’ve taken great joy in discovering my limits; I’ve taken great joy in challenging my limits. It really irks me that [Armstrong] has admitted to doping and he’s shown no remorse.”
Organisers had insisted, however, that they had received no objections to Armstrong taking part in the competition, with Rob Butcher, executive director of US Masters Swimming, telling the newspaper. “The purpose of our organisation is to encourage adults to swim.”
In the wake of his confession of doping to Oprah Winfrey in January, the athlete discussed making a formal confession with USADA, but those talks broke down, with the agency saying that Armstrong – who is currently being investigated by federal authorities – was concerned about the potential legal implications of making a full disclosure.
The motivation for Armstrong in making a confession – he has said he would be prepared to take part in any potential truth and reconciliation process organised outside of USADA – would have been for his ban to be reduced to eight years, allowing him to return to competing in sanctioned events such as triathlons.
For now, he is able to feed his competitive instincts solely through taking part in non-sanctioned events, but as US Masters Swimming found out, his presence at any event brings with it a perhaps unwelcome media spotlight and risks alienating other competitors.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.