Nike drops Armstrong as he steps down as charity head

"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," the sporting goods giant said on Wednesday.

Armstrong announced he was stepping down as chairperson of his Livestrong cancer-fighting charity so the group could focus on its mission instead of the doping allegations surrounding the former cycling champion.

The move came a week after the US Anti-Doping Agency released a massive report detailing accusations of widespread doping by Armstrong and his teams when he won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005. The document's purpose was to show why the agency banned him from cycling for life and ordered 14 years of his career results erased – including those Tour titles. It contained sworn statements from 26 witnesses, including 11 former teammates.

Armstrong, who was not paid a salary as chairperson of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, will remain on its 15-member board. His duties leading the board will be turned over to vice-chairperson Jeff Garvey, who was founding chairperson in 1997.

"This organisation, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart," Armstrong said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press. "Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairpersonship."

Foundation spokesperson Katherine McLane said the decision turns over the foundation's big-picture strategic planning to Garvey. He will also assume some of the public appearances and meetings that Armstrong used to handle.

Inspiring story
Armstrong strongly denied doping, but did not fight the agency's accusations through arbitration, adding he thought the process was unfair. Once Armstrong gave up the fight in August and the report came out, crisis management experts predicted the future of the foundation, known mainly by its Livestrong brand name, would be threatened. They said Armstrong should consider stepping down to keep the charity from getting dragged into a debate over doping.

Armstrong's inspiring story of not only recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain but then winning the world's best-known bike race helped his foundation grow from a small operation in Texas into one of the most popular charities in the country.

Armstrong drew legions of fans – and donations – and insisted he was drug free at a time when doping was rampant in professional cycling. In 2004, the foundation introduced the yellow Livestrong bracelets, selling more than 80-million and creating a global symbol for cancer awareness and survivorship.

"As my cancer treatment was drawing to an end, I created a foundation to serve people affected by cancer. It has been a great privilege to help grow it from a dream into an organisation that today has served 2.5-million people and helped spur a cultural shift in how the world views cancer survivors," Armstrong said.

As chairperson, Armstrong did not run the foundation's day-to-day operations, which are handled by Livestrong president and chief executive Doug Ulman.

Ulman had said last week that Armstrong's leadership role would not change. Armstrong's statement said he will remain a visible advocate for cancer issues, and he is expected to speak at Friday night's 15th anniversary gala for Livestrong in Austin.

"My family and I have devoted our lives to the work of the foundation and that will not change. We plan to continue our service to the foundation and the cancer community. We will remain active advocates for cancer survivors and engaged supporters of the fight against cancer," Armstrong said.

Top-rated organisation
CharityWatch, which analyses the work of approximately 600 charities, lists the foundation among its top-rated organisations. That status normally goes to groups which "generally spend 75% or more of their budgets on programs, spend $25 or less to raise $100 in public support, do not hold excessive assets in reserve" and disclose of basic financial information and documents.

Livestrong says it had functional expenses totaling nearly $35.8-million last year and 82% of every dollar raised went directly to programs, a total of more than $29.3-million.

The foundation reported a spike in contributions in late August in the days immediately after Armstrong announced he would no longer fight doping charges and officials moved to erase his Tour victories.

Daniel Borochoff, founder and president of Chicago-based CharityWatch, said last week it may take some time for donors to digest the allegations against Armstrong.

"Individuals that admire and support an individual who is later found out to be severely tarnished, don't want to admit it, don't want to admit that they've been duped," Borochoff said. "People, though, do need to trust a charity to be able to support it." – Sapa-AP

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