The South Australian government wants disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong to return the money he was paid to race at the Tour Down Under after his reported confession to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
As news broke Monday night that Armstrong had confessed to doping in a recorded interview with Winfrey, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, who replaced former premier Mike Rann as state Labor leader in 2011, said the state would seek the repayment of several million dollars in appearance fees paid to Armstrong.
He said the 41-year-old Texan "has deceived the cycling community around the world" by repeatedly denying the use of performance-enhancing drugs during a career in which he won the Tour de France seven times, ITV wrote.
Weatherill said his government had received legal advice that it had no legal power to demand the repayment of taxpayers' money, however, he said Armstrong had a "moral" duty to return the money.
"We'd be more than happy for Mr. Armstrong to make any repayment of monies to us," Weatherill said, adding: "He's a cheat and deceived people."
The Australian city of Adelaide had a small but important part in Armstrong’s career. The Tour Down Under, based in the city, was the first event he contested when he made a comeback to professional cycling in 2009, he came back again in 2010, and his third appearance in the race in 2011 was also his last on cycling’s ProTour, Canada's National Post writes.
The Herald Sun reported the South Australian government paid appearance fees, believed to be up to $3 million per year, to Armstrong through Tourism South Australia to build the profile of the race and promote tourism.
That effort was hugely successful; hundreds of thousands watched the race live and millions more saw it on television each time Armstrong competed. In 2009, the event generated $39 million for the South Australian economy, says the SA Government.
Politicizing the Tour Down Under
But Armstrong's first appearance at the Tour Down Under came in controversial circumstances because former Premier Mike Rann - who was nicknamed "Ranny" by Armstrong.- helped cut the deal to lure Armstrong to town.
This move raised eyebrows among politicians two months before an election, saying Armstrong's fee was "backdoor" political advertising since Armstrong endorsed Premier Rann.
Appearing with Rann at a joint press conference, Armstrong predicted Rann would win the March 20 election, describing his friend as an "old pro".
Adelaide Nowwrites that this appearance angered Independent MP David Winderlich who said it was "completely inappropriate" for a celebrity paid "millions of dollars" by the taxpayer to take sides on political debate.
"Can I say, in the nicest possible way, get back on your bike Lance and leave the election to the people who live here and love this state," Winderlich said. "He doesn't live here, he doesn't vote here."
Winderlich added: "Lance's comments are politicizing the Tour Down Under."
The International Cycling Union approved Armstrong’s participation
Also, according to The Telegraph, the cyclist had not completed his biological passport, the program that tracks fluctuations in blood values over time, for six months prior to the competition, but the International Cycling Union (UCI), though, waived their ruling to allow Armstrong to race:
“The International Cycling Union has decided to approve Lance Armstrong’s participation in the forthcoming Tour Down Under in Australia, to be held on January 20 to 25, the first event of the 2009 UCI ProTour,” the UCI said in October 2008.
“According to Article 77 of the anti-doping regulations introduced in 2004, a retired rider may only return to competition by informing the UCI six months in advance in order to allow him/her to be available for out-of-competition testing.
“Consequently, Lance Armstrong would only be able to return to the sport at international level from February 2009 1, a week after the end of the Australian event.
“In respect of this situation, the UCI has taken into account the progress made in its anti-doping programme since 2004. As a result of the improvements implemented, riders are now subject to a much-reinforced system of monitoring compared with that of the past.
“Consequently, the aim of Article 77 at the time of its introduction in 2004 [to ensure that a rider returning to competition is subject to the same degree of testing as active riders] can be better achieved through careful application of the current methods of the anti-doping programme than by the strict application of a time period.
“The UCI can confirm that Lance Armstrong has and will be the subject of very strict monitoring throughout the period running up to his return to the peloton."
But following the United States Anti-Doping Agency's damning 1,000-page report into Armstrong and the systematic doping program employed by his US Postal Service and Discovery Channel team, it has been alleged that the Texan donated around £62,000 ($100,000) to the International Cycling Union (UCI), the sport’s governing body, which led to accusations of bribery and hush money. Those allegations are now the subject of an internal investigation which is due to report its findings in April.