FORMER cyclist Lance Armstrong could head off the threat of million-dollar lawsuits if he confesses to doping when he appears on American chat show Oprah next week, according to a leading sports public relations expert.
Armstrong has always maintained his innocence but stopped contesting allegations from the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in August and has since been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life.
His scheduled appearance on Oprah next Thursday, in which he is due to be quizzed on the claims, has heightened speculation that he is considering a public admission.
Such a move would appear to increase his exposure to lawsuits and perjury charges, but Rebecca Hopkins, managing director of ENS Sports PR and founder of the Sports Reputation Group, believes it could work in his favour.
“This may be a very canny move as there are a lot of aggrieved stakeholders out there who want significant retribution,” she told City A.M. “If his plan is to position himself as more wronged than wronging, he could swing public opinion so any entity looking for vengeance risks looking like the less righteous party. It would be a long shot but not beyond the realms of achievement.”
A Dallas insurance company is claiming $7.5m in bonuses for his Tour wins from the Texan, while British newspaper the Sunday Times is seeking the return of a $500,000 libel settlement.
“I imagine his sponsors would be in a better position to contest winning bonuses than any other investment they made in him,” added Hopkins. “In fairness, he would have given them value for money at the time they were working together.”
Despite his lifetime ban from cycling, Armstrong, 41, is thought to be mulling a return to competitive sport in the marathon or triathlon, and Hopkins, whose company’s clients have included the Lawn Tennis Association, Arsenal and Saracens, believes he could yet mend his damaged public image.
“History is littered with comebacks so it is entirely feasible that he could win people over – don’t forget that many people love him for his charity work, not for how many yellow jerseys he accrued,” she said.
“Sports fans hate cheats and Armstrong’s biggest disadvantage would be that he doesn’t have the opportunity to prove himself again in his sport.
“Either way, his road to redemption is going to be a long one.”