SA may come clean on Lance cash
THE amount of Australian taxpayer money paid to Lance Armstrong may yet be disclosed by a South Australian government under renewed pressure to declare how it lured the now-disgraced cyclist to Tour Down Under three times.
After pre-eminent anti-doping expert Michael Ashenden told Fairfax Media that Tour Down Under “prostituted itself” by paying Armstrong to race in Australia's premier cycling event from 2009-2011, South Australian premier Jay Weatherill suggested the current government may relent by disclosing the controversial investment.
Mike Rann was South Australian Premier when Armstrong was lured with three enormous appearance fees – unprecedented for Tour Down Under – which, before Armstrong's downfall, were trumpeted by race director Mike Turtur as a bargain.
It's estimated Armstrong earned between $3 million-$9 million for racing in Australia, but the government has never disclosed it, citing commercial confidence. Ashenden told Fairfax Media that in his view that reason was “faceless bureaucrats” making “lame excuses”.
Premier Weatherill, though a cabinet member in Rann's government, attempted to distance himself from the matter on Tuesday, the first day of the 15th edition of Tour Down Under.
Weatherill's office has refused requests from Fairfax Media to comment on the matter but pointed to a radio interview the Premier did on Tuesday.
“This was done under Mike Rann's era so I haven't been in the portfolio where this money's been allocated,” Weatherill told 5AA.
“But I think the point about it is that, up to this point, our advice has been that to reveal any of the information about how much we're prepared to spend on the Tour Down Under would be something that would be information that our competitors would like.
“They'd like to know how much we shell out for these sorts of events, including what we pay for celebrity cyclists to come here. That would assist them in making a sort of bid to capture this event. So that's the advice we have at the moment and that's the advice that I'm presently acting on.”
Media adviser to the Premier, Jarrad Pilkington, said “we don't have anything else to add at this time”.
Armstrong maintains he was clean after he returned to cycling in 2009, but the US Anti-Doping Agency's "reasoned decision" indicates that this is unlikely.
Ashenden says there was "plentiful" evidence around in 2009 that should have cautioned Tour Down Under bosses and the South Australian government about Armstrong, and that they should at least have ensured they wrote clauses into their agreements with the American about doping.
Weatherill last week lamented the lack of legal grounds for his government to recoup the funds paid to Armstrong, but said: "We'd be more than happy for Mr Armstrong to make any repayment of monies to us. He's a cheat and deceived people."