UPDATE 10/22/2012: Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life from cycling, the International Cycling Union said on Monday, Reuters reports.
Though Lance Armstrong has stepped down as chairman of Livestrong, some donors say it’s not enough of a concession and want their money back.
The disgraced cyclist gave up his prominent role Wednesday at the organization he founded to support cancer patients amid an escalating doping scandal. While the testicular cancer survivor said he’s separated from the nonprofit to spare it from having to deal with any “negative effects” of his controversy, some supporters are still fuming and want their charity dollars returned.
"The charity was established and publicized and got their funds based on a fraud," Michael Birdsong, a longtime Livestrong supporter, told CNN.
Birdsong got involved with the organization after his wife, who is an avid cyclist, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Together, the couple donated $50,000, helped raise another $150,000 and defended Armstrong’s reputation up until a massive U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report detailed allegations of his using performance-enhancing drugs and coercing his teammates to do the same.
"The whole thing is founded on a lie. The guy cheated, and he forced other people to cheat,” Birdsong told CNN. “I would like my money back. We donated under false pretenses."
But as Livestrong rang in its 15th anniversary on Friday night, the seven-time Tour de France winner, who has recently lost major sponsorships –- including Nike and Anheuser-Busch -- didn’t directly address the drug charges. However, he did encourage the crowd to stand with the nonprofit that has raised $500 million.
"I am ... truly humbled by your support," Armstrong said after receiving a standing ovation at the organization's gala, according to the AP. "It's been an interesting couple of weeks. It's been a difficult couple of weeks for me and my family, my friends and this foundation."
Armstrong, who will stay on as a board member at Livestrong, reminded the audience at the nonprofit’s gala that there are still 28 million people worldwide living with cancer and urged the crowd to keep fighting for sufferers and survivors.
While some donors, like Birdsong, feel as though they’ve been burned by the organization that raises cancer awareness and offers support to cancer patients, experts say that the organization will likely survive.
"People remain aligned to the cause and the mission without being solely aligned to Lance Armstrong," Marian Stern, a philanthropy consultant and head of Projects in Philanthropy, told the Daily Beast.
And though it remains to be seen how the fallout will affect donations in the long term, as of now it appears that Livestrong is actually faring quite well.
Within 24 hours of Armstrong’s declaration in August that he would stop fighting the USADA’s charges, a statement that meant that he would accept losing his titles and a lifelong cycling ban, the organization saw unsolicited donations climb nearly 25 times from the day before.
The organization hopes that by continuing to distinguish the nonprofit’s mission from Armstrong’s troubles it will be able to motivate its supporters to remain involved.
"We're proud of our history and we're excited to celebrate,” Doug Ulman, Livestrong president and chief executive told the AP. “We've heard from so many grass-roots supporters, program partners, corporate partners and a lot of them are doubling down, saying they are going to come back even stronger in 2013.”
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