Journalism and whistleblowing helped expose Armstrong

Morning View
Morning View

Thanks in part to brave and painstaking journalism by the Sunday Times, the serial cheat and liar Lance Armstrong was ultimately unveiled in his true colours.

The cyclist who won the Tour de France seven times was also a bully who sued that newspaper and won handsome damages in his determined bid to suppress any word of his relentless cheating and lying.

The episode helped to illustrate the need for libel reform in the UK, to offer protection for those publishing material on a matter of public interest and to require that plaintiffs show that they have suffered serious harm to succeed in a claim.

David Walsh, one of the Sunday Times journalists who pursued Armstrong, would later observe that if it had not been for the pre-reformed libel laws, the cyclist “might not have won the Tour De France seven times and the history of sport would be different and better”.

Yesterday, a journalist who worked with Walsh to expose Armstrong, Paul Kimmage, was in Belfast to speak at an event on whistleblowing.

Kimmage was a cyclist himself before he reported, but he soon realised that the top level of his sport was dominated by performance-enhancing drugs.

His 1990 book exposed the law of silence surrounding the issue of drugs in the sport. Modestly, Kimmage believes that the book “changed nothing”.

But even if that is true, the book, and his later journalism, were resoundingly vindicated in the end.

Kimmage believes whistleblowers are generally regarded positively, but not in sport.

The Lance Armstrong saga illustrated two things: the need for libel reform in the UK, which has happened in England but has not been extended to Northern Ireland.

Also the need for societies and organisations to value and protect whistleblowers who expose serious wrongdoing that might otherwise never come to light.