British Armstrong effigy causes outrage

Updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri November 2, 2012

Story highlights

British town to burn Lance Armstrong effigy in Bonfire Night celebrations

Bonfire Night commemorates the foiling of Guy Fawkes' plot to kill King James I in 1605

The Edenbridge Bonfire Society has a reputation for constructing giant celebrity "Guys"

Soccer star Mario Balotelli, Tony Blair and Saddam Hussein are past "victims"

CNN —  

A plan to burn an effigy of Lance Armstrong – and adorn it with references to Jimmy Savile, the British broadcaster accused of child sex offenses – has caused outrage.

The residents of an English town want to set ablaze a giant likeness of the cyclist this weekend as part of an annual ritual that focuses on popular hate-figures.

The nine-meter high structure has around its neck a medal referencing Jimmy Savile, who died a year ago at the age of 84 and is now the center an investigation into hundreds of allegations of child sex abuse.

The effigy, organized by the Edenbridge Bonfire Society, has already been criticized by members of the public ahead of the planned November 5 burning.

“Shame on you for selecting Lance Armstrong as your guy; who has personally raised over $500 million for cancer charities,” read a comment from one visitor to the society’s website on Thursday.

“What message are you trying to project? If the organizing committee had any morals or backbone you would scrap this decision and to further associate him with Jimmy Savile is disgraceful.”

Lance Armstrong’s demise: How an all-American hero fell to earth

Annual bonfire celebrations and fireworks displays are held across Britain on November 5 to mark a failed attempt by Guy Fawkes and others to blow up the houses of parliament and kill King James I in 1605. Fawkes was hanged as punishment for his part in the “gunpowder plot.”

Where once the November 5 ritual of burning effigies reflected political turmoil and dissension among the population, now it has become a family event controlled by strict rules and regulations – but one where the wry British sense of mischief still emerges, making targets of establishment figures.

Bonfires are traditionally decorated with a stuffed “Guy,” but Edenbridge Bonfire Society has gained a reputation for using celebrities instead.

In 2011 it was controversial Manchester City soccer star Mario Balotelli, who caused a fire by setting off fireworks in his own home despite being the face of a firework safety campaign.

Other celebrity “victims” have included former British prime minister Tony Blair, ex-French president Jacques Chirac and deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

This year it is a yellow-jersey clad Armstrong holding a sign saying: “For Sale Racing Bike, No Longer Required.” The effigy also has a medal reading “Jim Fixed It For Me” – a reference to one of the television shows formerly hosted by Savile.

Lance Armstrong’s epic downfall

Another comment on the Edenbridge society’s website read: “Burning an effigy of a living person is disgraceful and wrong! I hope that all good minded people will condemn these actions. English people are today being broadcast in the news worldwide as effigy burners.

“These actions providing temporary laughs to a small minded mob will potentially have longer lasting negative repercussions around the world.”

Another said: “Lance Armstrong is 2 people a sportsman and a Cancer crusader whose efforts have helped thousands of people around the world. To pair him up with a child sex offender is unjust!”

Many societies similar to the body in Edenbridge exist across the county of Kent. The annual displays commemorate both Guy Fawkes and the deaths of 17 Protestant martyrs, known as “The Sussex Martyrs,” between 1555 and 1557.

The Edenbridge society said it had considered depicting Savile, British chancellor George Osbourne or extradited Muslim cleric Abu Hamza.

“We had a shortlist which included Jimmy Savile but it was decided it would not be nice to use him as a lot of children attend the bonfire and they might start asking their parents questions,” its co-ordinator Charles Laver told the UK Press Association.

“Then we had George Osborne but he hasn’t really got a face that everyone knows and he’s just a chap in a suit. We felt he would be a bit boring.

“We started to do Abu Hamza but then we decided we weren’t entirely happy to do him, so Lance Armstrong came out of the woodwork. He’s better because he’s brighter … We’re very pleased with it.”

Meanwhile, the fallout from the Armstrong doping scandal – which led to the American being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and told to pay back millions of dollars in prize money and sponsorships – continues in the world of cycling.

The International Olympic Committee announced Thursday that it will investigate whether to strip the 41-year-old of the bronze medal he won at the 2000 Sydney Games.

One of Armstrong’s former teammates, Australian Matt White, was forced off the Orica-GreenEDGE team after admitting to using performance-enhancing substances during his professional career.

White rode on Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team between 2001 and 2003. His confession is the latest in a series of admissions from pros within the sport.

Team Sky, which boasts 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins among its ranks, parted company with team director Steven de Jongh after the Dutchman admitted to taking banned substances during his 14-year career.

American coach Bobby Julich also left the British team last week after coming clean regarding past doping offenses.

Doping scandal costs Armstrong sponsors, charity role