UCI Corruption?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

“Embattled” is word to describe the UCI President. Often Pat McQuaid is on the back foot, having to fight a rearguard defence to protect his organisation. The sport’s governing body does plenty of good, from regulating quirky forms of indoor cycling to encouraging the sport in Indonesia but iceberg-like, it’s the area of pro cycling that stands out.

No wonder, this is the high profile area of the sport and it’s the UCI’s biggest source of income. It’s also where the organisation gets quite muddled.

A tendency to be surrounded by friends

Take today’s news. In response to more allegations from Floyd Landis, McQuaid employs a bold defence, stating “there has never been corruption at the UCI“, in particular refuting the idea that the UCI “fixed” a positive test by Lance Armstrong. If Landis is chucking mud, McQuaid is entitled to scrub this away.

What I’m more interested in is a trend when UCI has not necessarily shown corruption but gets confused and and how this leaves to body open to allegations. Let’s look at a few examples…

…et le blancmange Vrijman

First, since Armstrong and the UCI are in the frame thanks to Armstrong, let’s take the Vrijman Report. This was commissioned by the UCI after L’Equipe let rip with allegations of EPO abuse by the Texan. Written by Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman, it had more holes than an Emmentaler. For starters Vrijman himself was close to UCI honcho Hein Verbruggen: no sensible organisation appoints a friend to conduct a serious investigation, it leaves you open to questions before a single word gets typed. But it’s not just the propensity of the UCI to leave itself open to allegations, the report came in for substantial contempt. None other than WADA issued a withering rebuke, saying “Mr. Vrijman’s report is fallacious in many aspects and misleading“, adding it was a “a flawed and partial document“.

Note that in the same interview McQuaid suggests the IOC could investigate the UCI. But again, this is asking a friend to look into your affairs. Pat McQuaid is an IOC member.

There are more examples. Look at the cases of riders who test positive. Some can comeback after their ban but others find their paths are blocked: phonecalls have been made. See how Ivan Basso can ride but Di Luca is blocked from the Giro or look at Michael Rasmussen. Landis says that if you get busted, trying to take the UCI down with you is a sure-fire route to unemployment.

Plus there’s the tendency to sweep bad news under the carpet. Whistleblowers are treated with suspicion at best and often with contempt. When Austrian rider Bernard Kohl said he was doping and flew under the bio-passport radar this was dismissed but the techniques are now recognised by the UCI itself. The defensive tendency to rebut criticism just wastes time.

Riders and fans aren’t the only disappointed ones. Speaking in 2007, Tour de France patron Christian Prudhomme said

“I respect the UCI, but right now I trust nobody — least of all the UCI. We were ready to work with the UCI to fight doping and have supported them financially. But when you have made an alliance, looked the other person right in the eyes, then you expect to be told the truth. But that didn’t happen… …You can’t make the Tour de France responsible for everything… We also have an international federation, but they are worth nothing. The UCI never wanted a clean Tour.”

And there are examples of minor corruption. Take the 1997 World Championships, the men’s elite winner was Laurent Brochard and he tested positive for lidocaine but a back-dated TUE letter was used and the UCI nodded this through. Similarly there are allegations of the same trick in relation to Lance Armstrong and cortisone from 1999.

We’ve got flaky ethics, double standards, apparent cover-ups, disappointed race organisers and a reticence to listen to whistleblowers. Yet I’ve kept things concise to make a point rather than list every case possible.

In defence of the UCI
It’s not an easy job. With some of the things listed above we should realise it takes two to tango. ASO has its agenda and heaping blame onto the UCI is a handy deflection exercise for a company seeking to protect its golden goose. Rasmussen’s problems aren’t just a blacklist but he’s in his late thirties and doesn’t have much to offer. Maybe Brochard’s doctor was sloppy with paperwork?

Conclusion
Corruption? Well the example of accepting back-dated TUE stinks. But things have moved a bit from the days of Mr Verbruggen. Today I don’t find the stench of corruption, rather the whiff of organisation that’s sloppy and defensive. It’s more a case of cock-up than conspiracy, an institutional tendency to bungle things rather than trying more sinister routes. The good news is that you can fix incompetence and irregularity a lot more easily than a culture of total corruption.

If I’m critical here, this isn’t meant to skewer people. I’d love it if someone in Aigle reads this and thought “yes, maybe we could fix things, we can go further” rather than take this as a blogger pointing fingers for the sake of aggro, that’s not what I’m about. The UCI is going in the right direction – witness the publication of its finances – but it’s at the pace of a Swiss glacier. So the above isn’t personal, it’s a call for the organisation to improve. Although leadership plays a part.

Remember, better standards are like a waterproof jacket: when someone starts chucking mud, it washes off faster.

Anonymous February 3, 2011 at 12:16 pm

+ 1.

It's like the opposite of 'crying wolf', when someone says the UCI is bent, everyone believes it rather than trusting the UCI.

Anonymous February 3, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I think it would take a lot to turn around the UCI. You can fix some things but I can't see it happening.

TheInnerRing February 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Anonymous 1: good analogy. That's part of the problem, it lacks credibility and often this means good news gets ignored.

Anonymous 2: things are improving. As I've said before, if the UCI want the sport to rub shoulders with big global brands and companies then it needs to adopt the same standards and business practices. The nods and winks, the confused messages and the arbitrary/sudden rule changes all have to stop.

But like I say, this is a managerial issue and you can fix this. Not overnight but you can make a start.

Anonymous February 4, 2011 at 4:41 am

The UCI is a joke. The Kimmage-Landis Transcript is released and the UCI leader says, "I read some of it. It got boring half-way through. I'll read the rest on a plane some time. I got about a third of the way in."

First, so, he only read 1/3 of it, but it got boring half way in? What the hell does this mean? This is the leader of this organization and an IOC member!

Second, idiotic statement aside, when something such as this transcript releases, the leader the organization should at least read it. Or maybe he has – but if so, say "no comment" or at least figure out how to speak properly about it.

Does Steve Jobs say, "I'm bored" when a company releases something unfavorable about Apple? No, a CEO stands up, makes an intelligent statement and represents the company and their interests faithfully. McQuid, stands up, and represents cycling's governing body with the Lance Armstrong excuse – "We like our word". This guy and his organization must go. His snide remarks – "I'm bored" – represent what is wrong with the governing body.

Toss em out. They're scum.

TheInnerRing February 4, 2011 at 8:20 am

Anonymous: yes, it was a stupid remark. Even if he feels Landis is out to get the UCI, in public he needs to be making statements that reflect how serious the allegations are, not the "I'll check this out one day when I'm bored" and nor the "we've got lawyers on it [but they're doing nothing]" threats.

Simon E February 8, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Pat's comments like the above are *exactly* why the UCI is neither trusted nor liked. Every point becomes personal (and the response unprofessional). If someone attacks your credibility surely the thing to do is defend it, not dig an even deeper hole while shooting yourself in the foot (if you excuse the mixed metaphors).

If the UCI wasn't so consistently the subject of ridicule by pro teams, race organisers, journalists and observers (bloggers, fans etc) then maybe it would have half a chance of being taken seriously. The way its public face (i.e. McQuaid) is presented it succeeds in raising suspicion, offending nearly everyone and pleasing virtually no-one.

If they cleaned up their act and were more consistent there would be much less cause for concern and mistrust. They only have themselves to blame.

TheInnerRing February 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Simon, yes the tendency to sink to the level of the accuser is bad. I think this is because it can't fall back on a strong reputation, that every accusation has to be fought. A media spat only means everyone comes of worse.

Let's see if the UCI's lawyers follow up the comments by Landis.

Alejandro Giangreco February 16, 2012 at 1:01 am

I NEED TO CONTACT EMILE VRIJMAN. THANK YOU.

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