With fresh scandal erupting like an Icelandic volcano, with a jet stream of new allegations blowing over big names in the sport and a cloud of ash hanging over the top officials, you’d think the President of the UCI would be very careful with his words when his organisation is on the receiving end of incredibly serious accusations.
Yet here’s the UCI’s Pat McQuaid speaking to Brendan Gallagher of London’s Daily Telegraph when asked about “donations” paid to the UCI by Lance Armstrong:
“You have to consider that at the time, in 2002, no accusations against Lance Armstrong had been made. They’ve all came up since then. We accepted the donation to help develop the sport. We didn’t think there was a conflict of interest. It’s easy to say in hindsight what could or would have been done. You have to put yourself in the situation at the time.
I think based on experience, based on hindsight and 20/20 vision, and based on the claims of a conflict of interest, the UCI would be very careful before accepting a donation from a rider in the future. Having said that the UCI is not a rich organisation and we have many demands from around the world for support and material. We will listen to anyone who can help us.”
Alarm bells should start ringing with the first sentence. Because it’s wrong. There was a judicial enquiry into doping practices starting in 2000. In July 2001 alone we saw David Walsh make allegations of doping and US rider Greg LeMond said the same thing, albeit less directly. Meanwhile French sports scientist Antoine Vayer was making further allegations via a column in French daily Le Monde. So there were many allegations in 2001. It’s awkward to see a public figure trip up like this, because if they can’t get simple facts like this right, then what about other statements?
But carry on with the quote and soon a foghorn sounds. Apparently you need “hindsight and 20/20 vision” to realise accepting a donation from Lance Armstrong wasn’t a good idea. Yet the UCI is a governing body charged with regulating the sport, from rules on clothing right up to anti-doping procedures. It’s Conflict of Interest 101 to realise taking money from someone you regulate is wrong. It suggests the President is unaware of simple financial ethics, that independence and regulatory capture are new ideas, unheard of in 2000. Except Roman poets were asking “who guards the guards” two thousand years ago.
Worse, the final claim that “we will listen to anyone who can help us” is disturbing. An well-briefed official should be saying “we have firm guidelines relating to funding. I’ll remind you that any donation, be it from a corporate sponsor or an individual, must meet the highest ethical standards” but that seems very distant thinking.
It’s just a quote to London newspaper but all the same, a couple of paragraphs manage to display factual inaccuracy and raise questions over ethical and governance failures. At a time when matters are very sensitive, a President needs to be on top of their game, not making false information.
This is very much an institutional problem for the UCI and not just about Mr McQuaid. If he’s put his foot it before, all the more reason to ensure he’s well briefed this time. I’ve long said the UCI needs to bolster its ethical and governance credentials and to train its President to handle the media. If these things were in place, allegations of wrong doing could be deflected with greater ease.