Given the endemic spectre of doping across pro cycling for so many years some suggest the idea of a “truth and reconciliation commission”, a process of amnesty and dialogue where systemic wrongdoing is aired, analysed and ultimately forgiven.
The latest proponent is Dick Pound, the Canadian lawyer who run WADA for several years and made a name for himself as the scourge of the UCI.
It sounds great but I just can’t see it working in pro cycling. Here’s why in just 500 words…
First a definition of the process. It comes from South Africa. Here’s Wikipedia:
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a court-like restorative justice body assembled in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid. Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.
Can this be applied to cycling? Well we could imagine a procession of riders, managers, doctors, coaches, pharmacists, journalists, anti-doping officers, UCI staff and more appearing before a hearing, seeking amnesty in exchange for honest testimony. Only imagine is the operative word.
Pick a rider who gained a fame as a champion, earned millions and today relies on recognition and his name to continue to work, whether as a racer or in retirement. Only he used EPO and blood transfusions extensively during his career and whilst some suspect this, there’s no proof: he got away with it. Why would he come forward to confess? Even if there was no sanction from the sports bodies there would be a price to pay in terms of image and reputation, those who believed in the rider would get second thoughts.
Our rider would have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Confess and the image takes a hit. So what do you gain? Rien, nada, niente, nothing.
Call the Cops
The UCI probably couldn’t run the process so let’s imagine WADA ran the process. Witnesses could turn up and if they are promised amnesties when it comes to bans and sporting sanctions the same would not be true with national law. Doping is a crime in several countries, whether cheating in sport or, more commonly, the trafficking and false prescription of medical products. Surely WADA can’t get an amnesty from criminal law.
Given this the rider who appears in front of our commission could open their heart and confess for the good of the sport but they could quickly incriminate themselves under, say, French or Italian law. If this isn’t bad enough, a “truth and reconciliation” process needs many to come forward including those who supplied the doping substances, it needs to be comprehensive, not selective. Yet it is impossible to imagine crooked pharmacists taking part because their actions are an infraction of the law in many more countries and we can assume few declared the revenue from these illicit sales and did not pay tax. Again, why would they show up?
An Imperfect World
Still, let’s imagine everyone somehow decided to show up for this. In South Africa there were multiple witnesses to injustice but doping in sport is far more clandestine meaning recollections can vary and stories differ. Within no time it would turn into an arduous session of claim and counter-claim.
There’s an asymmetry between what might be good for the sport and what might be good for a rider’s reputation. As long as this remains it seems delusional to expect some to come forward and admit past mistakes. Those that have gotten away with it have little incentive to reverse this and besides, any public statements could invite criminal prosecution.
The only remedy to this is perhaps to leave investigators the chance to revisit old cases. Rather than wait for people to come forward if there is ever new evidence – for example by storing blood and urine samples in perpetuity – then this could offer greater resolution than waiting for the guilty to open up in public.