Too many acronyms? Yes but no matter which way you arrange the letters this spells trouble for the UCI.
In the past 24 hours two anti-doping agencies, USADA and WADA, have gone public with criticism of cycling’s governing body. Now they’ve been joined by the Independent Commission created by the UCI which has itself turned against the governing body to create a power struggle over its remit and capabilities.
There’s even talk cycling could be thrown out of the Olympics but don’t believe the hype. But this is a battle for the truth and the UCI is going to lose.
Following the USADA verdict on Lance Armstrong, cycling’s governing body, the UCI, announced it would set up an independent commission to look the issues and allegations arising out the investigation. Some had been pointing fingers at the UCI, for example allegations that it helped cover for Armstrong, see the stories that the UCI arranged special meetings with anti-doping labs to discuss testing protocols, a service that others didn’t get. The Independent Commission would help clear up stories like this. It was also a handy delay mechanism, taking the heat off the UCI in the wake of the scandal.
The Independence Commission was created on 26 October 2012. But ever since there have been quarrels over the remit and terms of reference and things have now gone public.
There’s been a feud for some time. Witness the way the UCI tried to block USADA from prosecuting Armstrong or WADA’s frequent frustration with the UCI too. And now some well-placed sources are singing like canaries to denounce their frustration with the UCI over the Commission:
- USADA chief Travis Tygart met with Commission staff in December. He set two key conditions for participation. First that the Commission’s report should be made public. Second, that the Commission is able to offer an amnesty in exchange for testimony as a means to encourage some to speak out
- WADA and the Change Cycling Now group have supported these two conditions
- USADA has written to the Commission to deplore the “control and influence of the UCI over the Commission”
- USADA claims the UCI has been briefing potential witnesses and contacting former staff before the Commission can reach them. This smells like witness tampering
It’s all come to the boil now after an exchange of letters between the UCI where the governing body has apparently refused to agree to these terms. Here’s USADA’s Travis Tygart:
“(This) obviously calls into question the UCI’s commitment to a full and thorough investigation and creates grave concern that the UCI has blindfolded and handcuffed this independent commission to ensure a pre-determined outcome“
Is the Independent Commission independent?
If the UCI controls what the commission can and can’t do and reserves the right to not to publish the report in full then that’s it’s hardly independent. It’s little more than Pat McQuaid’s secretariat, only with an hourly billing rate commensurate with London lawyers.
The call for an amnesty is more nuanced. Immunity from prosecution may well encourage people to emerge from the shadows. But it is gives a break to the cheats who can confess, escaping the consequences of their past actions. I’m sceptical about a truth and reconciliation process, as I’ve written before, why would an ex-rider or manager with a comfortable life today after years of cheating come forward and incriminate themselves? Even if free of sporting sanctions, they’d lose their reputation and could expose themselves to criminal prosecution.
But we’ve reached the point where the likes of WADA are concerned the enquiries will reach a blank because nobody will come forward and the truth will never emerge. Worse some hint this is just what the UCI wants.
But there is a solution: confidential testimony. Here people could volunteer information to the Commission with the promise it would not be used against them. It’s this proposal that seems to be behind today’s fuss and it could include deposition from Lance Armstrong.
What does this mean?
We now see the Independent Commission has teeth and is willing to take on the UCI in order to complete its task of getting to the bottom of what happened with Armstrong and the US Postal team.
The UCI is stuck. To back down is a humiliation but to refuse to move could prompt the Independent Commission to resign, an even greater headache. The UCI is losing control of the enquiry, this could quickly become a broader investigation into problems in cycling and this has to be the last thing it wants as it tries to sell new races around the world and reshape the sport with the billionaire Zdeněk Bakala.
There have even been calls to throw cycling out of the Olympics. Don’t worry, for now this is merely a threat designed to focus minds in Aigle, the UCI HQ, rather than a serious proposal. The difference between the UCI and, say, World Series Cycling Corporation is that cycling’s governing body derives its legitimacy (and plenty of funding) from being part of the Olympic movement. The UCI listens to the IOC and has to comply with WADA’s rules. At times the UCI might be deaf to fans, sponsors or team owners but it does listen to the IOC.
The Armstrong factor
The star witness of the Commission would be Lance Armstrong. Were he to testify against the UCI as hinted recently in exchange for a reduced ban then. But perhaps it depends on your view?
- if you want to tackle dopers then ban Armstrong forever
- if you want to tackle doping as an institutional problem then use Armstrong to understand how he and others were able to get away with things for so long
It’s no easy choice.
Like a radioactive cloud carried high jetstream stratosphere, the fallout from the Lance Armstrong case has travelled from Texas to rain down on London and Aigle.
Doubts over the independence of the Commission have been simmering for sometime. Now, like a rebellious teenager, the Commission itself has set itself against the UCI, first in private and now in public. This will reassure observers concerned about the process but it brings more uncertainty over the sports governance at a time when leadership is lacking.
The UCI’s having a bad week. First stories say Lance Armstrong could testify against “senior officials”, next both USADA and WADA go public with criticism and now its own Independent Commission is being critical in public.
But the agenda stretches well beyond seven days. Pushed by WADA we could see the Independent Commission snowball into something bigger, a full enquiry into the sport’s troubled past. An avalanche threat for Aigle.