The UCI’s Honorary President Hein Verbruggen delivered a letter to the members of the International Olympic Committee’s 15 member board yesterday, a copy of which has been obtained by insidethegames.biz.
Verbruggen denies involvement in any cover-up involving Lance Armstrong and doping although the explanations furnished are, as we’ll explore, not exactly firm arguments. But above all the letter is an extraordinary attack on the World Anti-Doping Agency, both in substance and tone.
First let’s run through Verbruggen’s assertion there was no cover-up:
“There simply was nothing to cover-up… Armstrong, nor his team mates ever tested positive.
“There was a finding for cortisone in 1999 (a time when only the UCI was testing for corticosteroids) that was declared as negative also by the French AD [anti-doping]-authorities that conducted the testd, since it was the result of the use of an (allowed) ointment.
“That case was made public immediately and the UCI issued a press release explaning how the case was resolved.
“There further was a suspicious test for EPO in 2001 but definitely NOT declared positive by the laboratory.”
Let’s start with the cortisone. As the Oprah Winfrey TV interview told us, it wasn’t the use of an ointment but outright doping. Verbruggen is still on the old script.
But that’s hindsight, no? As this blog has pointed out recently in 1999 the UCI waived its own rules to let Armstrong win the Tour de France. Once again it doesn’t matter what “the French AD” ruled because they had their rules whilst the UCI had its own rules… which it ignored for the benefit of Lance Armstrong. Now as I’ve argued the decision to waive the rules has to be seen in context, it would have required a steely governing body to do this and it wasn’t a cover up, it was public knowledge the UCI went lax on its rules. If there’s a cover-up, it’s in the wording of the letter above which skips these salient points.
Next Lance Armstrong’s 2001 Tour de Suisse EPO test. It’s now clear the UCI knew this was a suspicious result and even Hein Verbruggen knew it. Not a positive test, this seems to be agreed, but one with a sufficiently high score to suggest but not prove EPO use. The UCI could not bring a prosecution but it could monitor things more closely: did it test more? In fact in the Tour de France that followed Armstrong was only tested 10 times in total and just five times for EPO according to their own press release.
So whether it’s waiving your own rules or not following up on suspicions, if there’s no cover-up then at best things looked lax.
No fan of WADA
One remarkable aspect is the tone of the letter. Hein Verbruggen is getting a bad press these days so no wonder he feels hard done by. But the emotion seems to boil over in the letter as he resorts to capitals and exclamation points, as if he’s writing in rage rather than reflection:
I find that there is a heavy responsibility of WADA since they ‘force’ the world of sport to spend some US$0.5 billion (some US$600,000 per sanctioned positive test!!) for the fight against doping, while declaring themselves that THEIR (!) whole system is totally flawed.
“Wasn’t it WADA’s General Manager Mr. David Howman, who declared: ‘we only catch the dopey dopers…’.
“I have rarely heard someone declaring so clearly the bankruptcy of his own organization and policy.
“Half a billion in a flawed system……and no criticism at all?”
Where to start? Well nobody “forces” the UCI to sign up to sign up to WADA, although it’s a condition of being an Olympic sport these days but if Verbruggen doesn’t like it, he can start the crusade to overturn these pesky anti-doping rules. Next the equation of expenditure to prosecution is a strange one. Is WADA wasting the money? If it can achieve more prosecutions then let’s hear it, especially since the UCI itself conducts many anti-doping tests. And what else can WADA do but use validated tests? Especially since it can only lobby sports to wake-up, for example it is calling on soccer and tennis to get serious with blood tests. If anything Verbruggen should be calling for more spending on WADA and other related anti-doping measures and joining Jonathan Vaughters’s call for more money to be spent. A lot more.
Finally as well as the inaccurate and clumsy arguments and the ranty tone there’s also the idea of the letter itself as a means of lobbying the IOC’s members You imagine other members having frustrations with WADA but they must groan when reading this letter. It’s not their problem and they have better things to do, I can’t see how this will rally them. If you wanted to point out the cash cost of anti-doping you probably wouldn’t USE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!
Indeed Olympic chief Jacques Rogge is frustrated by this and said today that the UCI and WADA have to work together “and find a solution together.”
Hein Verbruggen’s still part of the UCI and a member of the UCI Management Committee. But let’s hope he doesn’t use UCI letter paper or claim to speak for cycling’s governing body when he sends out angry notes because the our sport’s “Honorary President” doesn’t seem so honourable here. He’s had a reputation as slick businessman but this letter looks unconventional in both message and tone.
No doubt people in the UCI are upset with WADA but the Olympic movement is the perfect mediator to bring these two together for the good of sport. If the IOC’s Executive Board need proof that cycling needs to patch things up with WADA for the good of the sport, here it is.