“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?
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.