Acronymn soup

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.

History recap
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.

Angry Birds
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.

McQuaid UCI
The UCI and its senior officials are back in the spotlight

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.

Olympic rejection?
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.

30 thoughts on “USADA, WADA, UCIIC vs UCI”

  1. Regarding the Olympic threat; I think it’s good that those squeaky clean guys at the IOC like, say, Hein Verbruggen, are making their stance on corruption clear.

    …or something.

  2. Power and Money Corrupts, look at Fifa and Sepp Platter, one of the most corrupt federations, Verbruggen is SHAME , I cannot believe he gets paid for being SO corrupt from more than one presidency status he occupies.

    • I couldn’t agree more. The first thing that came to mind when I read USADA’s reasoned decision last year (and subsequently all of Walsh’s books) was Sepp Blatter and FIFA. (Read Andrew Jennings’ FOUL!)

  3. I’d like the whole thing to move beyond Armstrong and tackle the institutional problems. Quite frankly there are some currently in cycling who should not be and if one or more persons can help get rid of them then good. Armstrong will potentially be doing the rounds of courthouses for years, he is unlikely to get off lighty although I guess he’ll evade jail. Let’s hope for a truly independent commission and that he will talk to them and tell much.

    There is plenty of time before the next Olympics to recover credibility if a start is made soon and plenty of other sports for WADA to move on to if cycling can become credible to them.

    • Actual cycling to start? With the pros? The pros who include the 2012 Olympic road race champion who served a ban for doping? Or the winner of the 2012 Vuelta? Or the winner of the 2011 Giro?
      Maybe local racing? I agree, but with a heavier heart. I’ll be racing with a number of people, in a little corner of the UK, who simply don’t realise how shabby the sport looks. It is not helped by British Cycling taking such a low profile: clearly anti-drugs but seemingly (at best) when trying to change the UCI.
      Losing Olympic status would be a disaster but sadly, too few cyclists have shown a willingness to fix our sport.

      • +2
        I spend most of my “cycling entertainment” time here on INRNG, as the host and the majority of the participants are witty, intelligent, and respectful. I feel I learn something useful each visit. I wonder if others are feeling what I’m feeling, which is a very low level of excitement to follow any of the Pro Tour in 2013 with vigor. It seems that the most of the usual suspects of the past years were riders are now all directors or managers in the sport, so the show will go on as planned. The entertainment flavor now feels to be a carnival, like N. American professional wrestling, monster truck competitions, and the like. The Pro Tour seems less and less to do with credible endurance athletics, and more and more to do with kabuki theater. I’ll have a cigar with my cheap martini.

  4. I personally couldn’t be more pleased with how all of this is playing out. It seems that this latest and greatest Armstrong drama is what is needed to reach a critical mass of scrutiny towards the UCI and finally have significant change throughout cycling’s organization. As recently as a couple short years ago, who would have predicted the collective and dramatic fall of Armstrong, McQuaid, and Verbruggen within of a few months of each other?

    • Personally, I’m not holding my breath. I think the comparison between Fifa and the UCI is very apt, both are a closed-shop of self-serving bureaucrats with a history of shady behaviour, rock-bottom public opinion and deaf ears when it comes to the opinions of how the sport should be run.

      Having seen the scandals that Sepp Blatter has presided over and how easily he has held on to power (culminating in his unopposed re-election as Fifa president) not to mention the negative impact his reign has had on the sport, does not bode well.

      That said, the groundswell of opinion seems a lot stronger in cycling at the moment. There is a dedicated core of people who are absolutely determined to have the sport reformed and crucially, they appear to have enough influence and evidence to force the UCI to listen. The fact that there’s an Independent Commission at all, let alone one that has positioned itself so starkly against the UCI speaks volumes.

      As you state, Armstrong is the key here; if he’s as desperate to get his ‘death sentence’ rescinded as he makes out, he may well be forced into blowing the lid on the whole affair. Time will tell.

  5. Losing the Olympic status, could be the best thing thats happened for cycling as it will instigate real change. It could also set a precedent for other sports to follow (we can’t kid ourselves that every other Olympic sport is clean).. The problem with the UCI is that there are too many entrenched personalities with too much invested.. too many skeletons etc.. If UCI were to go by the wayside (albiet, probably continue as an event promoter) and a new credible administrator take its place.. how can that be a bad thing for cycling?

    • I don’t see how getting booted from the Olympics would change anything for the better. If anything, it could make the situation worse, because the only things of substance binding sports to the WADA code is that it is a requirement for participation in the Olympics, and IOC funding. Take away the Olympics, and WADA could readily get dumped for internal controls, and we know how effective these have been.

      That said, I’d like to see the Olympics revert back to an amateur, or at least a U23 competition, but that is another matter all together.

  6. While I believe that you have a point regarding amnesty/truth and reconciliation (I lump these together): those in comfortable and/or lucrative positions won’t be enticed to admit to past errors. However, there’s more to amnesty. Not everyone who was guilty in the past (or possibily even the present) has as much to lose. Those folks may come forward and name names. This possibility adds leverage to those comfortable folk. Is there more to lose by coming forward on their own and reducing or escaping official sanction, or is there more to lose by continuing to hide/lie and then being called out by others.

    Armstrong chose the second path. His situation seems to be slightly different then others, given his success in the sport and the fact that he seems to have been more of an instigator than a follower (willing or otherwise). However, there are many more out there who will be more similar to the Landis’s and Hamilton’s. I think that is the strength of an amnesty offer in a case like this.

  7. So effectively the cyclists with the cleanest reputations, the olympians get pilloried?
    There’d be a break away league in no team that could be as clear as opaque as it liked about doping as it’d be a seperate entity.
    This is so much more than Armstrong now we really need to see the bigger picture, I doubt he’ll get off scot free, but everyone knows what he is now.
    He would at least be making some form of retribution if he helped demolished the current badly organised system.

  8. As you will see from my Tweets & blogs , i was unhappy with the ” T of R ” when i wrote ” Snowjob “! Is it not clear , that the phat tag team , are trying to create another example , of the ” Vrijman Report ” ? We , the cycling Public are no longer prepared to wear a whitewash !

    The Panel Members of UCIIC , are clearly aware of the ” tag Team’s ” ambitions , and have nothing to lose by refusing to go forward , UNLESS UCI , allow them the latitude to do the JOB correctly .

    Dick Pound , has only reminded people of what was threatened back in the mid 2000’s , however , with the IOC Chairmanship changing later in the year , those taking over , could want to ” Make their Bones ” by demonstrating their displeasure with past ” Scandals “!

  9. How would the provision of confidential testimony to the IC work in practice?

    How exactly would law enforcement agencies that have search and seizure powers be preventing from obtaining this testimony? Would it need to be provided in a jurisdiction where doping isn’t illegal (eg UK) other than the one in which the illegal act occurred (eg France)? Is this sufficient to prevent, say French, authorities obtaining the statements?

    • Good questions and cautious athletes would need assurances on this. As I’ve said before riders don’t just risk a bad name or a doping sanction, there’s the chance of criminal action and lawsuits.

      Confidential has to be confidential… and not leaked by someone on the inside.

  10. Thanks for this piece. The less focus there is on burning Lance at the stake and the more there is on rebuilding a damaged sport the better. Burning Lance appeals to many due to its simplicity as a concept but it won’t achieve much in the longer term. The real devil is in the detail.

  11. Once (if) they are done burying our bad apples I really do hope they start hunting other sports. Mr Bolt and his relationship with Angel Hernandez could do with some scrutiny, as well as the Jamaican athletics federations somewhat Laissez-faire approach to out of competition dope testing. Or perhaps the astonishing size, power and fitness of international rugby players, or perhaps NFL Linebackers. Hopefully USADA keeps up the pressure and starts cleaning up other sports too. I’m tired of being the only “dirty sport”. In an interesting interview with the head of the South African Institute for Drug Free Sport, the CEO Khalid Galant reported that in SA in 2012 in excess of 55 athletes received sanction for PEDs. Only three were cyclists who were all reported on national media. Other athletes however were not named or reported as their federations (12 other sporting codes) “chose not to release their names”.

  12. Just had a quick look at the cv of the commission members.

    Have to say, if Pat want the commission to be his pet, he really shouldn’t have gone to London for its members. Didn’t he know that the Brits really enjoy being “Just”?

  13. The UCI seem to be in a cleft stick of their own cutting.
    If truly there is widespread corruption, a confidential information process would be the death of them. Too many people have stories to tell. Furthermore if the process was trusted, and those who had information came forward, just how many would be implicated?
    INRNG, I would be interested to know your estimate – Would we lose half the peleton and 3/4 of support staff if everything came out? More?

    Furthermore if someone comes forward confidentially and is given a pass in exchange for testimony, then is implicated as a ringleader by others, where does that lead?
    In truth, I am happy to give as many passes/reductions as necessary to see as much evidence come to light as possible. That includes Armstrong. Show he is not bigger than the sport, if he tells what he knows. The damage to his reputation in the public eye is now done. While his offences are gross, his stand over/bullying/intimidation is what seems to be his downfall in terms of his public image. Don’t single him out, Tygart was right on this.

    I do not think we would lose that many from the UCI, as if too many knew about corruption someone would have leaked eventually.
    My hope is that the head of the snake, who is probably Verbruggen rather than his hand picked successor, will be excised. By extension Pet would have to go too, along with the executive. Even if they are not corrupt, they presided over a system so flawed gross mismanagement is too kind.
    Five years ago I would have said no chance in hell. The Disgracing of Warner/Bin Hamam at the IOC and FIFA, (even though it was politics/setups that got them) the USADA reasoned decision, as well as other figures being exposed like Berlusconi, have given me hope that maybe, just maybe, cronyism will not carry the day. Fingers crossed.

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