Truth and Recrimination

McQuaid gun

Cycling’s embrace of Truth and Reconciliation did not last long. The ambitious but vague spirit of enquiry and investigation evaporated as the UCI and WADA traded angry press releases with words like “deceit” and “arrogance” being used. This is the public relations equivalent of a bar room brawl.

It’s all so disappointing as those running the sport seem preoccupied with attacking each other rather than confronting the ever-present spectre of doping. We’d all like to talk about the racing but the people at the top want to shout about themselves.

These two bodies appear unable to trust each other and resort to leaking private correspondence to win petty public relations battles. So how can anyone trust them to manage a broad and complex Truth and Reconciliation process?

What is going on?
The UCI and WADA have been arguing about procedure for some time but it’s got out of control. Yesterday the UCI tried to clear up matters with a press release revealing private correspondence with WADA. President McQuaid accused WADA of saying one thing in public and another in private. Only having read the emails and letters they refer to I can’t see much to support Pat McQuaid’s claims of double-standards over at WADA. Here’s one line from a WADA email to the UCI:

it must be plain that already-sanctioned athletes will remain sanctioned possibly subject to possible reductions if the information provided leads to substantial assistance.

Now the UCI could see this as frustrating but it’s more water-pistol than smoking gun as WADA is is saying any amnesty couldn’t be universal and free, it won’t overturn past judgements unless the witnesses really provided full help and on a case by case basis. In other words only full cooperation can help and this is conditional. The past is the past if you like, and this could hamper a full Truth and Reconciliation process but that’s it, I can’t see what’s in these documents that helps the UCI, although perhaps the suggestion that the UCI mortgage its offices to raise money to fund the investigations didn’t go down well but was another way of saying “you’re paying”. In fact publishing private exchanges only makes the UCI look shifty.

PR battles
WADA doesn’t look too smart either as it plays “press release tennis,” returning each of the UCI’s claims with a public smash which only raises the temperature and baits the UCI into a more aggressive response.

But UCI is playing outside the established rules. Publishing private emails is a sneaky tactic at best, it might help win a PR battle – although again read the emails and tell me if you can find anything meaty to help the UCI – but it can undermine trust. Imagine a rider thinking about emailing the UCI with sensitive information or calling the anti-doping hotline for advice? They’ll think twice if private correspondence could end up in public if it suits someone’s agenda.

Or put it this way the UCI has just said it wants to run a giant programme of understanding and investigation into a highly sensitive past but within days resorts to publishing private correspondence suggesting it can’t be trusted with an email.

Who is the UCI?
When we say “the UCI” the problem is understanding who is behind all of this. At such a sensitive time when the governance of the UCI is back in the spotlight who is issuing these press releases? Has the Management Committee signed off on the wording? Or are we seeing President McQuaid surround himself with a few people and not acting in a collegiate and representative manner? Here’s in an opinion piece that you should read in full:

Pat McQuaid has surrounded himself with a new cadre of advisers charged with whispering wisdom to a crumbling leader. Enrico Carpani, who has worked hard as the UCI communications liaison for over a decade has been outmanoeuvred and is set to leave. Those filling his shoes are the same individuals who persuaded McQuaid into his recent blind fit of ignorance to disband the Independent Commission and enter into a public war of words with WADA. And all along Hein Verbruggen is still active, having been at the UCI headquarters as recently as last week

It’s this that worries. Rather than look to the future, the quote above suggests we’re seeing a few people acting in their interests rather than those of the UCI and the sport.

What Next?
Even astrologers wouldn’t venture predictions here. The Independent Commission looked like the UCI had tied itself to the mast of enquiry but the unthinkable happened and the process collapsed.

In the short term there’s an urgent need for someone to mediate the dispute between the UCI and WADA, the IOC would be an obvious choice. The two bodies have to work together, for example imagine if this evening’s verdict on Franck Schleck’s Tour de France positive is questionable under the UCI rules and WADA Code, the two would have to fund an appeal of the Luxembourg Anti-Doping Agency together. This is a hypothetical example but shows how daily co-operation is essential.

Beyond this there’s a lot of work to do with the Truth and Reconciliation ideas. Who would be against truth and reconciliation? It sounds good, like motherhood and apple pie, sunshine and ice cream. Only nobody even knows what it means. It seems to involve some offer of amnesty in exchange for witness testimony but I still see complications (and explained them last August in 500 words).

UCI-bashing is too easy, indeed I’ve long said we need “more UCI” and this means the Management Committee vetting the actions and communications of those at the top, a counterweight to any excess. The UCI as a whole has to take responsibility for its actions.

For now the investigation into the allegations arising from the USADA prosecution of Lance Armstrong remain unchallenged and the world watches as the UCI scraps its own Independent Commission and fires off angry press releases. This looks terrible from afar although once you look closer I can see why the UCI is doing this but that’s because I’m the sort who follows it closely. Those less inclined to read every press release and reflect will surely see a sport unable to escape Armstrong’s shadow and, as the racing season starts, a pathetic saga that makes the sport look dysfunctional.

We await details of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee but right now the UCI and WADA can’t swap emails without tempers flaring. How can we have truth and reconciliation when the UCI and WADA can’t be reconciled?

23 thoughts on “Truth and Recrimination”

  1. Why is a T and R commission seen as the panacea for cycling’s troubles? As you correctly point out, such a process requires a strong governance structure. It is almost impossible to imagine given the current power structures. Moreover, the reasons T and R made sense for South Africa and other post-conflict states don’t exist for cycling. Those societies could not move forward with perpetrators and victims living side by side without a reconciliation. As it looks now, and as Armstrong’s CN interview puts a fine point on, it would mostly serve as a means towards amnesty for the guilty. It is unclear how it would serve to heal wounds of the past (if that’s even necessary as we’re talking about a sport, not apartheid.) Most importantly, how would it be a mechanism for change when the same battle between risk/reward and science of doping vs testing exists as it always has?

    • Well said. Many people seem unwilling to look beyond the Reconciliation part and think about what would be different and why. Who’s working on increasing the risk of getting caught?

  2. I, for one, don’t really understand how a Truth and Reconciliation program gets at a significant part of the problem: the allegations that the UCI helped to cover up Armstrong’s positives etc.

    These significant allegations of corruption were a main target of the UCIIC, and while it is certainly good to see the possibility arise of amnesty in exchange for truth on behalf of the riders, it seems likely that no “truth” about the UCI’s dealings will ever be pursued.

  3. McQuaid will lose this, they hold the keys to the olympics. McQuaid needs to stand down and a thorough investigation of all the UCI dealings for the last 10 years in needed, and Vergbruggen will then kiss goodbye to his seat on the IOC.

  4. I think there’s something in the emails for the UCI.

    1. WADA said they “might be able to arrange such a [TRC] process with the approval of our Board through circular resolution, before May, if all conditions could be agreed upon. I will do this…”. They then complained that the UCI was wrong and deceitful to say that WADA had “agreed to work with it on some form of truth and reconciliation”.

    2. WADA referred to “your so-called independent Commission” saying “This panel may have set its terms, but did not have the independence to change them when its own lawyers advised it to do so”, then publicly said “WADA has never questioned the … independence of the members of the Commission”.

    3. WADA said the Commission “is already too compromised to remain credible and [WADA]believe the process should start over from a new beginning”, but then publicly said “UCI has again chosen to ignore its responsibility to the sport of cycling in completing such an inquiry and has determined to apparently deflect responsibility for the doping problem in its sport to others. It has decided to terminate its own Commission on the grounds that others refuse to participate, and not for any reason that the Commission was precluded from operating transparently and without fear.”

    WADA’s private and public positions do appear inconsistent (although not directly contradictory – there being a difference between arrange and agree), and I can see why the UCI felt WADA should be called on this inconsistency. But:
    1. UCI should have been a damn sight clearer about what it expected the emails to prove, and
    2. UCI were daft not to respond to the WADA emails *before* scrapping the Commission.

  5. I’m with you, Nelson. We don’t need to bury the current generation of racers beneath the mountains of mistakes made in the past. Rather than spending time and money on T&R, let’s put that energy into improved drug testing and innovating new penalties.

    One way of incentivising the teams to better police their own riders, would be to penalize a doper’s TEAM. Say a rider tests positive at the Tour. Next year that team is barred from racing the Tour. Now THAT would give teams an incentive to race clean! It would also incentivise the riders to not let their teammates down. Another thing that could be improved would be to simplify and reduce the costs of testing, to the point where EVERY rider is tested in EVERY race. I realize this may sound unrealistic now, but you need to see the future first to get there.

    Despite the current malaise, a lot of progress has been made. Let’s get back to improving the science and improving the rules, and get back to enjoying the racing.

    • What you state is reasonable, with one caveat: if improvements to the current system result in better testing methods but it still has preferential treatment to cyclists and increasingly evident conflicts of interest, how can you trust it?

      What is the point of having OOC tests if some riders allegedly get advance warning?
      What is the point of involving the pharmaceutical industry and develop great detection tests if you can bribe (sorry, “donate”) your way past a failed test?
      What is the point of implementing new tests if the lab doctors will explain to riders how they work and please ask them not to dope since their results are dodgy?

      Improving science and the rules are important items, for sure. But if a rightfully detained criminal can have access to a corrupt judge to set them free, it is for naught. I don’t think the UCI is about to undergo major structural changes, but at least we can get the off the anti-doping enforcement completely.

      I do agree with you, there’s progress. Speeds are slower. And for sure, if you get doping positives penalize the team (maybe not wait one year, since the personnel would just move. Heck, I’d just transfer my money to my brother in law to start a “new” team). If you start hurting people’s pocketbook the omerta dies in no time.

  6. yeah Pat has some valid points about the wada emails but he’s no better – both sides are continually using vague circular wording to manoeuvre position rather than working together for common benefit.

    the truth is the crucial point, not reconciliation. its about finding out what has happened and most of all how, so that it can be prevented in future.

    that being so, i don’t see why wada won’t fund it – its not the uci’s job to stop doping, its wada’s. this is another attempt to make out that doping is a cycling specific problem, ignoring the fact that cycling is just one of the few sports that has a decent enough testing programme that the cheats actually get caught.

    wada should be taking responsibility for this as a way to break open the issues of doping as a global issue across all sports – yes it happens that a lot of the current known cases are from cycling but that just serves as a starting point to break open the doping practices within sport as a whole by the same suppliers, practices and doctors – see inrng’s recent post on the fuentes case

  7. This bitch-slap behaviour is getting dirtier by the day!
    As Han Solo once said, “I have a bad feeling about this!”
    Pat’s release of the email correspondence is also revealing
    more about himself than he would maybe like to, which, in
    itself reveals his lack of class and strategic nuance!

  8. All of you raise good points. I agree with Inrng, Patrick and Darren that the language used by both the UCI and WADA in the press is shameful and an obvious hindrance to any type of progress. It astonishes me how these important governing bodies have continued to use such vile, sophomoric name-calling in the press as what? A method of gaining sympathy for themselves and antagonism toward their [in this case] rival agency? Before any progress can be made these two school children need to grow up and stop using the press as their personal graffiti walls.

    The fragile egos of the “men” behind WADA and the UCI (listen up, McQuaid) have demonstrated surprisingly little interest in the welfare of the sport and its personnel, and would rather exchange blows with each other in the form of wildly provocative, contentious jibes in the press. In this I think they alienate everyone and stunt progress. It’s time they shelve their personal animosities, tone down the language, and make an attempt at professionalism. They insult us, the public, when they spit at each other like this in public. Does anyone take Pat McQuaid seriously anymore as any kind of leader in cycling? My little nieces behave more maturely than this image-obsessed toddler of a man. And they treat others with more respect.

  9. I think that what Fahey/WADA was getting at with the “mortgage your building” comment was that the UCI is pleading poverty while residing in an expensive, luxury building in a country as expensive to live in as Switzerland. The UCI claiming it is short of cash smacks of what we heard from Lance, complaining he had lost “$75 Million” in future earnings. He’s still rich though, yeah?

  10. Another thought is that the UCI is looking a lot like Lance at the moment – in a completely untenable position and no longer able to conceal it’s failures and complicity. Instead of a complete and honest “confession” the UCI is engaged in an Armstrong-esque damage limitation exercise full of half truths and disingenuous behaviour.

    Maybe Pat and Hein should go on Oprah too and we can see their pursed lips and hands over the mouth?

  11. The Irish history of resolving conflicts is not good. Guess our old mate Pat doesn’t have to many good examples of conflict resolution to draw on.

  12. This public spat/turf war between the alphabet organisations, the seemingly lenient treatment of F Schleck and rumours that a race organiser succeeded in putting pressure on a broadcaster to drop coverage of a race next week that said race organiser does not own, all I can say 2013 is starting on a very bad note for the most important “stakeholders” (the fans) of the sport.
    Oh silly me I forgot, we are only the fans, we are not actually needed!

  13. Whoever first dubbed it a Truth and Reconciliation Process should be the first to be shot. It actually looks more like the RC’s confessional process (but without the implied confidentiality) – should suit Pat down to the ground. Penance should be based on a number of sequential climbs of the Col de la Madone.

  14. I get the feeling this is a deliberate ploy to kill the process that would reveal their dodgie pasts. Both agencies stand to lose a lot if the truth came out. One has a world wide doping problem affecting almost every professional sport which they no doubt are fully aware of but have failed to act. The other is hiding their complicity in the Armstrong affair. They are just playing out a turf war. I bet they are shitting themselves over what could come out if an investigation wasn’t controlled.

  15. Thanks INRNG – you are one of the few voices speaking sense in the midst of this. Ever thought of running for presidency of the UCI?

    Can I just say – love the photo of Pat at the top of this article, although slightly scared I may be seeing this in my dreams tonight….

  16. In post conflict T&R proccesses, the T has been in service of R. With what is bandied about for cycling it seems more like a T&A process with T in the service of A – Amnesty. I don’t see how that will do much to improve things in the future. Instead, they might want to focus on improved governance, better testing, consistent adjudication of doping cases, and harsher penalties. In regard to the latter, isn’t it clear to everyone that the current 2 year (usually reduced and back dated) standard is not enough of a deterrent?

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