Stuck in the Sand

Car in sand

Ever seen a car stuck in the sand? Each attempt by the driver to get going just makes the wheels spin and so digs the car in deeper. The engine revs, the wheels spin, dirt flies up but nobody is going anywhere. Inside the car the driver is sweating, frantically engaging first gear and then reverse but their desperation is only making things worse.

What’s this got to do with cycling? Well it reminds me of the UCI. President McQuaid seems stuck and frantic attempts to get the governing body on the move are stalling and leave the sport sunk in the past. Meanwhile WADA stands on the sidelines, holding a tow rope but preferring to criticise the immobile driver rather than helping.

In the latest instalment the UCI has just disbanded its Independent Commission, the panel set up to review the issues and allegations arising out the Armstrong/US Postal conspiracy case.

What’s happened?
Observers are almost forced to take sides in this story because both the UCI and WADA are adopting confrontational tones. Here’s WADA on 17 January:

The UCI was not allowing the Commission to conduct a proper and independent investigation.
…Therefore, WADA has decided not to take part

Yesterday the UCI responded with its own press release:

the UCI Management Committee today decided that the federation could no longer fund a procedure whose outcome is likely to be rejected by such an important stakeholder

Spot the gap: WADA said it would not take part unless the UCI expanded the remit of the Independent Commission, meanwhile the UCI refused this and therefore shut down the Independent Commission. Why didn’t the UCI just adjust the Independent Commission to the satisfaction of WADA?

The Independent Commission ran into several problems. First, witnesses were not cooperating, whether this was strict omertà isn’t known as it could be just pragmatism: why confess if a sanction looms? Second, the UCI was refusing to send documents to the commission although in recent days it promised to comply. Third WADA and USADA had refused to take part which hit at the legitimacy of the operation and the commission was trying to find ways to include them by expanding the remit and the time scale but there are limits to this, notably with London lawyers billing by the hour.

Still the move to shut down the Independent Commission is surprising and sudden. In its own press release the Independent Commission said it knew there problems but it wanted time to resolve things:

The Commission is persuaded that we should allow an opportunity for discussions to continue and for the parties to reach a viable agreement in sufficient detail on an Amnesty.

In the circumstances the Commission has decided, with considerable reluctance, that the best course is to adjourn this Procedural Hearing until Thursday 31 January 2013 which should be sufficient time for the participants to reach an agreement in principle, if not detail. In the meantime the Commission expects to be informed by UCI of the progress of the Amnesty discussion.

Rather than be informed of progress, the Independent Commission has been told to stop. Here’s the UCI President Pat McQuaid again:

It is completely unrealistic to expect that we and WADA can sort through all the details of setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in just a couple of days, based on an arbitrary deadline set by the Independent Commission of Thursday.

Note the false argument deployed by Pat McQuaid here. He says it’s “unrealistic” to “sort through all the details” only the Independent Commission said it was asking for an agreement in principle, not “all the details.” It’s this sort of clumsy handling that gets us nowhere.

At a time when the sport needs leadership and vision all we get is press release tennis where the UCI serves text over the net to WADA which, being better at drafting coherent press releases, then smashes it back. The risk is that the Independent Commission, comprised of sharp legal minds, now forms a doubles team with WADA.

The UCI will explore the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation process but it has not committed to it. If you’ve seen reports saying “cycling to set up T&R” then they’re wrong. The UCI is only saying it wants to explore the idea and it doesn’t know where the money will come from. Indeed Truth and Reconciliation is an open-ended concept, if the Independent Commission was looking expensive, imagine a process where hundreds of participants in pro cycling are asked to come forward, the stenographers alone will cost a fortune.

Worse the UCI’s actions appear unilateral and there’s no roadmap. Rather than presenting an alternative path, it’s disbanded the Independent Commission without knowing what to do next.

Serving up the same old dish

Going nowhere
A flurry of press releases but we’ve gone nowhere since the UCI said it would set up an Independent Commission last year. The UCI says “this is too important for rushed discussions, or hasty decisions”… so why disband the Independent Commission in an instant? Why not suspend it and try to work something out?

What does it all mean? Nothing. The sport’s governing body is bogged down in procedural matters, one minute set against truth and reconciliation, now deploying reverse gear to call for it but without any plans, just aspirations.

I was in two minds about writing about this as the disbanding of the Independent Commission is only one episode in a saga of confusion. But the contradictory press releases were worth assessing if only to show the competing messages. Each party seems to be blaming the other when we need a common purpose rather than competing agendas.

The Independent Commission is disbanded but is still expected to issue its own statement shortly before it vanishes. I wonder if would have been sensible to suspend it pending further talks? Now we get talk of a “Truth and Reconciliation” process but note this is an aspiration from the UCI and it has to discuss what this means and how much it will cost. Nobody’s explored that this would mean. The UCI appears to want to rope WADA into this: it might need to in order to ensure an amnesty from doping offences; it might want to in order tap extra funding.

Thankfully the racing goes on but such dysfunctional management and competing agendas mean those running the anti-doping effort still can’t work things out.

Update: the fighting goes on as WADA slams the UCI with a new press release calling the UCI “deceitful,” “unilateral and arrogant” and pointing out the inconsistencies in the UCI press release.

29 thoughts on “Stuck in the Sand”

  1. What’s new here? Same old, same old. This feud gave Mr. Mars and the Mad Hatter the perfect cover to ditch their whitewash scheme by blaming things on the other sanctioning bodies. Now they can use any T & R scheme to get themselves off the hook for corruption while they let the dopers off the hook for ‘fessing up….if it ever happens that is. Brilliant, no? And of course all this has been pushed off to the end of the year (despite it being January) so they figure most will forget all about it if the cycling season is an exciting one. “Move on folks, nothing to see here. We’re concentrating on the future of clean cycling, blah, blah!” Only when the last pro team sponsor has bailed out and the fraud collapses totally will things really change. Meanwhile, pro cycling’s the equivalent of World Wrestling Entertainment…might be fun to watch, but purely for entertainment (rather than sporting) value. Sad, eh?

    • The WWE metaphor is quite apt. Riders like Landis and Armstrong switch from hero to villain to hero again at the drop of an eyelid whilst administrators change the rules as they see fit. Alliances within the peloton chop and change depending on individual teams agendas and results can be bought and sold.

  2. Is there anyone competing against Pat for UCI President? McQuaid & co have so many skeletons in the cupboard, I wish someone could snatch this presidency key from them. Another blow for the reputation of our sport but it’s nothing new.

  3. As a cycling “stakeholder” (all be it just a lowly fan) I want to say I am driven to distraction by desperate people clinging onto their power, for the good of our sport, please leave now.

  4. If WADA and USADA truly had the protection of clean athletes, and the promotion of fair sport as prime objectives, they could quite easily assist a sporting federation in obvious distress. The UCI is clearly failing to deal with a series of monumental problems. Either through incompetence or complicity, the UCI appears paralysed. Rather than lending a helpful hand WADA and USADA repeatedly give their stricken affiliate a good kicking: classic playground bully style.

    It’s almost as if athletics, football, tennis, golf… have more money and power than cycling and purchased ‘protection’. Everybody needs a victim – especially government funded bureaucracies (cf US prosecutors) – and poor cycling adopts the suicidal foetal hedgehog every time. Enough.

    • I’m sure if the UCI put up its hands and said “This is too much for us” then WADA would at least advise them.

      But as Inrng and others have so often pointed out, the powers that run the UCI seem determined not to listen to anybody else, convinced they have done nothing wrong and that they know everything.

      It’s like dealing with a teenager – at some point you can’t force them and you just have to let them screw it up. If the UCI would act like a grown-up and take some responsibility then they might get treated a bit better.

      • But USADA and WADA are not content to just let UCI screw it up. They take turns at repeatedly, publicly, dismantling UCI Press Releases, or throwing ill-thought-through Truth & Reconciliation grenades during a riot.

        USADA and WADA seem adept exponents of the plea bargain. You’d think they could provide a behind the scenes ladder for the UCI to climb down. Or are they sore that despite the (impressively mature) Armstrong take-down, they could pin nothing concrete on UCI execs? Unedifying all round.

        Meanwhile I await WADA pressure on Sepp Blatter to take action on the alleged footballers named in the Puerto case.

    • USADA believes that the US postal team corruption ran right up to the top of the UCI. The evidence that has been leaking out of the UCI over the years is pretty damning, that’s why it is in such obvious distress. Nobody has resigned, nobody has been pushed, nobody has been held to account. USADA/WADA’s helpful hand has been to insist on an independent investigation. If they settle for anything less, they become complicit. Given their limited jurisdiction and funds, it is hard to fault their tactics. If something different isn’t done, we’ll soon be in the middle of the next PDM/ Festina/ Kelme/ T Mobile/ Liberty Seguros/ USPS/ Rabobank farce (did I even get half of them?). Then we can all say “But the sport is completely different today” and wait for the next one…

      • I agree that this is the prevailing view. And I’m not having a pop at your thoughtful response, which was appreciated. But I don’t think it’s as straightforward as it seems. (W/US)ADA or WUSSADA – you made me do it – got their independent commission and promptly refused to play ball unless plea bargains (amnesties) were on the table. Maybe, instead, USADA could have given the Indy Commish the evidence of Postal corruption at the top of UCI? And helped in the process of establishing an orderly TRC. After all they needed the assistance of US Federal authorities to get their man.

        Think I’ve said enough on this. There’s an outstanding post in a similar vein on biscuittinmedia which I won’t link directly out of respect for Mr Ring’s outstanding blog.

  5. It is becoming more and more farcical…. the antics of the UCI ‘leadership’. They think they are unassailable in their eyrie in Aigle. Something has to be done to clear them out and start the rebuilding of our sport. Ideas anyone?

    • I can see the frustration of many in the comments here and clearly leadership plays a part. But McQuaid doesn’t operate in a vacuum, the Management Committee of the UCI are playing a role here. What will they do?

      Note that the Independent Commission was created after several Management Committee members called on Hein Verbruggen to leave the UCI for good during crisis talks last year. McQuaid intervened and a compromise solution was the IC.

      Now it’s back to the Management Committee to decide.

    • Well, race organizers could begin by holding races that are not sanctioned by the UCI’s umbrella. This may mean hosting riders/teams that we aren’t familiar with. There’s a whole big world out there, and restricting the sport of racing bikes to those races that are UCI/USAC sanctioned is rather myopic & limiting. The sky’s the limit, and it may take a little ingenuity & creativity to re-think & re-structure, but it seems like it’d a lot more fun in the long run than the current bureaucracy & hierarchy.

  6. Again thanks for good analysis, inrng.
    Would like to point my finger on the Going Nowhere part, which has an ending reminicent of Die Kunst der Fuge.

  7. I think the problem is a lot to do with the acrimony shown between the individual personalities at the UCI/WADA/USADA. The anti drug agencies know that McQuaid and Verbruggen are the problem and are trying as hard as they can to obfuscate any plans they put forward in order to force them to resign. Nothing will happen until the air is cleared at UCI HQ.

  8. It is clear to me that nothing will improve under McQuaid. He is selfish and not that smart, but just smart enough to tie burocratic knots around situations that threaten him. The only strategy is to get him out. Does anyone know the ins and outs of the UCI election process and how the public can influence this? What is Kimmage doing with his fund? I suggest he sets up a website consisting of an updated list of evidence of the UCI being unfit to govern, plus a petition. Let’s see how many international cyclists will sign up to save their sport and we can blitz the press with it before the election.

    • Inner ring has posted on this before (how to get rid of McQuaid – or similar title).
      One of the problems with saying “McQuaid Out!” is that who-ever comes in is likely to be just as dodgy. Same shit, different shovel.

  9. SINCE Cycling Fans have ignored the opportunity to express their support for ” Amnesty For Athletes “, why are they surprised when the “phat tag team of Aigle ” , cancel their creation , ” the Independent Commission “?

    Only by showing the UCI Management Committee , that they are in IMMINENT DANGER , of being ” Ousted ” from their place at the “trough ” , will they , WHEN they meet on Friday 1st Feb 2013 , decide to remove phat & heinous , from the management of UCI ! Should they not do this , they deserve to be individually held to account by their memberships !


    Show some backbone OR create a better place where ” Cycling Fans ” can RALLY and get a result !

    • Urgh. Sorry to be pedantic but please don’t leave spaces between quotation marks and the accompanying words. It hurts my eyes and my brain. Or better still, don’t use them at all because they’re not appropriate in any of the instances you’ve used them.

  10. The press release from WADA in the update to the article paints a rather exasperating picture. I presume the IC are reconvening on Thursday simply to produce a final statement on their short involvement?

    The evasive and contradictary statements coming from the UCI certainly suggests they’ve got something to hide. They clearly want this swept under the carpet and will keep playing the fool until everyone’s lost interest.

    At the end of the day, the season has started now and I, for one, will be watching the racing rather than this grotesque sideshow.

  11. We really cannot be shocked at this point? The UCI does not care. The riders, teams, promoters and fans are going to have to force the hand of the UCI. Pat and Hein never cared for any of this.

  12. Hey Inner Ring – I’ve been really enjoying your writing since I discovered your blog a few months ago. Keep up the fantastic work, and I’ll keep enjoying it over my morning coffee and bowl of porridge!

    In the current version of this article, you’ve started a sentence in the last para before “Summary” and I’m intrigued at how it should end!


  13. It is clear to me that, WADA believes the UCI should have assisted its own Independent Commission to establish some credible framework (up to immunity from UCI persecution) to encourage witness participation. It seems that the IC was rushed into action with no guarantee that “whistle blowing” would not result in serious retribution from UCI vis a vis lawsuits for defamation, withholding of licenses, terminations, sanctions, etc. This was the poison pill that WADA identified and was willing to help the Independent Commission attempt to resolve in good faith, until the UCI’s statement yesterday.

    That’s all on the UCI.

    Unfortunately, the UCI’s stance regarding “immunity” for lack of a better word, conflated WADA’s anti-doping jurisdiction. The UCI implied that the Independent Commission was handcuffed to establish any sort of immunity without WADA taking the lead. Now they want WADA to be involved in a T&R process, and if they balk, then the UCI can lay blame at their feet. I see this as an attempt by the UCI to establish a backdoor path for “truth tellers” to get out of WADA “jail” if they were to cooperate with the UCI’s IC (now T&R).

    In other words, the UCI wants WADA to hand out immunity to cyclists who doped in the past as long as they cooperate with the UCI. A power play! Qui bono? Any ideas? Here’s a hint, the UCI wants WADA to broaden the scope of a T&R to include ALL endurance sports.

    This makes plain that the UCI is incapable of policing itself with regard to the concerns raised in the USADA reasoned decision. Now the UCI wants to move forward with a T&R process that will no doubt put the attention back onto the athletes and doping. The problem with the T&R path is that it does not address the main issue of UCI’s role in the decades of cheating, silence, and corruption within the sport of professional cycling. Likewise, it can not address how to resolve that problem moving forward.

    At this point, I think a T&R process is not needed to root out the scourge of doping within the sport of professional cycling. Controls are in place and the fight against doping will continue in earnest. What is needed is decisive action by the IOC. That’s the only voice loud enough to get the UCI’s attention.

  14. Knew this would happen when the Commission was introduced.
    In Physics there are a set of formula for the downfall of a corrupt or
    diseased empire/organisation, which have been proven by historical

    Personally, an enjoying watching the negatively spiraling numbers in action!
    Pat just grew too fat!

  15. Sadly after the Oprah/Lance chit chat this was always going to be the out come. UCi worried what would be the outcome of the interview and I am not suprised by Pat deciding to stop the independent commission as they would have exposed the truth about what he and Hein have beed hiding. Now there needs to be a truth and reconcilliation committee set up which I think was suggested when the USADA report was released and the UCI were not in favour (I may be wrong). The part of the interview which made me feel most uncomfortable was the statement that at the age of fifty I would like to run the Boston marathon. Being that he is 41 add 8 years hey presto ban served run race. The TRC will be held behind closed doors nothing will be done. Pat stays where he is Hein stays where he is and Lance becomes the saviour of cycling once again.

  16. I had a dream last night. McQuaid fell on his sword. Greg LeMond stood in as temporary head of ICU to oversee its reconstruction. Armstrong realised that nobody wants to see him compete in anything again and retired to breed chickens. Team Sky’s stance of zero tolerance on drugs, with all its inherent problems, was accepted as the best attempt of any pro team to give us the sport we want.

    Then I woke up, went for a nice ride and pondered on the thought that we all need dreams to deal with the shit that we have no control over.

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