An Independent Anti-Doping Agency?

An independent anti-doping agency for pro cycling? It sounds likes a great idea, no?

There are regular calls for an independent body and Greg LeMond is the latest to express concerns. Trust in the governing body has been eroded and across all sports there’s an obvious tension between the promotional role of a governing body and its duty to bust the cheats.

But can this be done? Would the WADA Code allow it? And isn’t a lot of testing already independent of the UCI?

Away from cycling there are obvious theoretical problems with a governing body charged with the mission of anti-doping. One minute the governing body wants to promote the sport, to increase participation and sell it to sponsors. But the next it’s tasked with catching cheats and unearthing scandal. There’s a tension, a conflict of interest.

It’s not theoretical, there have been cases when the UCI warned riders and teams instead of redoubling efforts to catch them. When Alberto Contador tested positive for Clenbuterol in 2010 it took months for the news to come out, his absence initially explained by a slippery story about a roundabout until the story was flushed out by Hajo Seppelt.

Already independent?
Independence is one of those things like motherhood, ice cream and apple pie, everyone wants more of it. Only first note that a lot of testing in cycling isn’t done by the UCI but by other agencies. For example the UCI tests in World Tour races but in lower level events it is often up to the local federation or anti-doping agency to conduct the testing. In France for example the AFLD agency does this. Viewed this way a significant share of testing is already completely independent of the UCI.

Back to the UCI and it has already moved to separate its testing functions. Here’s the governing body’s annual report:

The activities of the fight against doping in professional cycling road are managed by an independent foundation (Cycling Anti-doping Foundation) established by the UCI. The CAdF is responsible for the logistic and administrative management of the fight against doping, while the UCI retains its prerogatives in respect of regulatory provisions and penalties.

The CADF is the part of the UCI that runs the anti-doping tests and it’s already legally separate from the UCI and prepares separate financial accounts. That said its President is Pat McQuaid so this is more about legal and accounting matters rather than governance and ethics. But this makes us question what independence means. Imagine we created an independent body overnight, it would still have to be funded by the UCI and others. In other words our “independent” agency would remain very dependent on the UCI others for its funding. Here are the funding sources for the CADF from the latest UCI annual report:

Note that if the UCI “only” pays in 16%, it sets the terms for all the others, for example helping to mediate with riders, teams and others over their share.

Agency Problems
So what is independent? For me it would have be strong enough to pursue prosecutions under its own steam, free from political pressure, for example the UCI could not lean on it. But money is always an issue and any agency can’t afford to upset the UCI, teams or rider because if they decided to withhold funding the agency goes. In other words staff within the agency are always going to be dependent on the sport for their jobs.

Too many acronyms spoil the broth?

Set up a new agency with beaucoup Swiss Francs and the problems are not fixed overnight. When the UCI launched its biological passport it went after some small fry riders first because it knew the prosecution chances were better against an athlete without the legal firepower of, say, Alberto Contador. Similarly if it lost the liabilities would be smaller. In this light any new body would have to be resilient enough to cope with a legal siege. Cut loose from a governing body, there’s a risk the new agency could sink if it makes a mistake. At the same time it might want to go after some big names to justify its existence.

Also just because its independent doesn’t excuse it from all the other problems a bureaucracy faces. What if the new director is ineffective? What if the new rules aren’t clear? An independent agency could be Rottweiler but it could equally end up a Poodle.

WADA Code?
The UCI has said it want independent testing but this is thwarted by the WADA Code. Here’s an excerpt from Velonews where they interview President McQuaid:

VeloNews: One of the claims from Change Cycling Now, and we took this stance in our recent five-point plan to help save the sport, is that the anti-doping effort needs to be truly independent of the UCI. It could be some of the same UCI scientists, but a different division, to truly have that separation. What are your thoughts on this?
Pat McQuaid: We’d love it to be truly independent. The UCI has said that for years. We’d love it to be truly independent. We’d love to have somebody running it for us. But the fact is, the rules don’t allow us. The WADA Code states, very clearly, that the international federation is responsible for anti-doping within the sport. So the rules don’t allow us to do that. Having said that, we have created, and step-by-step we are creating, that situation.

Is McQuaid right? Yes and no. Article 15 of the WADA Code sets the responsibilities and in big events like the Tour de France where “the collection of Doping Control Samples shall be initiated and directed by the international organization which is the ruling body for the Event.” In other words the UCI should initiate and direct the anti-doping measures. But first this leave considerable scope for the UCI to grant its anti-doping agency greater independence, to explore the frontier of autonomy.

Also Article 15.1 allows for others to test as well, so the sport could conceivable set up a third party agency that’s independent and offers additional services. This could be the “truly independent agency” that the UCI would love to see. Has the UCI approached WADA to find a solution?

Show Me The Money
Fiddling with structures is one thing but the real issue facing anti-doping today is a funding shortfall. You can create as many new agencies as you like and install a variety of legal firewalls but all this costs money.

Meanwhile the cost of conducting tests rises above the inflation rate. It all means that the money today can’t go as far. With national agencies facing cutbacks in their budgets (see here or here) and even riders going public with their complaints about not being tested often enough the problems are financial as well as structural. Everyone is already paying their share of money but looking at the funding sources above it seems astonishing that the race organisers are not paying more. Companies like ASO make millions from the sport and have an interest in keeping it as clean as possible.

Everyone, even the UCI President it seems, would like anti-doping to be independent of the governing body. It’s a measure of the sport’s dysfunctional governance that a lot of people are concerned about the UCI’s ability to test athletes.

But nobody really knows what an independent agency would look like. Close your eyes and imagine a big agency full of stern staff with investigators and prosecutors doggedly hounding the cheats. Now open them and look at the reality of today’s funding problems where adding a few more out-of-competition tests is proving a big ask. Imagine a new agency with its own offices, IT systems and all the other corporate trappings like designer logos and more.

Longer term it’s right to note the conflict of interest between a governing body’s promotional and policing missions and addresss this. I’m sceptical about the UCI hiding behind the WADA Code. Indeed surely the easiest and cheapest here is to explore just how independent the CADF can become whilst still complying with the Code?

40 thoughts on “An Independent Anti-Doping Agency?”

  1. I don’t think the main worry is the testing itself but rather what is done with the tests. The fact that so many different bodies administer tests is a bug not a feature.

  2. Mmm, great article (as expected), but I’m still a sceptic…

    I think the UCI want testing to ‘be seen’ as independent, but, they still want to be able to manage the news/fallout. There’s too much money at stake for them to give up the baby and the bathwater, or whatever cliche might be appropriate?

    • The UCI simply wants to paper over all the scandals any way they can. They don’t care about DOPING as Verbruggen has supposedly said in the claim that the public won’t accept the TdF run off at an average of 25 kph, just the SCANDAL end of it. No dope tests = no dope scandals. But the public won’t sit still for that so they try to minimize the effects of any tests. Nothing will change until the testing and sanctioning is taken away from them.

  3. this view that catching cheats is bad for business is just so short-term. Allowing doping to become endemic is scaring off the money (Rabobank etc). With the popularity of grass roots-cycling right now, the sponsors would be queuing up if they weren’t so queasy about the chance of being linked to cheats.

    • I agree. Sponsors can probably accept that some cheating occur, that the sport mirrors life. But when it becomes institutional and across many teams then it’s out of control. A big effort to be seen to be tough could help attract sponsors and it’s why I think the races have plenty to gain by spending more on controls, it enhances the credibility of their events.

      • Exactly. This is how WADA was born – the big Olympic sponsors were simply tired of doping scandals. I believe in THIS case they really wanted to stop doping rather than just the scandals, but of course that is open to conjecture. One would think with the serious exit of so many sponsors, some directly due to doping issues, SOMEONE in cycling would get the hint. But the crooks at the UCI want to hold onto power any way they can, and admitting they were culpable would be the quickest way out of power for them. At this point I think only the IOC bigwigs can exert enough pressure on cycling to clean up – but perhaps Mr. Mars and The Mad Hatter have some nasty details they could reveal about IOC folks if they pushed hard on this? Who knows how deep the corruption truly is?

        • Larry,

          The IOC was shamed into creating WADA when it was discovered that National Olympic Federations were hiding positives and then timing the arrival of athletes to the Olympics so they would not test positive during the games..

    • Doping is rife within the gran fondo / amateurs crowd. It is actually worse than in the pro ranks now. Do the sponsors know/care about it?

  4. Surely what most sponsors now want is a clean sport and that does obviously require testing to occur so it is in the interests of the UCI to test. So, all parties must ensure it occurs and catch some cheats to deter others and show the testing has some effect. The problem is to catch the cheats before they win and results are up in the air forever more. To this end there must be coordination between agencies and ruthless targetting of non-failed suspicious tests. Currently there are too many who turned a blind eye in the past still involved to convince us that the all the sport now wishes to be clean (I’m looking as much at some teams as the UCI). You would hope race organisers would care, if only because they want to attract sponsors too. As on many things, the various parties in cycling don’t seem to want to agree and work with each other.

    • The problem with shifting more of the burden to the organizers is that there is only so much anyone can afford. They already carry the entire cost for in competition testing; how do you factor in the costs for out of competition testing? Not every event (even within a successful organizer’s portfolio) may be profitable. For testing to be effective, the frequency (and costs) of out of competition should be much higher. While the organizers certainly have an interest in the sport being clean, it is no more so than the teams, the riders, and the federations.

      • Shifting testing to the organizer already happens and it is an abject failure for an anti-doping process.

        Let’s go back a number of years to the CERA positives. Zomnegan is the head of the Giro and promises CERA tests. There were no CERA tests. There was even the promise that frozen samples would be tested later. Didn’t happen. Cleanest Giro Ever.

        The promoter running testing is another opportunity to hide doping controversy. The organizer simply orders tests for drugs a smarter doping cyclist would not use.

        • But this isn’t exactly how in-competition testing works.

          With the race sanction comes the mandate to have a certain level of testing. Organizers contract for testing with certified bodies, at the organizer’s expense. No one from the race organization is involved in the selection of riders, collection of samples, sending samples to the lab, testing, etc. The organizer merely contracts for testing, and assigns a staff member (DCO/Doping Contol Officer) to arrange for a facility for testing to occur, coordinate the logistics with the testing authority), and chaperones. The rest, including lab selection is up to the body that conducts the tests (typically a WADA affiliate). Unless there is a breakdown in the system, he organizer only hears about test results from the sanctioning federation, not the testing authority or the lab.

          The mandate is for a specified minimum level (scope) of testing as well as a minimum number of samples (which varies depending on the type of race, e.g. 1 day vs stage race). Organizers can elect to do additional testing (more samples or broader scope), but are not obligated to; some do, most don’t. The tests are already fairly expensive, which takes its toll on lower level events.

          If one believes the organizer needs to do more, then the mandates from the federations must be changed. However the solution probably lies with increased out of competition testing, long term analysis, and investigation. A huge problem is the financing of the system.

          Additional testing conducted by other doping authorities may take place at/near an event, as out of competition testing (for example when a WADA conducts a test using the whereabouts system before or after a competition) at the discretion of the testing authority; these are typically done without the specific knowledge of the organizer. As such, it is possible for an athlete to be tested by multiple authorities on the same day.

  5. Are there any sports with a robust anti-doping set-up that actually works? I can’t think of any examples of best practice that cycling could copy. I wonder if more could be done to increase the perceived risk of doping without actually restructuring the organisation or spending more money – eg calling a random sample of 25% of finishers to doping control, taking a random sample of 25% of the 25%, then analysing 25% of those samples in the lab. At least then all the riders would be in perpetual fear of being tested, even though only approx 1.5% would actually be being analysed. It strikes me that with the current system riders get warned or just know what to expect, so there is inadequate disincentive to cheat. Also I do think the police should be more involved in the major races, if all the teams knew that there was a fairly high chance of a police search of hotels and team buses at any time without warning surely that would discourage them. Also life bans for all staff and riders involved in cheating seems entirely appropriate to me, given where the sport has got to. It seems harsh but is easy to avoid – just never cheat, that should be easy enough, right? Finally I think their should be measures put in place to suspend entire teams if a single rider or member of staff were caught. That would certainly encourage teams to police themselves and create a strong ‘chilling effect’ against doping, reducing it to a few renegades who soon get found out (riders like Riccardo Ricco etc).

      • I think they should take samples of all riders at each race, even if they only test 2% they should keep all the other samples for the 8 years they are allowed. If a rider ever has suspicious results they can then go back and test the 100s of previous samples from this rider to look for further evidence of doping.

    • Regardless of sampling technique, nothing changes if the tests run return a positive value and the federation does not take the next step.

      FWIW, the next step is sending the samples and accompanying documentation to an expert for review. The case is reviewed again by a larger group of experts for approval, then a recommendation is returned to the UCI to either open a case or not. The UCI isn’t letting cases get this far. They have total authority, so there is no authority requiring they further process positives.

      As for sampling techniques, this is a deeply researched and implemented field of statistics. For example, all national food safety programs use some kind of sampling techniques. IMHO, the WADA protocol for sampling a field is okay. This is not where the problem lies.

  6. I think a lot of testing is already independent of the UCI or not affected by a certain dependency. Lets have a closer look: The in competition testing is pretty straight forward, the samples are taken by the commissaires and send directly to the lab, which report the results to UCI and WADA. No cover up possible other than not testing. The out of competition testing is mainly done by private companies such as IDTM or PWC. They deliver the samples also via courier to the lab, reporting similar than above. The biopassport is run by the Lausanne Anti Doping Lab, independant from the UCI and using an anonymising coding system for the profile, so they have no idea whose profile they are examining. So in summary, I do not see many ways to cheat other than not to test certain athletes.

    • For In-Competition Testing, at every UCI race I have worked at since the WADA code had been adopted, USADA has been the testing agency, not USACycling, not the UCI. No commissaires or federation officials are present, or involved in the process whatsoever, except for providing the results, which often dictate required testing for leaders/winners, etc. Random picks were drawn by USADA as well, from the official start lists.

      The organizer had to contract to USADA for testing as a condition of the USAC & UCI sanctions.

    • ***No cover up possible other than not testing. ***

      Not true. Contador’s positive was covered-up until they couldn’t keep it hidden. Armstrong’s “comeback” samples were red-hot positive and no case was opened. They probably have a number of unprocessed positives in queue in the APMU and the only organization that knows is the UCI.

      How Contador’s positive got leaked was a procedural weakness that was “fixed” sometime last year.

      Not true at all.

  7. Could the IOC not play a part here? I have read previously that the UCI sees olympic participation as vital for its future, a shop window so to speak. If the IOC had its own independent testing body then any sport wanting to feature had to sign up for independent testing and pay for the pleasure – the UCI could pay what it is does in the diagram above (it gets the money from teams/organisers etc) so shouldn’t cost more, in fact with economies of scale with all sports signed up costs should drop.
    This way cycling has an independent cost effective body – a body that SHOULD have the interests of its constituent sports being clean – my guess is that they weren’t too happy of stripping cyclists of medals inc LA and also seeing an unrepentant former doper win gold in the road race.

      • IOC and UCI are Swiss centric. It seems the culture, no offense, is steeped in secrecy. A long running business in off shore financial secrecy accounts has been the bread and butter riches of Zurich for decades, even during the atrocities of WWII. Thus transparency is not a strong point of this area of fine dairy and lakes. The gruyère fondue lock on the sporting authority ivory castle seems ripe to be dismantled/demolished. Perhaps 5-year rotations among home nations of world tour teams for hosting the seat of international cycle sport would be a start. As well, mandatory rotations of leadership with term limits, to prevent the current travesty of McQuaid being reinstated for another term of good ‘ole boy network monkey shines. Of course, much of this is “knee jerk” thinking that misses many of the nuances; however, doing nothing is an option, albeit only the optimal option for the UCI’s status quo.

    • The IOC is an interesting thing because it’s from the Olympics that the UCI derives a lot of its legitimacy and a big chunk of its funding. But the once every four year event isn’t too meaningful for pro cycling.

      The IOC has and continues to push the UCI to make the sport more equal between men and women so the UCI listens. The IOC also runs anti-doping for its games too. But because of all these connections it’s not independent, no?

      • This was the point I was making in that the UCI needs the IOC therefore if you are going to pass testing to someone independent (or away from the UCI and dependent on the funding) then you need to give it to someone who has some bite rather than just barks when there is a problem who is also being paid to administer the program by the UCI, as per your article. If as you say the UCI are listening re more equal treatment between men and women then you can be damn sure they would listen if the IOC start to uncover another doing scandal.

        For pro-riders the Olympic cycle might not have much bearing but it does to the UCI – it is they who need the profile/funds/legitimacy and it they who set the culture and rules.

      • Except the IOC itself has a long history of permitting doping and widespread corruption as long as controversy does not follow.

        Historically, the IOC has previously advocated legalizing doping.

        **But Moser wasn’t the only one questioning the point of going after doping. Juan-Antonio Samaranch, the IOC president, seemed to want to redefine doping itself: ” We really must produce an exact definition of doping. The existing list of what are labelled dope products should be drastically reduced. In my view, nothing which does not impair the health of an athlete should be called dope.”**

        FMK has covered this topic in great detail on

        Lastly, Hein appears to be a very senior official with the IOC. It is easily verified he’s in charge of the IOC’s SportAccord group, on the board of directors of the IOC’s media production company. Who knows how many other ties to the IOC he has.

  8. It’s the elephant in the room – everyone wants more testing but the actual logistics of making that possible are a huge issue. It seems that even the current system is difficult to fund and maintain. It all comes down to that conundrum – doping scares sponsors, so are we better off fighting it or covering it up? Any sane person would look at the last 10 years and say that the future clearly lies in fighting doping to such a degree that only a few idiots even contemplate it.

    But how to achieve that? So many’s scary but also horribly predictable to hear the stories from amateur riders about the doping rifeness. When we talk of the ‘culture change’, this is really the crux of it. Unless riders and cyclists themselves renounce doping then the battle will always be in vain. And I’m not certain that in the pro ranks doping is truly renounced.

    I’m sure there are teams that have mostly clean riders and a clean ethos. I’m also sure that there are teams with a lot of cheating riders and a cheating ethos. Exactly who they are and how numerous is anyone’s guess. I tell you what would be interesting – how many teams would welcome the idea of Greg Lemons being President, or some mega consultancy running a militant anti-doping regime? What is the appetite for this change?

    Yeah we hear a vocal minority talking against doping, but most are silent – and if you’re quietly juicing you’re hardly going to be talking about it are you. The link to the article with the Rabo riders complaining about lax testing is interesting. They’re speaking out but it doesn’t seem like there’s an appetite to do much about it. Perhaps they feel it’s not their place to get involved – they’re riders not administrators.

    I don’t think riders should or even could police themselves. And the UCI have also shown that they are simply not physically or mentally capable of the task.

    • The problem was not until recently, the quantity of testing. The bio-passport’s strength is in its longitudinal detection. I won’t go into the details, but they appear to use a Bayesian method for the bio-passport which after an initial population does not require more tests to become more accurate.

      More tests might solve taking things that don’t affect blood values longitudinally. Ex. Clenbuterol.

      The problem is the UCI’s management of test results. My estimation is they process continental riders to send a message to the elite peloton while they have the same kinds of positives for elite riders untouched in the APMU.

  9. Still sounds like too much emphasis on testing and not enough on investigative methods to catch the dopers and the enablers and rub them out of sport. If a few journos can uncover so much stuff, imagine a properly resourced investigative agency with relevant investigative and coercive powers.

    Hard to do across national borders / legal jurisdictions I’d imagine.

    • Where would the money come from for an investigation? There’s no strong law to criminally prosecute dopers in most countries. Few countries, France as an example, have any kind of enforceable criminal anti-doping law.

      It appears at least Spain has a national doping program if the latest trial of Fuentes is any example.
      Even in Armstrong’s situation where controlled substances in a number of countries were being sourced and shipped across borders illegally and nothing criminal has ever been done.

      No money, no interest, no crime.

  10. Your last paragraph sums the problem up very well. Perhaps it’s far-fetched to assume the sport must be willing to assume all the costs, financial and reputational, of policing itself.

  11. If only a Tv drama was created around WADA, CSI style and if it was a success a % of the profits could go towards a real agency.

    I mean we already have the raids and drug busts and plenty of drama! Pat could play the corrupt chief of police and the whole things could be based in Switzerland!

    A few Emmy´s later and bingo, your doping problem is fixed and we have heroes, at least on Tv.

  12. 1. Lifetime sanction for license-holders of teams within which more than one adjudicated positive result occurs in any 24 month period. i.e. go after the team owners.

    2. exception if license-holder details to authorities the suppliers, methods, and substances used by positive riders.

    3. lifetime ban for riders caught UNLESS they name doctors, suppliers, and enablers.

    4. I like the random-random testing idea. The retirement of Petacchi reminds me of the Fassa Bortolo train (and the Saeco train before it). How often was Scirea tested? How beneficial would it be to the team to have a doped-up lead-out train? Thus, a reasonable expectation that every rider in a race might be tested is useful. BUT this must be matched with targeted out-of-competition tests. Peaking being what it is, it shouldn’t be too difficult to guess when you’d need to test an athlete-of-interest.

  13. The sports directors are afraid the UCI, etc., will come down on their team, the UCI, etc., are afraid the sports directors will spill the beans on them. Sick culture.

    I heard Greg LeMonde and company at the round table. He did not employ these words but it is obvious the front wheel that represents the regulators and the back wheel that represents the teams fell off the collective bike. It was as if one wobbly wheel was so focused on what the other wobbly wheel was doing, it neglected its own alignment and anyone who mentions it is accused of not knowing how bicycles work.

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