Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Doping and the UCI: A Step in the Right Direction

At the end of my article on Greg LeMond yesterday, I mentioned LeMond's efforts to get a change in UCI leadership in the face of accusations of bribery and complicity in doping cases involving former UCI President, Pat McQuaid and others in the cycling organization. I wrote, "McQuaid lost a reelection bid in the fall of 2013 and was replaced as UCI President by Brian Cookson, but time will tell if the leadership change will represent a new commitment against doping."

So today I was interested to read this article in CyclingNews. Apparently, new UCI President Brian Cookson has formed a "Cycling Independent Reform Commission" (CIRC) to investigate some of the claims leveled against the organization's leadership. "Cookson has delivered in his promise for an independent body to review perceived past wrongdoings, including whether the UCI was complicit in Lance Armstrong's doping," the article stated. It goes on to say that the CIRC, initially known as a "truth and reconciliation commission," has "received the blessing of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)."

It strikes me as a good first step. Not surprisingly, former UCI President Pat McQuaid is reluctant to cooperate "as he does not want to be drawn into a 'witch hunt'."

"I haven't made up my mind yet. I need to be convinced that this commission is going to look into all of the aspects of the reasons why doping was prevalent," said McQuaid. "That is who was actually responsible, not just the UCI, but also people like WADA and USADA." I'm curious if I'm just misunderstanding his statement, but it almost sounds like he blames WADA and USADA for doping somehow. Or perhaps he was trying to say simply that anti-doping measures were the responsibility of those organizations, not the UCI. Then again, I don't know if that sounds much better.

One of the worst accusations leveled against the previous UCI leadership was that Lance Armstrong made a $100,000 donation to the UCI in order to cover up a positive blood test. That was a claim I've seen again and again, from the testimony of former Armstrong teammates, and in Tyler Hamilton's book, The Secret Race, and in the report on the Armstrong case released by WADA. But McQuade vehemently denies any wrongdoing, dismissing the testimony as being from discredited cheaters, and even denies that Armstrong ever tested positive.

"I don't think the UCI should be taken to task for what may or may not have happened. I have to be convinced that this isn't setting out to be a witch hunt," said McQuade. "At the end of the day, we now know that Lance Armstrong never tested positive. Never tested positive. That's a fact." He added, "There is no proof anywhere . . . that Lance Armstrong tested positive. If Lance Armstrong never tested positive, what is there to cover up?" I don't know what it says about the situation when I find more credibility in the testimony of people cooperating with the anti-doping agencies -- the disgraced racers -- than in the word of former UCI President.

Interestingly, at the time that the anti-doping administrations were investigating Armstrong so stridently, McQuade and the UCI stood staunchly in his defense. After it became impossible to continue defending Armstrong, they changed their tune, suddenly trying to cast a distance between themselves and the person whom they previously had so strongly defended. "Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling," said McQuade in 2012. "Armstrong deserves to be forgotten in cycling now."

There seems to be this attitude that, now that Armstrong is gone, doping is over -- as if doping somehow began and ended with Lance Armstrong. Some want to say that doping is all in the past and it's time to move on. But I don't believe either of those things. These are the same things that were said after the "Festina Affair" and again after "Operation Puerto" and it goes on and on. I also don't believe in casting accusations without evidence, or declaring someone guilty before they've had a proper opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. There has been no trial (nor will there be), so it's unclear if McQuaid or anyone else at UCI has even done anything wrong. We may never know for sure. But it seems to me that that is why we need the CIRC.

With the preponderance of doping in professional cycling, and the kind of money that was at stake, it hardly seems unreasonable to think there may have been a culture of complacency, if not outright complicity, at the UCI, and only a serious change in attitudes and actions will make sure that real change takes place. For that reason, I believe this CIRC is a step in the right direction.

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