PtG Article 26.10.2012

UCI under heavy fire

The International Cycling Union (UCI) has come under fire in the wake of the ‘Reasoned decision’ by USADA leading to the stripping of Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France wins.

This week has seen a grave criticism of the international cycling body and observers ask how UCI could have let this happen.

In their decision to follow USADA’s ’Reasoned Decision’ and strip Lance Armstrong of his titles from August 1998 and on including seven Tour de France titles, the UCI listed several points of critique regarding the USADA decision. 

For one the UCI criticises USADA for using ‘on occasion animated and overstated language as well as incorrect and incomplete statements made in relation with the UCI reflect USADA’s intense involvement in the prosecution which not always serves the degree of detachment that one may expect from a disciplinary decision.” 

UCI strongly denies accusations referred in the USADA report that the UCI might have had detailed knowledge about what was going on, ignored concrete warnings against doping practices in the sport and on one occation even held its hand over Lance Armstrong.

In its decision, the UCI also points to the fact that the UCI has not been the only body responsible for detecting the use doping during the Tours and names the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as responsible as well. 

WADA takes no blame and strikes back.

The UCI "clearly have to take the blinkers off, look at the past, examine the people who are there, ask themselves the questions ‘are those same people still in the sport and can they proceed forward with those people remaining’,” WADA president John Fahey said in interview with Fox Sports Australia.

"I don't think there's any credibility if they don't do that and I think they need to get confidence back into the sport so that its millions of supporters around the world will watch and support the sport going forward. Right now if you were a cycling fan you'd say to yourself ‘Why bother?’"

Also the former WADA President, IOC member Dick Pound, hits out at the UCI for not having acted sufficiently on the use of doping, which he believes they must have known about.

“It is not credible that they didn’t know this was going on,” Pound said according to AFP. “I had been complaining to UCI for years.”

Lack of action to critique

UCI is being critiqued for fighting its critics rather than acting on revelations and allegations with investigations.

“If cycling does anything well, it is shooting the messenger,” writes Martin Hardie, a law teacher at Deakin University, Australia, in an article referring to UCI’s lawsuits of individuals who have publicly criticized the UCI for its lack of action concerning doping.

One such case is the case of Floyd Landis who was successfully sued by the UCI for defamation. In an open letter posted on his Facebook page, three-times Tour de France winner Greg LeMond endorses the UCI critique and goes as far as calling for the resignation of UCI president Pat McQuaid.

“I want to tell the world of cycling to please join me in telling Pat McQuaid to resign,” LeMond writes in the letter, which is exceptionally direct in its allegations against the former and current leadership of the UCI, claiming that the “problem for sport is not drugs but corruption.”

LeMond also strongly expresses his support for the Irish journalist Paul Kimmage, who is currently facing a court case for defamation after a UCI lawsuit for quoting Floyd Landis saying that the UCI had known about positive Armstrong tests and kept silent. The journalist has set up a fund to pay the court bills and he has so far gotten more than 70.000 USD in financial support from different beneficiaries, including LeMond.

So far, the UCI has not commented on LeMond’s allegations.

Restoring trust

In a less truculent way, WADA president John Fahey, in an official WADA statement, expresses hope that the Lance Armstrong case can be the stepping stone for a cleaner sport .

“WADA is encouraged that the UCI feels it can use this case as a catalyst to thoroughly clean up its sport and remove any remaining vestiges of the doping programs that have clearly damaged cycling over the last decade,” the statement reads.

Other observers are also calling for reforms and an in-depth look at how the UCI is run and how the union makes it calls.

In a statement on their website, Transparency International (TI) urges the UCI to take the matter very seriously and to initiate reforms in order to restore the trust in the sport.

“For the sake of a sport that has millions of amateur cyclists, thousands of professionals and a roster of new heroes, the UCI should take this opportunity to review how it operates,” the statement says and lists a number of action points.

TI calls for an independent investigation into past scandals, a thorough review of the UCI governance structure by an independent panel of experts and better whistleblower protection.

It looks as if the case will not only have consequences for Lance Armstrong, who, along with the loss of his cycling titles, his sponsors and his reputation, might also be facing a claim to pay back prize money amounting to nearly €3 million, but the UCI has to get to the working table in order to walk on from the current situation.

Today the UCI Management Committee will have a ‘special meeting’ discussing the possibility of setting up a "Truth and Reconciliation" commission in order to get to the bottom of the tricky situation cycling has gotten into after its greatest hero has been dethroned.