The UCI and WADA must work together
"You know that guy on the lowest rung of the ladder and no matter who's in charge he's on the lowest rung? That's me. I don't trust anyone who wants to be the head of anything." - Anonymous professional rider.
In the last 48 hours the UCI, WADA, the UCI's disbanded Independent Commission and even a lobby organisation led by a gentleman who makes compression kit has released statements on the state of cycling's doping problems. Each press release has been more farcical and ambivalent than the last, with only the Independent Commission coming out of the situation with any credibility after their suffocated attempt to do their job properly.
Politics is the game but as each side trades moves it's the sport and specifically the teams and riders who are being sacrificed as pawns.
It's almost impossible to pinpoint where this mess began: It wasn't with Lance Armstrong's first dalliance into doping; Hein Verbruggen entering the sport; or Dr Ferrari buying his first camper van. So if you're really looking for a reference point spin your globe, pick a year and you'll find a sporting event linked to doping.
However when USADA picked up the baton from the US FDA case in February 2012, their CEO Travis Tygart promised that the truth would come out, telling Cyclingnews that either it would be published legitimately or that he would resign and call a press conference. From that point on the course was set: Armstrong's decision not to fight just added momentum, and while the UCI tried to swim against the tide, cycling limped through a year where talk of suspensions, subpoenas and Faustian sins took over the headlines.
There were the six month suspensions, the managed confessions for riders who had lived through sustained periods of doping in their careers, the demonization of Armstrong and flash moments of clarity for those that had been telling the truth all along.
But doping was never about one man, and it's never been about one team. ONCE, Saeco, Kelme, Telekom, Mapei, Polti, Rabobank, Banesto, PDM and others, all pushed the boat out, and all were caught up in doping scandals. Perhaps to different degrees of success and extremity but they all 'played the game' and danced around their consciences and drug tests with justification of level playing fields and survival.
The governing body had no interest in stopping them, and had no regard for either the health of the sport or the athletes themselves. There were those athletes - in the minority - with either higher moral compasses or simply lower bank balances who couldn't keep up, but cycling's past, sport's past for that matter, is entrenched with cheating and drugs.
Now the cat's out of the bag. In Aigle, 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. Word has it, he prefers to sneak through the back door rather than enter through the front lobby.
Perhaps in desperation McQuaid reached out to Antoine Vayer - a pro-active member of the Change Cycling Now movement. The two met in Switzerland last week and the Frenchman indicated that his group were looking for a candidate to replace the Irishman.
So as the UCI backs itself into a corner, as the head of USADA goes from television show to television show surfing a wave of his own gleeful brilliance, the levels of inconsistency, hypocrisy and omerta steadily rise. USADA, incidentally told one potential witness not to cooperate with the Independent Commission at this stage.
Part of the current problem is certainly political. It's not been reported thoroughly, if at all, but WADA requested that ex-UCI employees be allowed to testify in front of the UCI Independent Commission on the basis that any information would not leave the individuals open to legal proceedings tied to their non disclosure agreements. The request was denied, but wouldn't it have been illuminating to hear what Anne Gripper really thought of her former employers. Did you ever see corruption, Ms Gripper? Why has the number of passport cases slowed since you left? Is McQuaid really interested in cleaning up cycling or does he just wish to manage a crisis and deflect criticism? Does Vergbruggen still pull the strings?
Of course we all know that the UCI disbanded their commission but behind the scenes the reality of politics is somewhat different. The commission was within days of resigning and McQuaid and his cohorts merely jumped the gun and beat them to it. But McQuaid is at least right in language if not sentiment when he says: "This is about doing what is right for cycling. This is not the time for showmanship, or political point scoring."
The latest move has seen WADA draw alongside the UCI's stern and fire off a direct hit.
WADA's John Fahey also fired back: "Instead of any continuing professional dialogue with WADA's president, UCI has publicly announced by way of a press statement that WADA has agreed to work with it on some form of truth and reconciliation. This is not only wrong in content and process, but again deceitful."
It's reached the stage where the UCI have begun publishing private letters between themselves and WADA. What's next, Fahey wrapping toilet paper around the UCI headquarters or perhaps Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Paul Kimmage putting fireworks through the letter box?
And all the while it's the clean riders, the sport and fans who suffer. Barraged with question after question at the early season races it's no wonder so many athletes have become withdrawn. So many interviews start 'okay, but I'm not talking about Lance' and for all the press headlines in recent weeks Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) is as far away as it ever was. It's merely a buzz word, like amnesty, internal testing, transparency, and zero tolerance.
With no intermediary for TRC, with no scale of the importance of what truth and reconciliation can bring, cycling will be lost. First to go was the credibility, then the sponsors, and now it's simply a matter of dignity and respect.
At the Tour de San Luis, Cyclingnews tried to talk to a rider who spent a decade at Rabobank. The interview request was flatly denied. Perhaps the rider didn't like the look of the journalist or maybe it was the fact that if he'd opened his mouth his new employer would have fired him; just like they'd done with his former director sportif.
At this steady rate, and under these conditions cycling will continue to see sponsors leave, riders clam up, and the sport suffer. Each day new confessions will appear, lies will be told and scapegoats blamed. And the biggest opportunity of truth and reconciliation will be lost. The sport has a chance to genuinely move forward but the squabbling over rights and jurisdiction threaten to absolve that opportunity. And only the riders will suffer.
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