USA Cycling today defended its close ties to former US Postal Service team owner Thomas Weisel, who was named as a defendant in a federal whistleblower lawsuit aimed at recouping the sponsorship funds provided by the government.
At the same time that Weisel's Tailwind Sports owned Lance Armstrong's US Postal Service Team, the California investment banker was also heavily involved in not only bankrolling USA Cycling’s non-profit Development Foundation, he was also intimately involved in reviving the finances of its parent organization, USA Cycling.
In the "qui tam" suit filed by Floyd Landis and his attorney Paul Scott, it is stated that, “Mr. Landis is informed and believes that these conflicts of interest and overlapping relationships between USA Cycling, the USA Cycling Foundation, and Thomas Weisel helped make it possible for the USPS Team to carry on the extensive program of systematically doping team athletes during the period relevant to this complaint.”
The sealed filing, leaked in the New York Daily News today, cites Weisel’s own biography in stating that he was “largely in charge” of USA Cycling when, in 2000, he stepped in to rescue the financially ailing federation. That was the same year that the US Anti-Doping Agency was created, taking the responsibility for doping controls and adjudication away from the national sporting federations for Olympic sports.
The filing also states that the Foundation provided “approximately $500,000 to $725,000 each year” to USA Cycling, “a substantial portion of USA Cycling’s annual budget”.
USA Cycling responded to the accusations of impropriety with the following statement to Cyclingnews:
USA Cycling and the USA Cycling Development Foundation are aware that news reports and editorials have suggested that adverse inferences should be drawn from Thomas Weisel's financial contributions to the sport of cycling for more than a decade, although at this juncture we are not aware of any specific allegations of misconduct by either entity.
Our initial reaction is that any implication that Mr. Weisel's contributions were directed to shape or affect anti-doping policies, anti-doping measures, or the enforcement of anti-doping rules is based on a clear misunderstanding of the roles that USA Cycling and USA Cycling Development Foundation play in the sport.
As everyone familiar with the history of sports in the United States knows, the United States Anti-Doping Agency assumed complete responsibility for drug testing and enforcement of anti-doping rules in 2000 pursuant to a federal statute. An individual's relationship with USA Cycling or the USA Cycling Development Foundation could not have had any impact on USADA's enforcement of anti-doping measures, nor would any donor, athlete, or other individual inside the sports world ever believe that close ties with a National Governing Body would have any such influence on USADA, whose enforcement arm has always operated independently of the influence of any NGB like USA Cycling.
For those who are interested in measuring public innuendo against the facts, the following information is a matter of public record (as it has been over all the years at issue). The USA Cycling Development Foundation was created to raise money for the development of the sport of cycling generally, and was established as a separate corporation qualified under Section 501(c)(3) to ensure that money it raised would be used for those specific purposes.
Similar foundation structures exist at many National Governing Bodies and they all function in the same manner: they raise money through philanthropic donations from individuals and entities interested in the development of amateur sports, and they provide restricted grants to their respective NGBs.
The fact that a development foundation grants money to a NGB is absolutely expected, contrary to the intimations of some that such a relationship raises questions about conflicts or improprieties. Thomas Weisel has been one of many USACDF donors whose accumulated support in the range of $18 million in the last decade has been a key both to the tremendous growth of cycling as a popular recreational activity and to the reemergence of the United States as an international cycling power. Substantial information regarding the finances of USA Cycling and the USACDF has always been available to the public.
The whistleblower suit contends that Weisel and Armstrong's manager Bill Stapleton, his partner Bart Knaggs were fully aware of the doping programme which was being run by team manager Johan Bruyneel. The details of what the US Anti-Doping Agency called "the most sophisticated, professionalized, and successful doping program that sport has ever seen" have been published as part of its "reasoned decision".
Armstrong has refused to contest the charges, and by all reports will confess to doping in his interview with Oprah Winfrey, which is set to air tonight at 9PM EST. You can follow the interview live on Cyclingnews, with insights and analysis from our editors and special guests.