Tit for tat over Verbruggen/Pound lawsuit could hamper biological passport implementation
Additional reporting from Shane Stokes in Manchester
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced that it is withdrawing its support of the new 'Athlete Passport' from the International Cycling Union (UCI) after cycling's governing body sued former WADA president Richard Pound for comments he made about former UCI president Hein Verbruggen during his tenure.
Pound was highly critical of Verbruggen and the UCI for not taking stronger action to solve the sport's doping problems. A WADA statement made it clear that this legal action was the basis of its decision.
"In light of the UCI's attack on WADA, we now find a partnership with the UCI untenable and will therefore initiate dialogue with other sports in order to advance the Athlete's Passport project," said WADA President John Fahey.
UCI president Pat McQuaid responded to Cyclingnews while at the track championships in Manchester. "It is very surprising from our point of view that they should take this view. We haven't done anything against WADA, we have no case against WADA. This is against Dick Pound. We are protecting the position of the UCI against any future liability should his claims be accepted, that the UCI did nothing or did very little in the fight against doping."
UCI's passport programme to continue
McQuaid also stated that the organisation would continue its best efforts to implement the biological passport programme, even if WADA withdraws its support. "From our point of view, we are still committed to the biological passport," said McQuaid. "This is a knee-jerk reaction from WADA and I hope that in the coming days with some consideration they might take a slightly different view.
"It may take us a bit longer to introduce it now if they are not going to be actively involved in it, but we will press ahead."
The biological passports were created as a way to help curtail the use of performance enhancing drugs in the peloton after the 2007 Tour de France was rocked by multiple doping positives. At an anti-doping summit last October, organised by the French ministry of sport, the UCI and WADA came together to hammer out details to ensure the biological passport programme could be put in place quickly to help the sport clean up its image.
"WADA agreed to pilot its Athlete's Passport project with the UCI, rather than any other sport, in an attempt to help restore cycling to a cleaner and more credible state," said Fahey. "Since October 2007, WADA has supported the UCI, in financial and human resources, with this pilot project."
The passports, which examine the riders' urine and blood samples throughout the season to detect abnormal changes which could indicate doping, is believed to be a more reliable method for catching drug use than traditional anti-doping controls, which look for evidence of the drugs themselves. According to the UCI, the development of the passport model was funded by a WADA research grant.
Similar to the programmes of the Damsgaard and ACE programs instituted by teams such as CSC, Slipstream, High Road and BMC, the passport concept has already helped to elevate the images of these squads.
However, the UCI's programme has already run into problems with budgetary shortfalls due to the Grand Tour organisers backing out on their commitment to help finance the passports over a separate squabble about the ProTour and its association with the Tour de France. The of the UCI's programme is € 5.3 million for this year alone, according to the UCI, with the haematological profile costing upwards of €3 million per year. The costs were to be shared by the UCI and the ProTour and Professional Continental teams, race organisers, riders, WADA and the French Ministry of Sport.
"WADA is only putting in something like $200,000 out of the €5 million budget, so that aspect of it is minimal. The money they were putting in was in the form of manpower because they were paying the salary of one person who was working on the team of the biological passport. Now we will be working with one person less, but we will have to do that," said McQuaid.
According to WADA the withdrawal of support for the UCI will not affect the teams' use of its ADAMS whereabouts system.