Howman: WADA's credibility not in question in Armstrong aftermath

News that the UCI has called for an external commission to examine allegations made against them in the Lance Armstrong affair has been welcomed by WADA. The anti-doping agency has offered assistance, if called upon, a measure that may help remedy the relationship between the two organisations.

However while USADA's reasoned decision and ruling against Armstrong has put the UCI under the microscope, the role of WADA has been somewhat bypassed. When USADA's ruling was handed down, WADA praised the US Anti-Doping Agency's rigor and handwork. But what of WADA itself and their role in cycling's fight against anti-doping?

Although their ability to operate has only been in motion since August 2004, and the bulk of the Armstrong deluge belonged in a previous timeframe, they aren't inescapable from the story and discussion has been raised over both their role in the fight against anti-doping and whether their current mandate should be enhanced.

"I don't think it's about WADA's credibility," says their director-general David Howman when asked if his agency should review their own position.

"First of all the code didn't come into effect until August 2004 for there was considerable stuff that was going on before our rules came into effect. Secondly we for a long time complained about what was going on in cycling."

WADA has indeed stuck to their charter since their inception and have had previous altercations due to the phlegmatic lack of urgency that has seeped through the walls in Aigle. The low point came when the UCI sued former WADA President Dick Pound.

In the wake of a L'Equipe story involving Lance Armstrong's positive tests from the 1999 Tour a commission was set up by the UCI. The Vrijman enquiry, as it was called, cleared Armstrong but the head of the enquiry had close ties to Hein Verbruggen. It went further than just exonerating the rider, criticising WADA's ethics in the process

"We pointed out the substance that came to the fore when L'Equipe published its article," says Howman.

"We pointed out the foibles of the so called independent report when it was commissioned as a result of the article. We suggested that we host and hold a summit on cycling and that was rejected. We did join with the French Minister in 2007 to hold a summit on cycling because that was another time it was facing a crisis and we suggested at that stage that the UCI should pilot the passport. So we did as much as we could from our position to reject some reality into cycling. A lot of it was rejected and that doesn't bode well in terms of those that rejected us."

"We were even sued," Howman says, pointing to the litigation the UCI and former president Hein Verbruggen brought against Dick Pound in 2008. Pound made comments that suggested the war on doping was not being fought as vehemently as possible by the UCI.

"I think they now recognise this themselves, they have not done the job as an anti-doping organisation to the best of their ability and what we wait to see is what an independent commission tells us as to what was going on. We exist under protocols which mean that all the international federations do testing and we don't do to that. We monitor then and we're therefore reliant on the genuineness of those that conduct the day to day activities."

"Let's hope it's not another Vrijman"

The members of the UCI commission have yet to be chosen, however WADA have made it clear that although they would cooperate, running the panel would be outside of their jurisdiction. Howman's primary concern is that the panel is independent.

"They're now setting up a commission to look at what they did and we'll willingly contribute to that if it's set up in an appropriate way and run by independent people because that's their chance to remedy the problems they probably still have."

There could be a stumbling block to any cooperation, however. Beyond the Vrijman case, the relationship between the UCI and WADA appears strained. Pound and McQuaid were happy to be seen publicly conversing at the velodrome during the London Games but within days McQuaid stated: "Historically over the last 10 to 15 years there has been a political campaign against cycling by senior people within WADA and I don't think that's acceptable."

The quote could have led to legal action and highlighted the polarised positions of the UCI and WADA.

"Mr McQuaid should be asked that question again now," Howman says.

"He should have an opportunity to answer it and remedy the bad will that existed as a result of the bad will he provided. He was wrong and I said at the time that I was disappointed to hear that. It was a personal attack on me and Dick Pound. We didn't sue him but it wasn't backed by evidence. We've never conducted any sort of witch hunt or campaign against the UCI. We've just encouraged them to do the job to help them clean up their sport."

Does Howman have faith that the UCI, still led by McQuaid and influenced by Verbruggen – the honorary president – can put their house in order? A simple yes, or no couldn't be provided. Instead, Howman said:

"I hope I will have faith in the system they're putting together to enquire as to what they can do better."

Did he have faith in the pair before they initiated plans for a commission?

"I think there are questions that need to be answered and the way to do that is to have an independent inquiry," says batting back the question.

"There are questions that were raised from the USADA report. I would say it's there in black and white and therefore it requires and answer. I don't have a personal opinion at all. Let's hope that it's independent, that it's not a Vrijman style report and don't forget there are still two cases that have to go through the USADA system and I don't think we've seen all the evidence yet."

Truth, reconciliation and the omerta

WADA has voiced approval of a platform in which individuals can provide information about their knowledge of doping. It's somewhat at odds with the zero-tolerance policies put forward by Sky and Orica-GreenEdge and Howman hopes that the commission can define rules and a safety net for those that do cooperate. Therein lies another contradiction between the UCI and WADA.

When Landis confessed and told all about the US Postal doping he was lambasted by the UCI. On May 26, 2010 McQuaid then called for USADA to investigate Landis's claims, only to then retract and argue that the UCI owned jurisdiction.

Tyler Hamilton was also discredited and Jorg Jaschke felt he had been ostracised for the same. All three gave evidence in USADA case. Contrast the UCI to WADA's position and as far back as December 2011 Howman told Cyclingnews that Landis could be telling the truth but the WADA chief admits that his organisation, if truthful with its own past, can admit to being bullied.

He now sums up Landis in following terms: "I think he must feel a much better man than he did in those days and I applaud him for doing what he did and coming forward. You don't just discount someone because in the past they once told a lie. I think he has to be listened to very carefully. I would never turn down a discussion with anybody."

"Look at 2005 when we called for an enquiry into the L'Equipe article. We had that that information and what happened? We were sued. We weren't supported by any one at that stage. We issued a report after the Vrijman report that was pretty straight up and down and direct and I think at that stage no one really got in behind us. From a retrospective point of view that's disappointing from a bullying point of view which everyone seems to be suffering from at the time, perhaps it's understandable. Maybe we have to put ourselves in the bullied category."

Asked if WADA were bullied by Armstrong or the UCI, Howman says:

"Look at what stopped us from going forward. We were sued. We put the matter out there and we did it again in 2007 when we offered to host a cycling convention in order for it to do better. That was turned down. They [the UCI] refused to meet with us and it was only by invitation from the French minister was a meeting convened. There were a lot of protective screens that were thrown up at the time that we couldn't do anything about."

Is there a pilot on board?

WADA is far from toothless. Since the Declaration of Lausanne in 1999 and the first code in 2004 they have worked on harmonizing the rules governing anti-doping in sport. However Howman believes that the agency could strive to increase their powers in the future.

"We monitor the anti-doping fight. We don't run it," Howman says.

"We don't tell the UCI how to run the sport, we say we'll help you run the anti doping work and here's some guidelines and rules and we'll monitor you. We've got no sanction power or penalty power. Maybe that should change.

"At the end of the day we have some authority. We don't have the power to conduct investigations ourselves. I think that ought to be considered. At the moment we require consent but it's not very effective as people won't talk to you."

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