Travis Tygart, the CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency, said he was "thrilled" with the reforms made within the UCI since the arrival of new president Brian Cookson. Speaking at an anti-doping intelligence seminar in Singapore, Tygart also dismissed the repeated claims by Cookson's predecessor Pat McQuaid that the USADA case against Lance Armstrong was a 'witch-hunt' and that Armstrong was a scapegoat.
"It is easy for Pat McQuaid or others to say sound bites like he said," Tygart said, according to AFP. "The evidence is telling. There have been roughly 26 athletes, coaches, team doctors who have been held accountable. Several of them have gotten lifetime bans as well."
Armstrong, his team manager Johan Bruyneel and his infamous coach Michele Ferrari were all handed lifetime bans from sport by USADA in 2012. Armstrong, although he confessed to doping, continues to claim he was not given the same opportunity to cooperate with the authorities in exchange for reduced bans that some of the other athletes who admitted to anti-doping violations were given.
"Lance certainly had every opportunity to challenge that sanction," Tygart said. "And certainly Pat McQuaid could have appealed our decision to impose the lifetime ban. If he, in any way, felt that was unfair or was singling out Lance Armstrong, he certainly, as the president of UCI, had the appeal rights to go to CAS."
The UCI under McQuaid briefly challenged the jurisdiction of USADA in prosecuting Armstrong for anti-doping violations, but then changed his tune, saying that the UCI would uphold the sanction, and that Armstrong had "no place in the cycling".
Armstrong has since gone on television for the first time since his admission, telling the BBC that although he regretted the way he'd acted during his career, given the same circumstances he would make the same decision to dope again. McQuaid followed that with a BBC radio interview in which he said he still had a "certain sympathy" for Armstrong. "He was very much made a scapegoat, there was a witch-hunt after Armstrong."
In 2013, McQuaid lost the election for UCI president to Cookson, and the UCI has since undertaken reforms to its anti-doping rules and governance.
Tygart said that USADA has had several meetings with the UCI, "and we were thrilled and walked out of there understanding the governance changes, the rule changes that they have implemented.
"And I think they appreciate that they had a bad culture where athletes had no choice other than the use of drugs if they wanted to compete and win."
The temptation to cheat in order to win will always be a part of sport, but the changes mean that the UCI "continues to do the best that it can to ensure a clean and healthy culture for individual athletes," Tygart said.
The UCI's Cycling Independent Reform Commission is currently wrapping up its investigation into how the culture of doping in cycling erupted in the late 1990s, and what part the UCI played in that culture.
The final report of the CIRC is due to be published at the end of this month.
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