UCI passport sanctions stuck in neutral

By Shane Stokes

The biological passport has been up and running for over a year but it seems that UCI has yet to put the concept into gear as far as sanctions or suspensions against riders are concerned. According to Pat McQuaid, the organisation's president, his anti-doping experts are currently fine-tuning the project, making it water-tight so that any disciplinary measures can't subsequently be thrown out on appeal.

"The passport is ongoing," he told Cyclingnews on Friday. "Any decision on it isn't in the hands of the UCI at the moment, isn't in the hands of the either the UCI anti-doping department or the legal department. The experts are studying it. We are still working on profiles. I don't want to give a time frame as to when we might be moving to the next stage, which is the stage of starting processes against one or more riders."

McQuaid denies that the project is behind schedule, despite earlier indicating in October that he expected it to be ready for sanctioning purposes by the start of 2009.

"It is not behind schedule because there is no [firm] schedule – there never was a schedule on the biological passport," he insisted. "It is a very complicated system. For instance, if you get some results that are abnormal, you may have to look at more results in order to be able to ascertain and stand over the fact that was an abnormal reading."

The UCI's anti-doping manager Anne Gripper said last month that delays are due to the fact that the biological passport is a new method of detecting doping. It uses longitudinal profiling in order to pinpoint suspicious activity. In many cases no clear positive will be found, but rather a number of indications that something may be amiss. The fact that it is without precedent in sport means that the results will initially be more open to argument.

The biological passport system was heralded as the answer to problems with doping in the sport, but it has met with problems along the way during its one-year existence. The withdrawal of WADA from the passport last season, the non-payment of ASO's contribution in 2008 and uncertainty about the program in light of now-solved issues with the ProTour are all factors which likely slowed the pace of full implementation.

McQuaid stresses that the UCI needs to be sure the system is completely bulletproof. "Because this is the beginning of it and because we are creating the profiles and studying whatever abnormal profiles there might be, we need to be sure," he said. "We need to be on solid ground with those abnormal profiles in terms of opening up an anti-doping case. It is particularly important that the early ones are successful and they stand up to scrutiny, not just under the first process but also the second process – the appeal process."

When asked if it would be fully up and running before the Tour de France, McQuaid confirmed that this would 'certainly' be the case.

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