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The Lance Armstrong scandal: Is Pat McQuaid simply incompetent or is the UCI basically corrupt?

23/10/2012 3:11:14 PM

The ongoing performance of the UCI in the Lance Armstrong drugs scandal, is nothing short of shambolic. This week, cycling's governing body took the only decision open to them by confirming their support for USADA's decision to impose a life ban on Lance Armstrong for using performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong has also been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.

Initially the UCI had indicated they would need all of the 21 days available to them to respond, but this announcement - seven days early - left me feeling it was a moment forced upon them by the sheer weight of public opinion rather than it being the right thing to do. The initial statement contained the bare minimum and it certainly left us all with more questions than answers as in one, dismal hour, they failed to provide me with any confidence that they were capable of putting cycling back on course, they also dodged an ideal opportunity to completely nail allegations that the UCI actually covered up evidence in order to protect Lance Armstrong. Frankly, I have no confidence in any of the senior officers to handle the next stage with impartiality and I certainly don't trust them to do what is right for the sport in preference to self preservation.

So is the UCI simply incompetent or basically corrupt? It has to be one or the other. It could actually be both.

During his address at a press conference in Geneva, the President, Pat McQuaid, tried to make all the right P.R. noises by saying that; "Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling" and; "He deserves to be forgotten."

So that's alright then.

Well actually, no it isn't!

Mr. McQuaid's answers to journalist's questions, prove that the organisation as a whole - and the President himself - are still in denial. A man who openly said that when he took office in 2005 that he; "...made the fight against doping a priority" has said he has no intention of resigning for failing to deliver. But this is a man who has been in office since 2005 and his colleagues at USADA have been investigating this case since November 2008. Information citing Lance Armstrong's involvement has been with USADA since 2010. So, as World Cycling's governing body, it's clear to me that he and his organisation have systematically failed to grasp the depth of a problem that's now been laid bare in a report containing sworn statements from more than two dozen witnesses. This includes 15 professional cyclists and 12 members of Armstrong’s cycling teams. Oh, and his former masseuse. Add to that, accusations that payments made to the UCI by Armstrong to "develop the sport" were actually sweeteners to ensure positive tests were covered up, and you're left with a pretty dismal picture of the UCI as an organisation incapable of leading a world sport.

Mr. McQuaid said in Geneva on Monday that a crisis was an opportunity. Well if that's the case, the USADA report alone suggests he's missed a lot of opportunities. Why didn't he ensure the UCI piled in to maximise the investigation? If I was President and I knew this investigation was going on and that, at some point, it would inevitably fall on my desk, I'd want to make damned sure I was right at the heart of it.

Here's just one example of an arguable dereliction of duty that demands an answer: Why, in 2010, did they simply leave the allegations made by Armstrong's former team mate Floyd Landis to be dealt with by USADA? Landis was one of many who provided evidence of doping activity, but, significantly, he also dragged the UCI into the equation by alleging that they covered up a "positive test" in 2001. Landis and another team mate, Tyler Hamilton also attested that Armstrong had told each of them he could make positive tests go away after agreeing to donate $125,000 for anti-doping programmes.

All the UCI did was send Landis a letter demanding he retracted the allegation of a cover up! But what about the other side of the allegation that they clearly ignored? Well, on Monday, they simply said they left USADA to get on with the rest of the investigation. Personally, I can only come to the conclusion that they weren't in a position to get involved because of what had happened before. There is also an allegation that $500,000 changed hands to cover up a positive test on Armstrong for cortisone in 1999.

So has the UCI simply been part of a conspiracy by accepting "hush money"? If so, they would hardly be able to treat these widespread and mounting allegations as a priority. That makes them a complicit and therefore a corrupt organisation. And if that isn't the case, why wasn't the previous President, Hein Verbruggen, who was in office for 14 years before Mr. McQuaid took over, present at the press conference to refute allegations that were clearly going to be justifiably reflected in questions from the press? Mr. McQuaid simply said he could only be held accountable for the time while he's been President. In that case, Mr. Verbruggen, who now enjoys the prestigious title of Honorary President for Life, should have been there. After all, he has nothing to hide, has he?

Monday's announcement and subsequent answers to media questions were too little too late.

If the UCI is not complicit, this was an opportunity to answer questions and ease the pressure on the sport they represent.

If the UCI is not incompetent, then they should have led from the front long before it got to this point and not ignored many opportunities to do so.

So now we wait for Friday when the management committee meets to discuss "measures" to ensure this doesn't happen again. I simply can't wait.

After such a scandalously weak attempt to explain themselves, we're left with a discredited organisation plotting its own future. Unbelievable.

An internal investigation is out of the question. No-one within the UCI has the credibility or the confidence of the outside world to hold such a thing together. That would be nothing more than turkeys voting against Christmas. So two things have to happen. Firstly, a cycling Oversight Committee must be created that includes representatives from key stakeholders. This would include the cycling teams, the cyclists, the anti-doping organisations, the sponsors, the UCI itself and also a media representative. The obvious media choice would be campaigning journalist, David Walsh of the Sunday Times whose determination to uncover the truth on Lance Armstrong and doping in general, has been remarkable in the face of fierce opposition and denial - sometimes even from his own profession. The make up of this collective would immediately restore confidence in the recovery process and its first responsibility would be to appoint an impartial figure to lead a full and transparent inquiry. This would be someone who is beyond reproach - a Lord Levenson type figure or someone of equally unimpeachable standing - who must be given the powers of unrestricted access to ensure they rip the scab off the sore and allow the wound a chance to breathe and then begin a full recovery. Any recommendations would be theirs and theirs alone and I'd be surprised if it didn't result in some sort of longer term decentralisation of some of UCI's current power. But if its not a power thing and it REALLY IS about the future of the sport, that wouldn't be a problem. Would it?

The only other way forward is for those at the top of the UCI to resign now and let others with enthusiasm, energy and credibility take the reins to put these actions into place. After the events of the last few weeks and the systematic failure of those in office over an extended period, there is no way on this earth that ANYTHING they say as a lone voice will be received with anything other than complete contempt. As Chairman of a company that has commercial affiliations with cycling teams and organisations across the world, I don't want to turn my back on a sport I personally love and professionally feel has (still) so much to offer. But it's clear there is no way it can offer what its capable of if Mr. McQuaid and his cronies remain in unilateral charge of World cycling.

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  • Author: Jaimie Fuller
  • Copyright: SKINS International Trading AG
  • Further information: Jaimie Fuller - jaimie.fuller@skins.net