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Revealing the details of a year-long investigation into the past activities of the UCI plus its handling of anti-doping matters, the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) has concluded that there were serious errors with the governing body’s approach to the subject and has blamed several key individuals for those failings.
CIRC was established by the UCI in January 2014. The independent body was chaired by former Swiss state prosecutor Dr. Dick Marty, and also included anti-doping rules expert Professor Ulrich Haas plus Peter Nicholson, a former military officer who specialises in criminal investigations.
Past UCI presidents Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid plus former UCI staff such as doctor Lon Schattenberg are all criticised in that panel’s report, with numerous examples being given of what CIRC felt were failures on their behalf.
CIRC found that Verbruggen and Schattenberg were preoccupied with maintaining a misleading impression that the sport was clean and, as a result, made decisions that were primarily influenced by this goal.
Rather than pursuing possible cases vigorously, riders were given warnings. In addition to that, an emphasis was placed on avoiding health issues for riders rather than actually trying to eliminate doping.
Verbruggen was criticised for being dismissive of clean riders who tried to highlight the problem, while McQuaid’s reactions to whistleblowers also came under the spotlight. Both are seen by CIRC as showing the governing body did not take things seriously enough.
The UCI was also faulted with having far too close a relationship with Lance Armstrong, with numerous examples being given to show how the rider was favoured. These include the approval of a backdated prescription which allowed him sidestep disqualification after a positive test in the 1999 Tour de France, the failure to target test him despite suspicious of doping and also the flawed Vrijman report.
This was an inquiry set up in 2005 to look into allegations of EPO use by Armstrong dating back to that 1999 Tour. Rather than that report being objective, CIRC found that the UCI actively engaged in a whitewash and put pressure on the individual compiling the report to issue conclusions favourable to the Texan.
In fact, CIRC stated that Armstrong’s legal team had direct input into the writing of the report, with it and the UCI having a major influence into the final structure and conclusions of that report. Rather than being an accurate, independent investigation of the allegations concerning Armstrong, CIRC found that it was used to both rebuff those claims of EPO use – later proven to be accurate – and also as a tool to attack the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA).
Relations between the UCI and WADA at the time had been strained.
CIRC also found fault with what it said was the waiving of anti-doping rules to allow Armstrong to return to racing in the 2009 Santos Tour Down Under. CIRC concluded that this occurred after McQuaid intervened and that there are indications that Armstrong was given a green light on the understanding that he would agree to ride the Tour of Ireland later that year.
However the commission did clear the UCI of wrongdoing in relation to other matters concerning Armstrong, concluding that he hadn’t tested positive during the 2001 Tour de Suisse and that claims he had paid a bribe to sidestep the issue were without evidence.
It also found that there was no evidence to support claims made that Armstrong financed the Vrijman report, saying that a pledged donation of 100,000 US dollars made in 2005 was unrelated to this matter.
The overall conclusion of the CIRC report was that serious errors were made in relation to anti-doping.
“Not only did UCI leadership publicly disregard the magnitude of the problem, but the policies put in place to combat doping were inadequate,” stated CIRC. “Credit should be given to the UCI insofar as it was at the forefront of anti-doping in introducing new testing techniques.
“However, the science is only one part of anti-doping strategy. To have an effective anti- doping strategy, it is essential to get the right sample from the right rider at the right time and to the right laboratory. In the CIRC’s view, there was not enough willingness to put such a system in place. The approach to doping was one of containment, with a focus on protecting health.
“Looking at the tools available to UCI to combat doping, there was no satisfactory commitment to push the fight against doping beyond the limits of health protection. Anti-doping policy was for the most part based on a predictable and quantitative approach. Going after the cheaters was perceived as a witch-hunt that would be detrimental to the image of cycling.”
Armstrong’s return causes setback in fight against doping:
McQuaid is credited as making progress after his election as UCI president in 2005, introducing several measures which advanced the fight against doping. These included the appointment of Anne Gripper as the UCI’s anti-doping manager, and CIRC found that the Australian did good work.
However CIRC concluded that the return of Lance Armstrong to the sport of cycling saw McQuaid begin to make errors, with the decision to allow Armstrong to compete in the 2009 Tour Down Under regarded as a serious failing.
Under the UCI’s anti-doping rules at the time, riders had to be part of the testing pool for six months prior to being allowed to compete. The timing of Armstrong’s return from retirement meant that he would be 13 days short of that but, despite initially saying he would not be allowed ride – and despite Gripper’s insistence that this be followed – CIRC noted that McQuaid announced that the rules would be relaxed for Armstrong.
The report concludes that there are indications that a deal was likely done between the UCI president and Armstrong whereby the latter would be given a green light on the understanding that he would commit to ride the 2009 Tour of Ireland. McQuaid’s brother Darach was heavily involved in running that race.
“Whilst there is no direct evidence of an agreement between Pat McQuaid and Lance Armstrong, information in the Commission’s possession shows that: (i) Pat McQuaid made a sudden U-turn and allowed Lance Armstrong to return 13 days early to participate in the Tour Down Under, despite advice from UCI staff not to make an exception, and (ii) there was a temporal link between this decision, which was communicated to UCI staff in the morning, and the decision of Lance Armstrong, which was notified to Pat McQuaid later that same day, to participate in the Tour of Ireland, an event run by people known to Pat McQuaid,” CIRC said.
As a result of being able to ride the Santos Tour Down Under, Armstrong received a payment of one million dollars from the organisers. It was initially said that this would be given to the Livestrong foundation but Armstrong later confirmed that he would personally keep the payment.
The CIRC report doesn’t pull punches when it comes to the past running of the UCI, identifying numerous faults with the governing body in recent decades. However those hoping that the report would shine new light on specific doping cases or bring additional cases to light will be disappointed; when its mandate was published in January 2014, it said that its goal was primarily to understand and learn from the past in order to improve the future of the sport.
“The objective of the investigation will not be to discover and punish anti-doping offences by single riders but rather to uncover and tackle the practices and networks that have instigated and/or facilitated doping in cycling over the investigation period,” it stated then.
That remains the case now; no new riders have been highlighted as committing anti-doping violations, and indeed only a relatively small number of riders are mentioned in the report. While CIRC has the power to recommend sanctions, plus the reduction of previous penalties, it doesn’t do so in the released document. It is unclear whether or not it has done so separately.
It also doesn’t address previous indications that Armstrong’s cooperation was limited and that his lifetime ban would consequently not be reduced.
He, Verbruggen and McQuaid were amongst the 174 individuals interviewed face to face during the course of the 13 month investigation.
The current UCI President Brian Cookson noted that very few if any sports had opened themselves up to such a level of scrutiny. He said that while the report made for difficult reading, that he felt cycling “would emerge better and stronger from it.”
“It is clear from reading this report that in the past the UCI suffered severely from a lack of good governance with individuals taking crucial decisions alone, many of which undermined anti-doping efforts; put itself in an extraordinary position of proximity to certain riders; and wasted a lot of its time and resources in open conflict with organisations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
“It is also clear that the UCI leadership interfered in operational decisions on anti-doping matters and these factors, as well as many more covered in the report, served to erode confidence in the UCI and the sport.”
Click here to download a copy of the full 228 page report. Stay tuned for further analysis of it on CyclingTips.