Cookson: Verbruggen and McQuaid misled the media, the UCI and the sport
Following interviews given by both Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid in which both former UCI presidents have suggested that the CIRC report absolves them of any wrongdoing, current president Brian Cookson has questioned those reactions and reiterated that he wants Verbruggen to resign his title of honorary president.
Speaking recently to CyclingTips, Cookson said that he had not personally received a reaction from either of the two to the CIRC report, which was released in March. It was a year long investigation carried out by the Cycling Independent Reform Commission, and raised serious questions about several areas of governance.
“I am only aware of the reaction which has been in the media, which I found very surprising from those two gentlemen,” he said.
“I don’t think they came out of it very well at all. I think they were clearly shown to have done things that even the most charitable person might call an error of judgement and which many others might see on a different part of the spectrum of activities.
“So I have got serious concerns about what was there. I think that they could very well have been said to have made substantially more than errors of judgement and they misled the media, they misled the rest of us at the UCI and at the national federations in the sport.
“Frankly, what came out of the Vrijman report and the CIRC analysis of the Vrijman report was more than an error of judgement in my view.”
Several issues were raised by CIRC, including the conclusion that Verbruggen and McQuaid failed to remain impartial in relation to Lance Armstrong, but rather acted in ways advantageous to him.
“UCI saw Lance Armstrong as the perfect choice to lead the sport’s renaissance after the Festina scandal,” CIRC stated, referring to the doping affair in 1998. “The fact that he was American opened up a new continent for the sport, he had beaten cancer and the media quickly made him a global star.
“Numerous examples have been identified showing that UCI leadership “defended” or “protected” Lance Armstrong and took decisions because they were favourable to him.
“This was in circumstances where there was strong reason to suspect him of doping, which should have led UCI to be more circumspect in its dealings with him.”
CIRC gave an example, saying that the supposed independent investigation carried out after l’Equipe reported in 2005 that retests of Armstrong’s 1999 Tour samples revealed the presence of EPO was seriously flawed.
It said that the person conscripted by Verbruggen to conduct that report, Emile Vrijman, came under serious pressure to arrive at a set of conclusions advantageous to Armstrong and the UCI.
“UCI, together with the Armstrong team, became directly and heavily involved in the drafting of the Vrijman report, the purpose of which was only partly to expedite the publication of the report,” CIRC stated. “The main goal was to ensure that the report reflected UCI’s and Lance Armstrong’s personal conclusions.”
Armstrong was later the subject of a federal investigation plus a separate investigation by the US Anti Doping Agency. He was eventually given a lifetime ban from the sport and subsequently admitted longterm usage of banned products.
As regards McQuaid, CIRC said that there were reasons to believe that he may have personally intervened to allow Lance Armstrong to return to racing for the 2009 Santos Tour Down Under, despite this being blocked by the UCI’s own anti-doping rules in place at the time.
CIRC suggested that there was what it termed a ‘temporal link’ between this and an agreement by Lance Armstrong to ride the Tour of Ireland later that year. McQuaid’s brother Darach was a co-organiser of that event.
As a result of these and other issues raised, Cookson has said that he was ‘very surprised’ by the reactions given to the press by Verbruggen and McQuaid. Both made light of the CIRC report’s conclusions, claiming that it had cleared them.
Will Verbruggen stand down or could he be stripped of his title?
Asked about the legacy of the two presidents, Cookson said that it was important to also remember that there were some advancements under their watch.
“To be fair to both of them, both of them had some substantial achievements,” he said. “I am sat in a building here in Aigle that is very much a great achievement of Hein Verbruggen, the World Cycling Centre. I think it is fair to say that Hein did build the UCI into a much, much bigger and stronger organisation than it had ever been in the past. I think that is a great credit to him.
“Same with Pat, I think that he worked very hard on the anti-doping. I think the bio passport and a number of other things were greatly to his credit. But I think between them they approached some of the worst problems in a way that was wrong. That is not just hindsight, some of us always had concerns as soon as we discovered what was happening and why it was happening and so on.
“I think in terms of their legacy…well, I haven’t spoken to Pat McQuaid since he shook my hand at the end of the Congress in Florence in September 2013. I have seen Hein Verbruggen a couple of times at IOC meetings but I haven’t engaged in any meaningful dialogue with him.
“I have now written to him suggesting that he should consider his position as honorary president of the UCI, a statement that was awarded to him by the Congress. I await his reply on that one.
“I guess unless he resigns, it would have to be the Congress who decided whether they wished him to continue in that role or not.”
Asked to confirm if Congress would have the power to reverse that appointment, Cookson said that this is the case.
“I think…any national federation, for instance, can put a motion on the agenda of the Congress and have it voted upon. I think that is something that Hein should consider when he reflects upon his future.”
CyclingTips understands that Verbruggen remains adamant that he will not give up the title, thus setting the scene for a possible vote against him at the UCI Congress this September.
If he is stripped of that title by Congress it would be a humiliating end to his period of time with the governing body.
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