A history of denial
LANCE ARMSTRONG would surely have admired the chutzpah of cycle sport’s governing body, the International Cycling Union (UCI), after the American was finally exposed this week as the biggest fraud in sporting history. “The UCI will examine all information received in order to consider issues of appeal and recognition, jurisdiction and statute of limitation, within the term of appeal of 21 days, as required by the World Anti-Doping Code,” the organisation stated after the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) set out the extraordinary scale of cheating by Armstrong and those close to him.
Not a hint of acknowledgment by the UCI that its own practices, procedures, independence and judgment are all in the dock as a result of the evidence gathered.
Usada has done the UCI a huge service. It has struck a blow for those within cycling who want to win because they are the strongest and the fastest; not because of drugs or malign medics. It has exposed a rot that has festered for years. In doing so, it has offered the sport the opportunity to break with its past. The idea, in that context, that the UCI might now seek to challenge Usada’s jurisdiction may seem farcical. But in the politicised world of international sport, jurisdiction equates to control and control to power. And power is paramount.
There are many who would have preferred the affairs of Armstrong and those like him – because this is not only about Armstrong – to have remained hidden; for the American to have eased further into retirement with the charade of his seven Tour de France victories largely intact. In considering its next steps, the UCI must show it is no longer in that category. It has some way to go.
When Armstrong’s former team-mate and fellow cheat Tyler Hamilton last year accused the Texan of doping, UCI honorary president Hein Verbruggen was quoted as unequivocally siding with Armstrong. Likewise when another cheat, Floyd Landis, spoke out about Armstrong in 2010, UCI president Pat McQuaid questioned Landis’s credibility. Usada doesn’t mince its words – it accuses the UCI of disdain and disinterest in its response to whistleblowers. McQuaid and Verbruggen are protective of their reputations. That is their right. But a sign of positive change on their part would be less litigation against their critics and more acknowledgment of the UCI’s shortcomings. A constructive start would be to drop their defamation action (due to be heard in Switzerland in December) against journalist and former cyclist Paul Kimmage who has done most to save his sport from self-destruction.