Time for the UCI to change tack

This article was originally published on Transparency International UK’s website

The public name-calling this week by top organisations responsible for putting cycling back on track following the Lance Armstrong doping report (released last November by the US Anti-doping Agency) is destroying what is left of credible governance of the sport.

As a fan of cycling, I can only hope that the public embarrassment these exchanges bring will force those responsible for the governance of the International Cycling Union (UCI) to start a process of real change. Everyone involved in cycling including the millions of cyclists and fans want to be able to look up to the top athletes and trust those running the sport.

For this to happen there needs to be a 180 degree shift in the way international cycling is run. It needs a dose of good governance and professionalism that can only come with transparency and accountability.

At Transparency International we say that change starts with the tone at the top. However, since the very beginning of the Lance Armstrong Affair and before, the tone from the UCI leadership has been one of denial or defiance. Given this, important questions raised by the USADA findings remain unanswered, including the truth about the donations made by Lance Armstrong to the UCI.

I was watching the confession by Mr Armstrong a few weeks ago hoping to get some answers to this important question. That Mr Armstrong admitted doping throughout most of his career was of course a very welcome development, but his interview did not clear up allegations whether his donation of $125,000 to UCI in 2002 bought him lenient treatment. Mr Armstrong’s statement that the UCI approached him for the donation certainly does not clarify matters or let the UCI leadership off the hook.

In the aftermath of the USADA report the UCI had established an Independent Commission to look into the matter of the donation as well as how systematic doping could have gone on under its nose. This week the UCI disbanded the Independent Commission before it could make any progress, triggering a war of words between the UCI and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The Independent Commission did not mince its words in its farewell note yesterday: “Neither the UCI nor interested stakeholders have provided sufficient co-operation to enable the Commission to do its job. This failure to cooperate makes our task impossible.”

The UCI, whose president had stated that the UCI “will co-operate fully with the Commission and provide them with whatever they need to conduct their inquiry,” clearly did no such thing.

At issue was whether or not the commission had enough power under its terms of reference to carry out its duties, including encouraging all the relevant stakeholders to give evidence. WADA said it believed the commission to be hamstrung by the UCI and decided not to cooperate. Without WADA there can be no serious process.

I’ll leave it to the mainstream press to detail and comment on the insults that have been traded in the past few days between the UCI and WADA, whose presidents have a long history of personal animosity. What really grates, however, is the damage this is doing to world cycling.

It is imperative that the leadership of the UCI and WADA sort out their differences and establish, once and for all a credible process that investigates all aspects of doping and other corrupt practices in cycling. This process needs to have a realistic mandate in terms of scope and time.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission may well be the way forward but without a constructive dialogue and positive working relationship between the UCI and WADA, any future commission is likely to fail.

In the last sitting of the independent commission, Sir Philip Otton accused the UCI of trying to use the discussion around a truth and reconciliation process as “an excuse to kick the USADA allegations into the long grass.”

He’s probably right, which leaves me very skeptical of the UCI’s seriousness in dealing with the accusations leveled against it, particularly in the realm of governance and those Armstrong donations.

In September the UCI Congress and Management Committee, which is made up of representatives from national cycling federations, meets in Tuscany to discuss world cycling. I would strongly urge its members not to wait until then to fulfill their governance obligations to the sport of cycling. They need to impress on the current UCI executive committee the need for responsible leadership.

Lack of action on this front will risk the UCI losing its credibility as the sport’s governing body (if it hasn’t already). The time to act is now.

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