Everyone agrees that confidence in professional cycling has to be restored after being dragged through the dirt by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report, which revealed rampant blood doping within Lance Armstrongs former U.S. Postal Service team and how easy it was for riders to fool the anti-doping authorities in the EPO era. And everyonefrom the fans to the teams, from the riders to the organizers, from the officials to the mediaknows that cyclings longtime culture of doping has to be eliminated before the sport can move forward. The question is: How do we do it?
At the last count, three significant initiatives were on the table: the first, proposed in late October after the UCIs acceptance of USADAs decision to suspend Armstrong for life from Olympic sports and reward the whistle blowers with six-month suspensions, was the Manifesto for Credible Cycling (MCC). Launched by five major European newspapers, the MCC focused on restructuring pro cycling and stiffening the anti-doping regulations in a similar way to the clean teams Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crdible (MPCC), which has gained greater acceptance and more members in recent weeks.
The second initiative was made public this past week by a group called Change Cycling Now (CCN), founded by Australian Jaimie Fuller, chairman of the Swiss-based compression sportswear company, Skins, and spearheaded by campaigning anti-doping journalists, Irishmen David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. The groups Charter of the Willing has a similar agenda to that of the MCC, except it first seeks the resignation of UCI president Pat McQuaid and his predecessor Hein Verbruggenwith CCN putting forward Greg LeMonds candidature as a potential interim UCI president. The group also posited the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an idea that the UCI Management Committee rejected a few weeks ago.
The third initiative has come from the UCI itself. Its Stakeholder Consultation, first announced in early November, is now seeking feedback from the sports major stakeholders prior to a comprehensive review of the best ideas in the first quarter of next year. The UCI has already approached CCN for its input, and it has sent letters out to riders, teams, race organizers, national federations, administrators, sponsors, industry representatives, anti-doping organizations and sports bodies, asking for comments on a list of topics that include anti-doping, globalization, riders and the racing calendar. Among the goals are wider participation in cycling and identifying ways to make the sport even more interesting for spectators.
All these initiatives are in addition to the recently formed Independent Commission that is looking into the contentious issues revealed by the USADA reportincluding allegations that the UCI turned a blind eye to Armstrongs alleged positive drug test in 2002. Sir Philip Otton, an eminent British appeals judge who has extensive experience with similar cases in other sports, heads the commission. He and his two colleagues on the commission panel have already begun work and are due to host a three-week hearing in London next April before submitting a report to the UCI by June 1, 2013.
An important consideration in the debate about cyclings dope-ridden past and a cleaner future is the frequent misunderstanding of what the UCI actually is and does. First and foremost, it is not a U.S.-style sports commission, but a democratically elected governing body composed of more than 170 national federations, including USA Cycling, whose delegates attend an annual congress to discuss important issues, establish regulations, elect officials, and appoint members to the various committees. So, though many people think of the UCI as a distant entity, many of them are members and/or UCI license holders with national federations, and so they have a direct say (and vote) on who is elected as representatives to their national federationswhich send delegates to the UCI.
The UCIs committees set rules and regulations and oversee every branch of the sport, including the Olympic disciplines of road racing, track racing, mountain biking and BMX, along with cyclo-cross, trials, indoor cycling, para-cycling, and mass-participation events. The UCI congress elects a president every fourth year. McQuaid is in the final year of his second term and will be up for re-election at next Septembers congress in Florence, Italy.
The president operates from the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, where he and an executive group direct a permanent staff of some 60 employeesincluding chief medical officer Mario Zorzoli and anti-doping department manager Francesca Rossi, who work with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and national anti-doping agencies (such as USADA) in the fight against doping.
The necessity for a redirection in pro cycling was best summed up by Italys La Gazzetta dello Sport, one of the five journals that launched the MCC, which wrote: The entire fabric of cycling has been rotten for too long. From the mid-1990s to today more than 400 professional cyclists have been disqualified or embroiled in doping investigations. The Lance Armstrong affair and the disturbing news coming out of the current investigation in Padua (Italy) show that the entire world of cycling has come through an extremely long and dark time. But we believe that the sport can start afreshas long as a few rules are changed.
The MCC newspapers opined, It is impossible to start afresh with the existing structure and suggested that future drug testing be instigated by WADA and administered by the national anti-doping authorities, and that penalties be made more severe. Already, WADA has proposed to double the suspension for heavy drugs and blood doping from two to four years; and the collaboration on drug testing that already exists between the UCI, WADA, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and national anti-doping agencies makes the MCCs other demands somewhat moot.
After all, a major part of the UCIs anti-doping efforts is its pioneering biological passport program, started five years ago, which now monitors a pool of almost 1,000 pro racersand gleans information from all the relevant anti-doping organizations. And as Dr. Zorzoli said recently, Essentially, we are moving from the toxicology approachto a more forensic science approach. This means that there will be even greater emphasis on collaboration between the UCI, IOC, WADA, national agenciesand on working with international criminal agencies and national police forces (especially in countries where doping is already a criminal offense).
What this means for cycling is that it is getting more and more difficult for riders who are doping to avoid detection. They had a free run in the 1990s because EPO was undetectable, and the USADA report showed that blood doping was rampant (along with micro-dosing with EPO) prior to the implementation of the UCIs biological passport program in January 2008. The forensic approach is the way forward, and the success of that policy depends on the input of all the sports stakeholders, including strict anti-doping codes within every team, self-policing among athletes, and continued (and stepped-up) collaboration between all the various anti-doping agencies.
Considering the steps already taken by McQuaid and his staff, along with the renewed clean-up effort within teams, there should be no need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission or an interim UCI president. It can be hoped that input into the UCIs Stakeholder Consultation process will also have beneficial results. And it can be expected that the independent Otton Commission will fully resolve the unfinished business of the USADA report. Well have to wait and see whether all this will happen under the UCIs current administration, or under a new president to be democratically elected next September. Then, and only then, will the sport be ready to move on.