It is not just the football authorities who seem to drag their feet and shuffle ineffectually over serious issues in sport. The UCI has been struggling to deal with the aftermath of USADA releasing its 1,000-page report into the systematic cheating of Lance Armstrong following his decision no longer to contest doping charges.
It goes under the heading of “UCI takes decisive action in wake of Lance Armstrong affair”.
That title follows in a long line of such headings, such as “Titanic captain takes decisive action over iceberg” “Farmer takes decisive action over stable door and empty stable” and “Small umbrella takes decisive action over hurricane”.
The UCI has been accused of complicity in Armstrong’s cheating, and in fact until today was continuing to pursue defamation proceedings against Paul Kimmage, pro cyclist turned journalist, over his allegations that the UCI failed to act in connection with massive doping throughout the sport.
The press release is below, and my comments are in bold.
The Management Committee of the International Cycling Union (UCI), meeting in Geneva today, decided a number of critical measures in the wake of the USADA ‘Reasoned Decision’ on Lance Armstrong. The Committee acknowledged that decisive action was needed in response to the report.
“Decisive action” was needed a long time before now. Maybe after the first allegations about Mr Armstrong appeared, or when he won his first, second, third … Tour, or when he retired, or came back, or retired again!
Mind you, better late than never one supposes.
With respect to Lance Armstrong and the implications of the USADA sanctions which it endorsed on Monday 22 October, the Management Committee decided not to award victories to any other rider or upgrade other placings in any of the affected events.
The Committee decided to apply this ruling from now on to any competitive sporting results disqualified due to doping for the period from 1998 to 2005, without prejudice to the statute of limitation. The Committee also called on Armstrong and all other affected riders to return the prize money they had received.
As I wrote before, there would have been a terrible problem for the sport in seeking to re-allocate placings and victories. The various cyclists who would have been promoted were often riders who have themselves been convicted of doping, or have very strong suspicions hanging round them. In some years, the UCI might have had to drop out of the top ten finishers to find the new “clean” “winner”.
That could be seen as making a mockery of the event.
As far as the prize money being returned is concerned, one assumes that, as well as the prizes to Armstrong personally, this also includes the purses won by his team in all of the affected years? Indeed, where any of his team-mates won a stage with his assistance, it could be argued that too is tainted. Mr Armstrong might be in a financial position to repay the prize money he “won”. However there are likely to be a number of affected riders, who might themselves have been totally clean, who would be in no financial position to repay the UCI.
Will it sue the riders in the relevant courts to get the money back? And bankrupt those who cannot pay?
The UCI Management Committee acknowledged that a cloud of suspicion would remain hanging over this dark period – but while this might appear harsh for those who rode clean, they would understand there was little honour to be gained in reallocating places.
The best way of marking the dis-approval of the behaviour of the dopers is to leave the winner’s position blank. If the records were changed, it might not be apparent to future observers how racked with cheating the sport was. Instead, leaving the race “unwon” is equivalent to the campaign to put an asterisk beside Barry Bonds’ Home Run records, for example.
Mind you, if I was someone who, but for Armstrong, would have won a Tour, I might feel rather upset that (a) I had been cheated out of my prize and (b) that I had not received the prize money I was due.
I imagine that the promotion of other riders to replace those disqualified is at the UCI’s discretion. Otherwise the UCI could face additional court actions from disappointed riders.
I wonder f the UCI has taken soundings from riders? After all, whilst in general a rider might not agree with re-allocating places, they might think differently if they were themselves in line to inherit a win!
Looking at the football situation, the UCI’s position seems to be one which, if the SPL Independent Commission finds Rangers guilty, and then removes prizes, would be most appropriate. If Rangers are stripped of titles, then leave the winner’s spot blank.
Second, while the Management Committee expressed confidence that enormous strides had been made in the fight against doping since 2005, in order to ensure that UCI and cycling could move forward with the confidence of all parties, the governing body also decided to establish a fully independent external Commission to look into the various allegations made about UCI relating to the Armstrong affair.
The Committee agreed that part of the independent Commission’s remit would be to find ways to ensure that persons caught for doping were no longer able to take part in the sport, including as part of an entourage.
Fans of Yes, Minister will reveal that appointing a Commission to investigate a matter was often a good way of sending an issue to the “long grass”. And to take the heat off the minister.
In view of the UCI’s alleged involvement, it is quite right however for an independent enquiry to take place.
In the week of 5 November 2012, therefore, the Management Committee will announce which independent sports body will nominate the members of the Commission and, with the UCI Management Committee, agree appropriate terms of reference. Following this, individual members of the independent Commission will be appointed as soon as possible with a view to their report and recommendations being published no later than 1 June 2013.
Want a bet on the Commission report coming in for June 1?
Bearing in mind the 100th Tour de France taking place next year, the UCI must be weighing up the report being ready pre-Tour or afterwards. Each has its own perils.
An exoneration of the UCI might be seen by some as a whitewash, whilst a negative verdict will overshadow one of its most important events for years.
In addition, if the UCI gets a clean bill of health, and in the subsequent Tour riders fail tests, then the credibility of the investigation would be destroyed.
Finally, while continuing strongly to maintain the merits of UCI’s case, the Committee decided to seek to suspend the UCI legal action against journalist Paul Kimmage, pending the findings of the independent Commission. UCI President Pat McQuaid and Honorary President Hein Verbruggen who are individual parties to the case will similarly seek to put their cases on hold.
Even for an organisation as dogmatic as the UCI, it would have been ridiculous to proceed wit the case against Mr Kimmage at this time when the greatest champion in the Tour’s history had just been stripped of his seven wins.
Mr Kimmage, and the court, might not be happy to allow the case to be held pending the Commission. Indeed, whilst the release “justifies” the case continuing after the Commission reports, Mr Kimmage might suggest that the root and branch reforms are an effective admission of the UCI’s guilt!
UCI President Pat McQuaid said: “As I said on Monday, UCI is determined to turn around this painful episode in the history of our sport. We will take whatever actions are deemed necessary by the independent Commission and we will put cycling back on track.
“Today, cycling is a completely different sport from what it was in the period 1998-2005. Riders are now subject to the most innovative and effective anti-doping procedures and regulations in sport. Nevertheless, we have listened to the world’s reaction to the Lance Armstrong affair and have taken these additional decisive steps in response to the grave concerns raised.”
It seems that every sport which has doping issues announces that it has learned lessons and has the most robust and foolproof anti-doping regime. And yet people keep failing tests.
I know it is trite to say so, but many of the world’s most notorious sporting dopers never failed a test. And the old saying about the Tour is not that it is a surprise any riders dope, but that it is a shock anyone completes the race without artificial assistance.
The comment by the UCI that they will take whatever action is recommended by the Independent Commission seems a hostage to fortune. If Mr McQuaid and his colleagues stick to it, then all credit to them, but it is rare for a body to surrender control over its own affairs.
How likely is it that (a) the Commission misses the June target for the report and (b) once prepared the UCI itselg needs to take time to consider the recommendations and implementation thereof?
It has taken the UCI far too wrong to address these issues. But at last they have done so, although only after the campaign by USADA which the UCI seemed very unhappy about for a long time.
Hopefully cycling can move into a phase where suspicion does not automatically attach itself to every successful rider, but the history of doping in the Tour is as long as that of the race itself, and as is repeatedly seen in many sports, the dopers are one, or more, steps ahead of the testers all the time.
And so ends the “Lance Armstrong Affair”.
He achieved remarkable feats. He became one f the leading riders in the world. He recovered from cancer which was expected to end his life. He came back and was the most successful Tour rider in history. He went on to raise huge sums through his Livestrong charity for cancer research.
Now his sporting reputation is ruined. Does that detract from his charitable exploits? That is a matter for debate. Some would see his activities as a front for his mis-deeds.
Others would view the good he has done, whether or not for a good motive, as a positive in itself.
He has shown his ability to be a force for good.
Perhaps his future might follow a similar path to that of John Profumo, the former Minister forced to resign in the early 1960’s as a result of a “sex scandal” but who stepped back after that from public life and became a tireless worker for good causes and charities, without trading on his notoriety.
I will remember the imperious way in which Armstrong rode in winning his Tours, always looking in complete control of the race and ready, whenever the moment required it, to race away from his competitors. It is a similar memory to that of Ben Johnson at the 1988 Olympics. Even though he was caught the next day and disqualified, anyone who saw his remarkable pace over 100 metres will never forget it.
The memories cannot be excised, but the titles, awards and prize money can.
Now the challenge for the UCI is to save its own reputation and that of its sport. The concern is that its priorities are in that order, rather than the reverse.
Posted by Paul McConville