The Explainer: Get the UCI out of the doping-control business
I’ve been following you for years, through your time at VeloNews, through your illness last year and now at Red Kite Prayer and LiveUpdateGuy.com.
Usually, I get what your saying, but I was a little confused by a Tweet you recently made urging the sporting world follow “the U.S. model” in doping control and enforcement. One of the responses seemed to imply that you want all sport to follow the example of the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball.
I know the 140 characters of the “Twittersphere” isn’t exactly your cup of tea. Just look at that 2000-word-+ monster you wrote last week. (You must be a lawyer, Mr. Pelkey. It’s the only profession where someone writes a 100-page treatise and still has the nerve to call it a “brief.”) So, I’ll ask it here: Is that true? Are you a fan of American professional sports’ doping “controls?” If so why?
Man, are you ever right about my being wordy last week, Amanda. One of my friends compared the column to an old guy sitting on a porch ranting about anything and everything.
“And another thing dammit ….”
Of course, in my own defense, I was actually writing about a 200-page “reasoned decision” and more than 1000 pages of supporting documents. It just begged for wordy.
Anyway, the short answer to your main question is “no.” The longer answer to your main question is “Hell no!”
Now for the really long answer: Anti-Doping programs in big American professional sports – the NFL, the NHL, MLB and NBA – are a joke. Even after “reform efforts,” like the 2007 release of the “Mitchell Report” on baseball, the core problem for all of those sports is that they have left control and regulation of anti-doping efforts to the sports themselves.
It’s a classic example of “self-policing.” The banking industry should serve as an example of how that doesn’t work.
I know, I know, one should never use Wikipedia as a primary source, but I can’t help but quote one small passage I ran across recently. Under the sub-head of “Self-Policing” on the Conflicts of Interest entry someone wrote an elegant and concise description of the problem:
“Self-policing of any group is also a conflict of interest. If any organization, such as a corporation or government bureaucracy, is asked to eliminate unethical behavior within their own group, it may be in their interest in the short run to eliminate the appearance of unethical behavior, rather than the behavior itself, by keeping any ethical breaches hidden, instead of exposing and correcting them. An exception occurs when the ethical breach is already known by the public. In that case, it could be in the group’s interest to end the ethical problem to which the public has knowledge, but keep remaining breaches hidden.”
Since this wasn’t footnoted, I am left to applaud just you, anonymous Wiki contributor, for a terrific summary of the UCI’s treatment of drugs in general and Lance Armstrong in particular.
While the LieStrong scandal isn’t really a new story, it would never have been put under the glaring light of an official inquiry had it not been for the “American model” of which I spoke – errrr, tweeted. The structure now followed by the U.S. Olympic Committee, its affiliate national governing bodies and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is really one the entire sports world should consider. Namely, handing off the responsibility for enforcement of doping rules to someone who really doesn’t give a shit about what nailing a guilty party will do to the vested interests in the sport.
Try, for a moment, to imagine what would have become of the Lance Armstrong case had American cycling been operating under the anti-doping rules that had been in effect prior to 2000.
At that time, the responsibility for doping controls and enforcement fell to the USOC and to individual governing bodies, whose own interests may have naturally run counter to strict enforcement, particularly when it came to high-profile riders.
It was in October of 2000 when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency began operations. As part of its mission, USADA established a set of multi-year contracts with the USOC and individual national governing bodies to assume full responsibility for the management of anti-doping programs, including testing, results management and enforcement.
In essence, the current U.S. model is what most hoped would be the structure adopted at the 1999 World Conference on Doping in Sport, namely taking the IOC and its affiliate governing bodies out of direct participation in anti-doping efforts.
After two days of speechifying and debate, the conference attendees – mostly IOC members, headed up by its aging president Juan Antonio Samaranch – voted to lay the foundations of what would become the World Anti-Doping Agency. The mission of what was then referred to as the International Anti-Doping Agency was “to coordinate the various programmes necessary to realize the objectives that shall be defined jointly by all the parties concerned.”
The so-called “Lausanne Declaration on Doping in Sport” went on to outline duties and responsibilities for the IOC, its national affiliates and the governing bodies of affiliate sports.
The IOC, the (International Federations) and the (National Olympic Committees) will maintain their respective competence and responsibility to apply doping rules in accordance with their own procedures, and in cooperation with the International Anti-Doping Agency. Consequently, decisions handed down in the first instance will be under the exclusive responsibility of the IFs, the NOCs or, during the Olympic Games, the IOC. With regard to last instance appeals, the IOC, the IFs and the NOCs recognize the authority of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), after their own procedures have been exhausted.
Okay, ignoring the irony of “respective competence,” when this conference had been organized solely due to the 1998 Festina scandal, the problem there was that the IOC, IF’s and NOCs have any role to play at all.
It’s an improvement, but is it enough of an improvement?
As I said, the 1999 Lausanne conference was a direct response to the 1998 Festina scandal. The IOC and the UCI finally had to admit that their half-assed doping control, enforcement and penalties were just that, half-assed.
The creation of the World Anti-Doping Agency improved things, namely in adding a degree of consistency and uniformity to doping penalties. Recall, for example, that the second-placed rider in the 1999 Tour de France was none other than Alex Zülle, who just a year earlier had confessed to using EPO as a member of the infamous Festina team. Absent mitigating factors, he would have received a two-year suspension under the current WADA Code.
But again, harmonization of penalties is essentially meaningless if the enforcement side of things is weak. Under the Code WADA does have enforcement authority, but the international governing bodies themselves have primary authority and responsibility when it comes to enforcement. Therein lies the problem.
Once you get past the whole “Lance-was-a-doper” thing in the USADA report, start looking at some of the supporting documentation. What I found most interesting were comments by athletes who had raised the issue directly with UCI anti-doping authorities and were ignored.
Caught in the whole, ugly trap of the 2006 Operación Puerto scandal, Liberty-Seguros’ Jörg Jaksche, publicly admitted to having used EPO and growth hormone.
In a follow-up to his interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Jaksche went to the UCI to bare his soul and offer information about what he knew about doping in the peloton. According to Jaksche’s sworn affidavit released along with the 200-page Armstrong decision:
“… I spent hours talking with the UCI in 2007. I spoke to UCI lawyers, to Anne Gripper, who was then head of anti-doping for the UCI, and to UCI President Pat McQuaid. I wanted to be fully transparent regarding my doping and the anti-doping rule violations of others to fully explain the level of doping of which I was aware and that was taking place on Team Telekom, ONCE, CSC and Liberty Seguros during my time in professional cycling. However, the UCI showed zero interest in hearing the full story about doping on these teams and did not seek to follow up with me.
Moreover, despite my efforts to assist in cleaning up cycling, the UCI attempted to push for two years of ineligibility in my case, and Pat McQuaid told me he’d have liked me to have handled things differently from which I can only conclude he wished I had not been as forthcoming regarding the degree of doping that was taking place in the peloton.
To the best of my knowledge, information and belief, the UCI did not move forward on any evidence of doping that I provided to them.”
Yeah, and if Jaksche had been an isolated case, maybe there would have been some justification in ignoring the lone crazy guy standing outside of UCI headquarters screaming about doping. But Jaksche was not.
Kelme’s Jesús Manzano spoke out in 2004. Filippo Simeoni did so in 2003 and you saw where that got him. More famously, the recently converted Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton also spoke publicly about doping. They tried to work with the UCI … but were ignored.
Indeed, in Landis’ case, they turned around and sued the guy. WTF?
No, indeed, it took USADA to use the above confessionals to serve as a launching point and gather a total of 26 sworn affidavits, 11 of which came from former Armstrong teammates. Why couldn’t the UCI have done the same five years ago?
Self-policing doesn’t work
Unless there is a fundamental change, the only time an organization that polices itself will have reason not to ignore such information is when the public relations costs prove to be too high … as is the case right now. As was the case following the Festina scandal, this may be another of those fleeting opportunities to advance the cause of reform a little further in the right direction.
I applauded – and still applaud – the decision to create WADA on the heels of Festina. Now, let’s take advantage of the LieStrong scandal and give the anti-doping some teeth.
Whether or not you buy some of the more outrageous – albeit not incomprehensible – charges of bribes and intentionally suppressed test results doesn’t really matter. What matters is that there is an inherent conflict of interest when the sport is responsible for making tough decisions involving even its most high-profile stars.
No longer affiliated with the governing body, Gripper recently told Australia’s The Age that the UCI would often make exceptions for a rider of Armstrong’s caliber, citing the example of his being allowed to ride in the 2009 Tour Down Under, despite being short of a required post-retirement window in which he was supposed to be subject to doping controls prior to a return to competition.
“I have always said that Armstrong’s influence was a danger in the sport,” she said. “He was allowed to ride in the 2009 Tour Down Under. He shouldn’t have been. Once again, for Lance, special consideration was provided.”
Referring to the problem of doping and to McQuaid, Gripper said “I heard Pat say the other night, ‘We test and test and test as much as we can and send all the samples to the labs and that’s all we can do’.
“Well, it’s not, Pat, there’s lots more that can be done.
“It’s not just about testing because we know in many ways testing is the most ineffective way of eliminating doping … There are so many more things the UCI can do.”
I would suggest that the best thing the UCI can do is to get the heck out of the doping-control business and hand it off to an organization that doesn’t have a direct and vested interest in the outcome.
Who do you trust will put more effort into the pursuit of a doping athlete, particularly when he or she is high-profile and high-profit? Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid or Travis Tygart and Dick Pound?
I’m voting for Tygart and Co.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.