I summon that famous, nay iconic, line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail as a means of framing a certain perspective on Pat McQuaid and the election for the office of UCI President that looms a few weeks away. I’ve avoided writing about McQuaid for some weeks in part because my stomach and central nervous system couldn’t take me thinking about him any more than the weekly story that would pop up on him. However, since my last missive on cycling’s resident ebola case, there have been just too many surprising and twisted turns not to revisit this particular fever.
When last I devoted the bulk of a post to the McQuaid problem he had just been jilted by his own Irish federation, wherein votes were cast largely along generational lines. The old guard’s defense of McQuaid consisted almost exclusively of a half apology, summed up as, ‘Sure, he’s got his faults, but look how much he’s done.’ Fortunately, the young bucks held the day and McQuaid’s nomination went the way of a great many cockroaches—one down, several more to go.
Next up was the Swiss nomination. On deck was the question of whether McQuaid deserved to be nominated by the Swiss federation by virtue of the fact that McQuaid was a resident of the country. Fortunately for us, that question doesn’t need to be resolved and will never be resolved. Here’s why: in nominating McQuaid, the Swiss federation had circumvented its own rules in order to prevent members who disagreed with the nomination from shutting it down. When the Swiss federation president refused to withdraw McQuaid’s nomination, one board member of the federation, Mattia Galli, resigned and then joined a coalition including Skins CEO Jaimie Fuller to challenge the nomination. It’s worth noting here that McQuaid “joined” the Swiss federation even prior to the fiery crash of his Ireland-based nomination.
Civil cases such as the one brought by the Galli/Fuller group carry a prohibitive bar in Swiss courts. To bring a case, a payment to the courts of 100,000 Swiss francs must be paid. The claimant (Fuller, et al) must pony up 50,000, while the respondent (Swiss cycling) must cough up the other 50,000 in order for the case to go forward. To my American eye, it seems a silly system. To kill the case, all the respondent has to do is not pay his 50,000 CHF share and hope that the gambit deters the claimant from proceeding. However, the claimant, if he believes his case is of solid merit and this isn’t just a spurious claim, can advance the respondent’s share. Certainly, such a system will cut down on frivolous actions, but it seems destined to chill legitimate actions. After all, how many people have the resources to part with 100,000 CHF (roughly $107,000) for months, maybe years?
Fortunately, Fuller has proven that he’s more than willing to put his company’s resources to use in his pursuit of McQuaid, so he advanced not just the first 50,000, but also the other 50,000, calling their bluff. The lawsuit was a go. That put the Swiss federation in a losing position. Because they had violated their own governance rules in putting forward McQuaid’s nomination, they would lose the case, and once they lost the case, they’d have to pay their lawyers, the opposition’s lawyers and that full 100,000-franc bond. Those with knowledge of the federation’s finances said it would be a ruinous amount, a Great White Shark at their leg. There seemed to be a few days in which it seemed the Swiss might be considering proceeding, but McQuaid proved to be worth a good deal less than 100,000 CHF. So they withdrew his nomination and saved themselves the equivalent of a luxury car.
Even after the Swiss federation announced that they had withdrawn his nomination, McQuaid’s spokesman was telling the world they hadn’t. But they had. As folks nearly say, saying it ain’t so doesn’t make it not so.
Here’s where the story gets comical. McQuaid declared that he was a member of “six or seven federations.”
Really? Why stop there? Why isn’t he a member of all of them? Weirder still, why is it six or seven? How is it he’s not certain just how many federations he’s a member of? Is he joining them drunk? Has he invented blackout governance?
What. The. Hell.
But that’s not even the part that’s funny. He went to the Malaysian federation and cajoled them into proposing a retroactive revision to the UCI’s constitution that would allow him to be nominated by any two federations, and he has now secured a nomination of that variety from the federations of Morocco and Thailand. For this nomination to be valid, Article 51 of the UCI’s constitution, which defines how a member may be nominated, must be changed. But it’s not enough just to change it now; it must be changed retroactively, meaning that to keep the office of president, McQuaid needs a time machine.
In an interview on Irish radio McQuaid claimed he was not only not breaking the rules, he was “not even bending the rules.”
Okay, so when I write it like that, it’s not that funny. Maybe we should cue a laugh track. I’m sure Monty Python could have made a better joke of it, provided we weren’t talking about Pat McQuaid, but something humorous, like the Spanish Inquisition.
For some weeks I have been entertaining the thought that the world of cycling should allow one or more of McQuaid’s latest nominations to stand. Let an election go forward. Surely Brian Cookson would trounce McQuaid in any election where reasonable people cast the votes, right? I haven’t even bothered to endorse Cookson because the need to acquit ourselves of McQuaid is so great that I’d vote for Attila the Hun before I’d vote for McQuaid, providing I had a vote and all. Which I don’t. The point here is that losing the election would be the final, irrefutable verdict on McQuaid’s tenure, the outcome that would send him packing, publicly.
But then I remembered that McQuaid had managed enough arm twisting to secure the following:
- The Swiss federation to nominate him (even if only briefly)
- The Malaysian federation to propose a change to the constitution
- The Moroccan federation to nominate him
- The Thai federation to nominate him
If he can get four different federations, at least one of which should know better than to participate in shady politics, to take a public stance in support of him, then securing a vote is, scarily, probably infinitely easier. So far, Australia is the only nation to go on record saying they will definitely vote for Cookson. Representatives from Cycling Australia have intimated that all the nations of Oceania are likely to vote with them, but that’s still only a handful of votes. Consider just how many nations there are in Africa and Asia alone. Every nation in Europe and North America could vote against McQuaid and he could still win.
That’s when I realized that we can’t leave this outcome to something as easily manipulated as a democratic election. An election is worse than a game of chance.
That the presidents of so many federations have remained completely silent on McQuaid mystified me for some months. Then I realized they knew something I didn’t. You have to figure that in the awful event that McQuaid should be re-elected to the presidency, anyone who has taken a public stand against him will feel painful retribution and it’s safe to assume that retribution will extend to the whole of the federation and its licensed riders.
Is it too much to think that there would suddenly be a rash of positive tests from riders of that country? No, I don’t think so.
For that reason, I’m enormously heartened by the emergence of the Gang of Five (as they are being called). The federation presidents for the U.S., Russia, Canada, Finland and Algeria have collectively signed a letter sent to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) asking them to rule on the validity of McQuaid’s rule changes. Before we get to the meat of their request, let’s consider this collection of nations: the U.S., Russia, Canada, Finland and Algeria. Not France, not Germany, not the Netherlands, not Belgium, not Spain, not Italy—hell, not even Ireland. I take this collection as a corollary to my previous point.
In their letter, the signatories described their reaction to the rule changes as, “amusement to outrage, from bewilderment to astonishment.” They are asking CAS to rule on the validity of these rule changes because they fear a protracted legal battle over the presidency should McQuaid win the election. Yet another corollary to my previous point. The UCI is in enough of a mess that a legal battle over who is the rightful president would only further damage cycling, but because we understand that what drives McQuaid isn’t the good of the sport, he’d be willing to fight by any means at his disposal in order to keep power. I have to imagine that he’d spend the UCI into bankruptcy because I simply can’t foresee a circumstance in which he’d relinquish power for the good of the sport.
It seems likely that CAS will rule against the rule change, but this will only come swiftly if the UCI voluntarily agrees to the hearing. Can someone find me a Vegas bookie to take that bet?
It also seems likely that the UCI, as an instrument of McQuaid’s arrogance and desperation, will fight this hearing from happening. If they do, the election will be delayed, probably for months. Of course, that will keep McQuaid in power just that much longer. But that’s his endgame; every additional day of power is a day of survival.
Given the way the whole of cycling has suffered here in the U.S. in the wake of the Armstrong scandal, I’m heartened that Steve Johnson has taken this step as the president of USA Cycling. Johnson, it’s worth noting, he was installed as president in the wake of the near-bankruptcy of USA Cycling, which was rescued by none other than Tom Weisel. Johnson’s ties and relationship to Weisel (which could merit a post of its own) has made him one of the targets of criticism that doping is endemic less to the riders than it is to the leadership of cycling itself. No other federation has suffered as great a loss in reputation thanks to the USADA Reasoned Decision as the U.S. has. Johnson and the the other signatories to the request for the CAS hearing isn’t exactly a rebuke of McQuaid, but it could be construed as a shot across his bow. Asking for a speedy resolution to a thorny question suggests you don’t have a dog in the fight, and that ought to give McQuaid pause, but it doesn’t seem like anything penetrates that thick exterior.
McQuaid aside, that Johnson and USA Cycling would finally take a public stand in support of good governance is the first indication I’ve seen that things might change at USA Cycling, that there could be a way out of this morass.
Everyone agrees that confidence in professional cycling has to be restored after the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report revealed the sport’s sordid underbelly: the rampant blood doping within Lance Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service team and the ease with which riders fooled the anti-doping authorities (and the cycling community) at the height of the EPO era. And everyone—from the fans to the teams, from the riders to the organizers, from the officials to the media—knows that cycling’s longtime culture of doping has to be eliminated before the sport can truly 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 UCI’s acceptance of USADA’s decision to suspend Armstrong for life from Olympic sports and give the whistle blowers the minimum, six-month suspensions, was the Manifesto for Credible Cycling (MCC). Launched by five major European newspapers, the MCC focused on restructuring pro cycling, stiffening penalties and adhering to the anti-doping regulations in a similar way to the “clean” teams’ Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crédible (MPCC), an association that has gained greater acceptance and more members in recent weeks.
The second initiative was made public last week by Change Cycling Now (CCN), a group 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 group’s 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 Verbruggen—with CCN putting forward Greg LeMond’s 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 considered and voted down a few weeks ago.
The third initiative has come from the UCI itself. Its Stakeholder Consultation, first announced a month ago, is now seeking feedback from the sport’s 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 such as anti-doping, globalization, riders and the racing calendar—including the UCI’s potential joint venture with a group headed by Czech billionaire Zdenek Bakala to strengthen the pro cycling calendar that was announced this week. 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 report—including allegations that the UCI turned a blind eye to Armstrong’s alleged positive drug test at the 2002 Tour of Switzerland. 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’s 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.
The necessity for a redirection in pro cycling was best summed up by Italy’s 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 afresh—as 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 agencies, and that penalties for doping be made more severe. In fact, WADA has already proposed doubling suspensions for “heavy” drugs and blood doping from two to four years in the draft for its new code that comes into effect in 2015.
As for the MCC’s demand that WADA spearhead future drug testing in cycling (rather than the UCI), that would be difficult to implement because WADA’s mission is to establish its all-encompassing anti-doping code and ensure that there is “a harmonized approach to anti-doping in all sports and all countries.” So if cycling-specific testing were added to its responsibilities that policy would have to apply to every other Olympic sport—which would be too costly for WADA, whose limited funding is split between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and national governments. And its budget already has to cover such things as code compliance monitoring, cooperation with law enforcement agencies, drug-detection research, accreditation of testing labs, maintaining the ADAMS whereabouts database, coordinating regional anti-doping organizations and education programs, and athlete outreach.
Currently, drug testing for the sport of cycling is shared between the IOC, WADA, national anti-doping agencies, and the UCI. It should also be noted that a major part of the UCI’s anti-doping efforts is its pioneering biological passport program, started five years ago, which now monitors a pool of almost 1,000 pro racers—and gleans information from all the relevant anti-doping organizations. And as UCI medical officer Mario Zorzoli said recently, “Essentially, we are moving from the toxicology approach … to a more forensic science approach.” This means that there will be even greater emphasis on collaboration between the IOC, WADA, national agencies and the UCI—while WADA is keen to step up its coordination with international criminal agencies and national police forces in countries where doping is already a criminal offense.
What all this means is that it is getting more and more difficult for athletes who are doping to avoid detection, not just in cycling but also in all the sports that are adopting the passport program. Cheating cyclists 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 UCI’s biological passport program in January 2008. The “forensic approach” is the way forward, and the success of that policy depends on the input of such things as establishing stricter 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 discussions that have already taken place between the ProTeams, the major race organizers, the Athletes Commission and the UCI, and the feedback being sought in the Stakeholders Consultation process, it seems that all parties have the intent to work together to rebuild the sport. Obviously, there are some issues that need greater consideration than others, especially the thorny one on whether (or how) to integrate past dopers into a cleaner future. One route toward that goal is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but that could be a gigantic, highly expensive undertaking that might take years to complete.
It so happens that the co-owner and manager of one of the teams affiliated with the MPCC, Jonathan Vaughters of Garmin-Sharp, who also chairs the pro cycling teams association, tweeted this last Friday: “I hear and understand the ‘clean the house out’ argument. Problem is, if we do it, with honesty from all, [there] won’t be anyone left to turn lights off. I might also add that without total honesty from all, instead of ex-dopers running business, you’ll have lying ex-dopers instead.”
Perhaps a better way to go is for teams to renew their clean-up efforts and perhaps conduct their own truth-and-reconciliation processes. That is what is already happening at Team Sky, though some critics (including Vaughters) are saying that the British squad has gone too far in its “zero tolerance” campaign, in forcing staff members to resign if they admit to any past connection with doping.
The major catalyst for restoring confidence in pro cycling has to be the independent Otton Commission, which must fully resolve the unfinished business of the USADA report, including a verdict on whether the UCI administration acted corruptly in regard to ignoring (or not taking seriously) the warning signs that doping in cycling was systemic. The commission’s findings will determine whether the next steps forward should be undertaken by a new, independent entity, the UCI’s current administration, an interim president, or the president who’s elected by delegates from the world’s 170 or so national cycling federations at next September’s UCI congress.
Whatever action is carried out, it’s the hope and expectation of everyone concerned, including proponents of the MCC, MPCC and CCN, that the public’s confidence in cycling will be restored and the sport will be in a position to begin building toward a brighter, cleaner future.
Follow me on Twitter: @johnwilcockson
Image: Fotoreporter Sirotti
All things considered, this has to be the strangest two weeks of my cycling life. A bit over a week ago I had the worst crash I’ve ever suffered on the bike. To give you some idea how radical my impact was, the only image I can conjure to describe the experience is the Looney Tunes short in which the ACME catapult slams Wile E. Coyote into the dirt. My experience would have been just as comical had it not been, you know, me.
It takes a most unusual calculus to figure that 47 stitches is in any way a blessing, but it’s been 13 or 14 years since I was last on the deck courtesy of a road bike. Pardon me, but I kinda feel like my number was up. Not crashing for more than 10 years is its own kind of fortune. Similarly, the fact that I didn’t manage to break my jaw or any teeth, or bite through my tongue is luck on a scale that could make me as superstitious as the entire European peloton. Where’s my rabbit’s foot? Screw that, somebody get me the whole damn bunny, STAT!
But my crash came the day the USADA “Reasoned Decision” on Lance Armstrong was issued and trying to read pieces of that on my iPhone in the ER through the lens of a morphine drip was as comically black as Slim Pickens riding the nuke in “Dr. Strangelove,” just minus the glee. Again, you’ll have to pardon me, but this would be where I think the gods gave me a taste of cosmic irony.
Oh yeah bud? Mid-morning ride? You think you can afford that time away, do you? How ’bout this? WHAP!
Tess of the d’Urbervilles didn’t know how good she had it.
The hand-wringing over the derailment of the Blue Train has been enough to break fingers. The anger burning in cycling fans has hovered like a swarm of Africanized bees, swirling around, looking for its most suitable victim. Here are a few stings for the riders, a few more for the media, a couple for the sponsors who turned a blind eye to the obvious, a dozen more for the UCI. The rest can go to everyone who ever drew a paycheck from Tailwind Management. But wait, let’s save a couple for Chechu Rubiera for being more tone deaf than a whale oil lamp. Speaking to El Diario de Mallorca (link is to the Cyclingnews piece), the newspaper of record of Mallorca (yeah, Chechu, to defend your former team captain make sure to talk to the smallest newspaper possible, preferably one on an island), he said he never saw Armstrong dope. Okay, fine, maybe he didn’t—but that doesn’t do much to rebut the testimony of those who did. Weirder still, he called Michele Ferrari the best coach there is.
Well, I suppose in a way, we can all agree on that.
It’s a shame he doesn’t grasp that his defense did nothing to help Armstrong but did a marvelous job of making him (Rubiera) look like a tinfoil hat.
But that hardly counts as news compared to the fact that the UCI has attempted to distance itself from its once favorite son, Armstrong. It announced that, yes, it will ratify the USADA reasoned decision, thus stripping him of his seven Tour wins, plus every other result he gained since August 1, 1998. This is either but one important step to cleaning up the sport, or it is the sound of the other shoe dropping—in other words, the end of the progress surrounding this case. Previous episodes, such as the Festina scandal, would suggest this is as far as this episode will drive, but other events suggest this car hasn’t hit its tree just yet.
The flight of sponsors from Armstrong in just two days was to watch the inverse of the Titanic. Rather than people jumping off a ship, this was nearly a dozen ships jumping off a person. How many dollars left the bike industry that day? Think of what you could have funded with that! (I mean, aside from the world’s best doping program.) And the LA Times has weighed in now with an editorial—rather than the skewed perspective of Michael Hiltzik (and while he makes some good points, he can’t change the obvious)—that calls for Armstrong to cut all ties to his eponymous foundation, which is a severing of ties so monumental it’s a bit like suggesting all the disgraced banks abandon their office buildings on Wall St. One is synonymous with the other. Gads, he could be forced to fly coach after this.
Finally, we finally have for all to see a true one-to-one correlation between doping and sponsor departure. For years to come Google searches of “Lance Armstrong” and “sponsor” will turn up item upon item about the sponsor diaspora from the one-time marketing goldmine that was Big Tex. If anything will ever demonstrate to cycling just how seriously sponsors dislike doping, no moment is more teachable.
It’s been curious to sit back and watch the incredible flood of negative stories that are now surfacing about Armstrong. The way these stories—take this one for instance—were kept under wraps for so long and yet now are bubbling out like an over-soaped load of laundry is as wondrous as the comeback was itself. Who knew?
It’s into this maelstrom of seething, mama-grizzly rage that Skins chairman Jaimie Fuller issued his open letter to UCI president Pat McQuaid. Incredibly, going to the compression wear maker’s home page brings up Fuller’s introduction to the letter, complete with his picture, which is a fine way to really personalize the message; honestly, it’s a better touch than a signature. It’s a genius move—seriously—someone should have done before now.
Of course the week’s events can’t be as cut-and-dried as that. No, they have to be salted. Rabobank, cycling’s single most loyal sponsor, announced they are ending their sponsorship of their team following a 17-year run. Their official statement cited the USADA investigation into Armstrong and US Postal as their reason for pulling out of the sport, but of course, nothing is ever as simple as it looks. Rather than damn the athlete and his team, Rabobank official aimed a scathing attack at the UCI, writing, “The report shows that the international cycling world is flawed. Doping is supported even within the highest institutions of the cycling world.”
The UCI’s response was so off the mark that crews are working to pull its fuselage out of Lake Geneva. Rather than accept the criticism that most of the cycling world believes the organization to be corrupt they “accepted” that the sponsor was pulling out due to the organization opening disciplinary proceedings against one of its sponsored riders, Carlos Barredo, going as far as to cite, “a more recent action taken by the UCI against a rider of the team, the UCI understands the context which has led to this decision being reached.”
The UCI is the idiot husband whose wife announces she is leaving because he won’t stop cheating, to which he replies, ‘Oh, so you’re upset that I told you your haircut is ugly?’
Previously, I thought if there’s perhaps one constituency that McQuaid might respect and listen to it’s the heads of sponsoring companies. Because the UCI has yet to listen to the riders, the team directors or the fans, it was either natural or naive to think maybe they’ll listen to sponsors. Now we know. Fuller’s grenade over the transom is a great move, a parental, “Get your room cleaned up or there will be no more allowance.” But based on their response to Rabobank I think what the UCI really needs is that ACME catapult, something to knock some sense into them.