The UCI is disbanding the Independent Commission it established to examine its own role in the Lance Armstrong scandal and will instead establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which it will do in partnership with the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA).
However, the governing body blames WADA, as well as the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA), for its decision to terminate the Independent Commission.
It points out that the Independent Commission itself has said any report produced without input from WADA and USADA would lack completeness and would not be credible.
However, in disbanding the Independent Commission, the UCI opens itself up to allegations that it is seeking to prevent details of any dealings with Armstrong from being made public.
Even in the often bizarre world of sporting politics, there are some aspects of the background to this evening’s announcement by the UCI that seem to make little sense.
One is that until last Friday, the UCI had resisted calls to make a TRC part of the Independent Commission’s terms of reference, insisting that the latter’s role was solely to examine the nature of the UCI’s involvement in the Armstrong affair.
Another is that Friday’s tempestuous public hearing of the Independent Commission in London (transcript here) had itself been convened after the latter urged the UCI to incorporate a TRC within its terms of reference, as had been urged by WADA and USADA.
That’s a point that the UCI had appeared inflexible on unless certain conditions were met – that it be extended to sports beyond cycling, and that necessary changes be made to the World Anti Doping Code – but out of the blue, it announced its intention to discuss a TRC with WADA during Friday’s hearing.
Announcing the decision to disband the Independent Commission this evening, UCI president Pat McQuaid commented: “As I said last Friday, we have listened carefully to the views of WADA, USADA and cycling stakeholders and have decided that a truth and reconciliation process is the best way to examine the culture of doping in cycling in the past and to clear the air so that cycling can move forward.
“Over the weekend I spoke to John Fahey, President of WADA. He confirmed WADA’s willingness to help the UCI establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), as well as saying that WADA had no confidence in the existing Independent Commission process.”
He went on: “Given this development, the UCI Management Committee today decided that the federation could no longer fund a procedure whose outcome is likely to be rejected by such an important stakeholder. We have therefore decided to disband the Independent Commission with immediate effect.
“We do this with regret, but given the stance of WADA we did not see any other option. I would like to thank Sir Philip Otton, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Malcolm Holmes QC [the members of the Independent Commission] for their work which I am sorry they will not be able to complete.
"We will now focus our efforts on establishing a TRC, with which we expect WADA to be fully engaged, to look at doping in professional cycling, as well as the allegations contained in the USADA reasoned decision. The work that has so far been undertaken by the Independent Commission will be shared with the TRC,” added McQuaid.
However, many will reach the conclusion that in pushing for the UCI to authorise it to examine the issue of a TRC, and defending its position so robustly during that hearing on Friday, the Independent Commission had proven itself to be too independent – for want of a better word – for the UCI’s liking.
Following that meeting on Friday, the UCI had stated that the Independent Commission’s timetable might have to be revised – it was to have held evidential hearings in April, with its report due to be published in June – but there was little sign that it would seek to terminate the process altogether.
Suspicions have also been voiced in some quarters that in seeking to establish a TRC outside the scope of the Independent Commission, the UCI is looking to deflect attention away from the very issues the Commission was established to consider.
As a result, the fact that the UCI has unilaterally ended the work of an Independent Commission that was put in place to address issues going to the heart of the governing body itself will be seized upon by some as a sign that the UCI has little interest in transparency and in the extent of its dealings with Armstrong, such as the $125,000 in donations he made to it, being subject to scrutiny.
Also, the blame the UCI assigns to WADA and USADA for undermining the Independent Commission is not perhaps the most diplomatic tack to take given that it also says that it will be working closely with WADA, an organisation it is often at loggerheads with, to help establish the TRC.
Its decision is also perhaps indicative of the fact that it has not been in control of the agenda driving the debate surrounding anti-doping issues in the sport and is instead reacting to events, including the continued fallout from the Armstrong scandal.
Ever since the net began closing on Armstrong in earnest with Floyd Landis’s assertion his former leader at US Postal had been at the centre of a doping conspiracy, the UCI has been on the back foot, initially condemning Landis as an unreliable witness and launching a lawsuit against him relating to his allegations against the governing body itself.
In suing Landis and, subsequently the journalist Paul Kimmage – the latter action was dropped in the autumn – the UCI has also been accused of prioritising defending its own interests, and in particular criticism of former president Hein Verbruggen and his successor, McQuaid, over the greater good of the sport.
Even when it ratified USADA’s Reasoned Decision in the Armstrong case in October, McQuaid robustly rejected allegations of colliusion by the UCI in helping Armstrong cover up a suspect test for EPO at the 2001 Tour de Suisse, and also said he did not accept USADA’s evidence that the cyclist had doped following his comeback in 2009.
The UCI will find it near impossible to gain any form of control over the process while the questions the Independent Commission was set up to address remain unanswered, especially given the expected criticism of its decision to disband it.
According to the UCI’s statement this evening, that decision was partly based on the expense of maintaining the Independent Commission, “since it made no sense to spend six figure legal fees and other running costs this week [the panel was die to reconvene on Thursday] when it was clear that WADA and USADA would not co-operate with it and thus any final report would be dismissed as not being complete, or not credible.”
In the UCI's statement, McQuaid added: "This is too important for rushed discussions, or hasty decisions.
“It is completely unrealistic to expect that we and WADA can sort through all the details of setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in just a couple of days, based on an arbitrary deadline set by the Independent Commission of Thursday.
“There is still a huge amount to discuss before we can finalise a detailed legal framework, including how such a TRC, which is completely unprecedented in sport, should be funded now that WADA contrary to earlier indications refuses to contribute financially.
“This is something that will be discussed fully at the management committee meeting on Friday. I would stress that, while I am committed to a TRC, it needs to be a process which is in the best interests of our sport and our federation – and which also does not bankrupt it.”
“I hope the lessons learned from the truth and reconciliation process will help in particular to educate young riders and to help eradicate doping in its entirety from cycling,” he concluded.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.