Brian Cookson told Lance Armstrong yesterday that he would back a truth and reconciliation process to examine doping within cycling, but his priority if elected as UCI president would be to investigate the governing body’s role in alleged cover-ups relating to the disgraced cyclist. Cookson has also responded to criticism regarding claims he ignored questions from journalist Paul Kimmage.
The British Cycling president, who is standing against Pat McQuaid for election as president of the UCI, was responding to a tweet from Armstrong during a question and answer session on Twitter, in which Kimmage also put a series of questions to Cookson. Today, Cookson has clarified his position in relation to those points raised.
Armstrong, who indicated earlier this year that he would be prepared to take part in such a process after talks with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) broke down, tweeted: “Question for @cooksonforuci - any plans to convene a Truth and Rec Commission to FULLY understand the mistakes of previous generations?”
Cookson referred Armstrong to a reply to an earlier question from Twitter user @CrisTT, who had asked him: “What is your stance on need & timescales for a Truth and Reconciliation approach?”
In reply, Cookson said: “I would prioritise the allegations which implicate the UCI in cover-ups. Must be investigated independently and quickly.”
His tweet to Armstrong read: “See my reply to @CrisTT Also would support a full truth and rec process if legal and practical hurdles can be overcome."
In January this year, disbanding the independent commission it had itself set up to examine its role in the US Postal scandal, the UCI said it instead planned to establish a truth and reconciliation commission.
However, no progress has been made in setting one up, due to issues such as how it would work in practice, who would fund it, and the UCI arguing with the World Anti Doping Agency that the remit of such a body should extend to sports beyond cycling.
While Armstrong has indicated his willingness to participate in any process, there is scepticism among many that he would make a full disclosure of the extent of the doping that last year led to him being banned from sport for life and stripped of results including the seven Tour de France titles he won from 1999 to 2005.
In his televised confession to Oprah Winfrey in January, he admitted having cheated his way to those victories, but rejected USADA’s finding that he also doped after his return to the sport in 2009.
His insistence he did not dope after his comeback is widely believed to be due to legal reasons, since potential actions from sponsors and others from that period would not currently be subject to a statute of limitations.
Cookson also responded to questions on subjects as diverse as women’s cycling, which he said the UCI needs to take “much more seriously,” and whether the UCI should be promoting its own races, such as the Tour of Beijing, to which he said: “We need to work to develop races around the world, but with existing and new organisers. Not in competition with them.”
Those and other issues will no doubt be dealt with in his election manifesto, which is due to be unveiled in Paris on Monday afternoon.
In the meantime, there is no news as yet of any decision from an arbitration tribunal that is considering a challenge to Swiss Cycling’s nomination of McQuaid to run for a third term.
With Cycling Ireland rejecting backing his nomination last weekend, the nomination from the national federation of Switzerland, where McQuaid is resident and the UCI is based, is his only hope of being able to stand in September’s election.
In a post on his blog today, Cookson, who is a member of the UCI management committee, responded to critcicism that he had apparently ignored questions from Kimmage yesterday during that Q&A on Twitter.
The Irish journalist, being sued for defamation by McQuaid, his predecessor as UCI President (and current Honorary President) Hein Verbruggen and the UCI itself, an action suspended late last year - Kimmage himself has countersued - asked Cookson:
@cooksonforuci There were three plaintiffs (PMCQ, HB and UCI) on the legal suit I was served: Were you party to this decision?
@cooksonforuci I'll try again...Were you party to the decision to sue Floyd Landis? Is suing whistleblowers in your manifesto?
@cooksonforuci @moran_anto As an example of openess and transparency would you mind answering my questions please? #askbrian
Cookson, who did not respond to those questions on Twitter yesterday, clarified his position today, saying that he was unable to reply to the specific points put to him by Kimmage because of the ongoing legal action.
"Paul is one of many journalists who deserve respect for the work they have put into exposing doping in cycling," he wrote.
"Regrettably, I cannot answer his concerns directly because they involve legal actions which are still live. However, I commit now to answering them in full as soon as I am able.
"What I can say as a general point, is that the UCI has expended too much time, resource and money fighting battles which have distracted it from far bigger problems – in particular doping.
"I can also say that if I am elected in September, the UCI will not use the courts to silence whistle-blowers, journalists or other dissenting voices. This is not to say we would not seek to communicate our own point of view or correct inaccuracies or unbalanced comment when appropriate but I am a firm believer in freedom of debate as being good for the long-term health of any sport."