It’s a call for everyone to come clean for the good of the sport. But will anyone bother?
On the face of it, what riders, coaches or team support staff can achieve by coming forward is no different to what they could achieve previously by talking to either the UCI or WADA. As before, willing participants can still receive reduced bans for providing valuable information. So why would anyone choose to speak up now?
The Terms of Reference under which CIRC operates reveal a more forgiving environment for disclosure. Confidential hearings will be appealing, encouraging innocent people with information to come forward. Also, witness statements from those giving “valuable information” on doping practices can be made anonymously. It’s only when someone accepts reduced sanctions for doping violations that this confidentiality won’t apply. In undefined “exceptional” circumstances, the violation won’t be publicly disclosed at all, and there’s also the important issue that prize money will not have to be returned in any scenario.
Yet even with Cookson’s warning that “now is the time to talk before someone else tells the truth about your activities”, it will take a lot for riders to trash their own reputations. The USADA admissions by Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie saw their careers end under dark clouds, so it’s hardly tempting for others to follow. For many, it might be a case of keeping quiet and hoping that others in the know will do the same. There’s also the fact that the CIRC isn’t above national laws, giving little incentive to reveal law-breaking aspects from the past.
We can only wish the well intentioned CIRC success. At the very least, it should ease the UCI’s pariah status in world sport. As Cookson says, “perhaps other sports can learn from our experiences, because this certainly isn’t a problem that’s restricted to cycling.” Reasoned Decision, farcically collapsed in January 2013.
Running for the next year with the possibility of a four-month extension, the commission, funded by the UCI to the tune of 3m Swiss Francs, will be chaired by Dick Marty, a senior Swiss politician and former state prosecutor. He is joined by German Ulrich Haas, a specialist in anti-doping procedure, and Australian Peter Nicholson, who specialises in criminal investigations. Nicholson will be the only full-time commission member, operating from its
“WE WANT TO TRY AND LEARN LESSONS FOR THE FUTURE SO THAT WE DON’T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES AGAIN”
Lausanne office, a half-hour’s drive from the UCI’s Aigle HQ. Cookson was at pains to emphasis its independency, insisting he will only be given updates on progress “approximately every month”. The fact that the UCI is funding it is not proof of its partiality to the governing body, says Cookson, stating, “If the UCI didn’t fund it, nobody else would.”
In a press conference unveiling the commission, Cookson and the CIRC were keen to paint it as a positive tool for change rather than a means of picking over 15 years of the sport’s transgressions. “We want to try and learn lessons for the future so that we don’t make the same mistakes again,” he said, with Marty adding that cycling had a “unique opportunity to… regain trust”. Cookson also thanked WADA for working to create a mutually agreed canvas for the commission to operate under. It’s a very different scenario to the previous failed commission, established on Pat McQuaid’s watch without consultation from WADA, who held concerns that it was not truly independent of the UCI.
The CIRC’s chief aims are to “discover the main providers and facilitators of doping” between 1998 and 2013 and an “investigation into UCI past wrongdoings”. The emphasis “is not to punish anti-doping offences by single riders, but to identify and tackle the practices… that have facilitated doping”. It will produce a report with “targeted recommendations” for cycling’s future at the end of the investigation period.
Strengthened by powers handed down by the UCI and WADA, the CIRC can hand out reduced bans on a case-by-case basis, “an extraordinary tool,” said Marty, “set-up because of an extraordinary period”. Bans, which can be given throughout the year of the CIRC’s investigation, range from six months for the use of prohibitive substances to three years for malpractice by medical practitioners. There are some restrictions, however; only current UCI licence holders can receive bans and if it decides to give no sanction, this must be agreed by both the UCI and WADA. While ban details can be made public if a licence holder accepts reduced sanctions, the fact that hearings will be strictly confidential may encourage people to come forward. Cookson urged anyone with information to share their stories. “If you really care about our sport, if you want to make this better and to help restore the damage that has been done to our sport, then please come forward now. This is a window of opportunity. These reduced sanctions will not be indefinite and the risk is that someone could give information about them. If anyone has anything to hide, now is the time to come out, before someone else tells the truth about your activities.”
There’s also hope for those already banned. That may interest Lance Armstrong, whose desperation to be a competitive athlete remains. Any ban reduction, however, depends on how much credible information is shared and could only be actioned by the relevant anti-doping authorities.
Armstrong, Vino, Landis, Rasmussen, Ullrich and Basso; a motley crew the CIRC could only benefit from speaking to
Swiss politician Dick Marty forms part of a CIRC triumvirate that looks to have more chops than the previous commission
The CIRC wants to hear from all individuals from the last 15 years, whether they’re retired like George Hincapie or banned like Alessandro Ballan