Canadian Cyclist


March 9/15 14:28 pm - CIRC Releases Report on UCI - Analysis

Posted by Editor on 03/9/15

The Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) has now released its long-awaited report, a 228 page document on the mandate by UCI President Brian Cookson, "to conduct a wide ranging independent investigation into the causes of the pattern of doping that developed within cycling and allegations which implicate the UCI and other governing bodies and officials over ineffective investigation of such doping practices."

Over the course of the investigation, CIRC interviewed 174 individuals (including riders, sponsors, team staff, UCI staff, anti-doping officials and event organizers - some of whom are listed at the end of the report). The report addresses allegations of cover-ups, corruption, the factors that led to a past doping culture, and the state of the sport and doping now. It also makes a number of recommendations.

It is interesting to note that no riders came forward of their own volition to report that they had doped, and only sanctioned riders were willing to speak with the Commission. The CIRC noted that a number of riders, scientists, ex-riders and former UCI staff refused to be interviewed.

After reviewing the report, here are the key elements. A link to download the complete report is Here.

1. Allegations Against the UCI

These concern both allegations of corruption and cover-ups, plus failures to apply and/or enforce its own anti-doping rules. The findings include:

• Lance Armstrong donations. Armstrong made donations to the UCI to assist in anti-doping efforts and equipment purchases, and there have been allegations that they were payments to cover up a positive test result from the 2001 Tour de Suisse and the 1999 Tour de France (the latter reported by l'Equipe). CIRC concludes that there were no links.

• Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs). CIRC says that the UCI "consistently failed in the past to apply its own anti-doping rules" for TUEs. Specific examples cited were backdated prescriptions to avoid sanctions by Laurent Brochard in 1997 and Armstrong in 1999. The Commission also cited Armstrong's permission to race the Tour Down Under in 2009 at the start of his comeback, when he had not been part of the UCI testing pool for six months (he had only five months). CIRC said there was no direct evidence of an agreement between Armstrong and then UCI President Pat McQuaid, but evidence showed that decision happened in conjunction with Armstrong agreeing to participate in the Tour of Ireland (run by McQuaid's relative).

• Preferential Treatment for Armstrong. Because Armstrong was seen as good for the sport (especially after his comeback), CIRC found "Numerous examples have been identified showing that UCI leadership "defended" or "protected" Lance Armstrong and took decisions because they were favourable to him." Specific cases include limiting the scope of investigations and failing to target test him despite suspicions of doping. "In the CIRC's view, based on an assessment of documents in its possession, UCI had no intention of pursuing an independent report; UCI's approach prioritised the fight against WADA and the protection of its star athlete."

• Lack of Transparency and Governance. CIRC found that too much power was concentrated in the office of the President during Pat McQuaid's tenure, affecting policy decisions and transparency, including financial matters.

• Anti-doping Programs Impacted. The aforementioned issues - TUE's, preferential treatment for Armstrong, governance issues - all impacted anti-doping efforts. In particular, it undermined the credibility of cycling and of the UCI. The Commission, however, says "the CIRC is not suggesting that UCI leadership knowingly or deliberately allowed doping and high-profile dopers to continue within the sport knowing or suspecting them to still be doping, but rather that a lack of proper institutional checks and balances within UCI".

2. Timeline of UCI Anti-doping Policy

The Commission divides UCI anti-doping policy into two ears: 1992 to 2006, and post-2006. The earlier period receives considerable criticism, with then President Hein Verbruggen (who came into office 1991 and left in 2006) accused of overseeing a policy that was more concerned with protecting the image of cycling rather than going after dopers and doping programs.

"The approach to doping was one of containment, with a focus on protecting health. Looking at the tools available to UCI to combat doping, there was no satisfactory commitment to push the fight against doping beyond the limits of health protection. Anti-doping policy was for the most part based on a predictable and quantitative approach. Going after the cheaters was perceived as a witch-hunt that would be detrimental to the image of cycling."

More damning: "The emphasis of UCI's anti-doping policy was, therefore, to give the impression that UCI was tough on doping rather than actually being good at anti-doping."

Post-2006 - after Verbruggen stepped down and Pat McQuaid became UCI President - receives stronger marks. The Commission particularly points to policies to catch cheaters, rather than efforts at containment of publicity. Examples include Out-of-Competition testing, targeted testing, the biological passport and the formation of the more independent Cycling Anti-doping Foundation (CADF). Funding has also improved, with event organizers and teams participating.

The UCI still comes in for criticism (particularly during the McQuaid era) for lack of leadership and interference, with CIRC pointing to the Armstrong comeback, governance issues, jurisdictional disputes (such as with USADA), conflicts of interest and the extremely messy 2013 UCI election when Cookson took over from McQuaid.

"Even though UCI's anti-doping programme today is one of the best among international federations, the CIRC sees room for further improvement."

3. Current Doping Practices in Elite Road

CIRC says that the anti-doping situation has improved, with systematic team doping programs mostly gone. However, they say there is now ongoing doping by elite riders on their own, using micro-doping and third party assistance to beat the biological passport. They also state that the culture of doping still exists.

The Commission points to a number of factors that encourage doping, including:

• the financial instability of the sport due to ongoing reliance on team sponsors that come and go;
• riders not being under close monitoring by their teams, since they live and train on their own;
• the continued prevalence of former riders from the previous doping era still working in the sport, making it harder to change the culture;
• the continuance of the cycling omerta, with riders reluctant to report doping or suspicious conduct.

CIRC Key Recommendations

The full list of recommendations are in the report, however, key findings are:

1. Sports governing bodies have to take primary responsibility in the fight against doping, but need to work more closely with governments.

2. Doctors involved in doping need to face stronger sanctions (including investigation by regulatory bodies, and the potential loss of medical licences).

3. Confidentiality during investigations needs to improve, and leaks or the use of "public shaming" needs to stop.

4. More research needs to be undertaken into the level of doping at various levels of the sport and in different countries, so resources can be deployed more effectively.

5. The UCI and CADF should incorporate more qualitative, non-testing, non-analytic investigations, and should target individual riders and support staff in Out-of-Competition time periods.

6. Remove the no-test window between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am to stop micro-dosing, particularly in cases where riders are suspects.

7. Re-testing, including retrospective testing of samples, as new technologies and techniques become available. Mandatory re-testing to become the standard.

8. An independent whistleblower desk be set up by the UCI, and all sanctioned athletes should be approached to provide information.

9. Pursue individuals as soon as suspicions are raised and investigate all past cases and suspicions, using extended statutes of limitations.

Other Notes from the Report

• The Commission notes that despite the statements from riders and teams today that they are clean, the Commission was informed that hardly any riders in the peloton today are willing to allow their samples to be used anonymously for research purposes into developing new methods of drug detection. A box on doping control forms today can be ticked to enable such testing. The Commission was told that over 95% of the time, it is not ticked.

• The Commission believes the culture was born from cycling's earliest days, where pain relief was taken as part of the sport's ethos. These substances were not only not illegal, but were in some respects part of the folklore heroics of the sport. However, anti-doping rules and measures were being clearly set out over 50 years ago, and the opportunity to rely on an old argument that doping was part of the tradition of the sport is long gone.

• Omerta remains an intrinsic part of the culture of the sport. Elite cycling is one of the toughest sports and the endurance nature of it creates a bond between riders. This leads to the development of a different set of rules that become more important to that group than the regular norms and rules of society. Omerta was at the core of cycling behaviour, and was a strong "protecting force" within the sport. ... Omerta may have changed from being overtly practised as a cultural norm within cycling, to being covertly practised behind closed doors. This makes it harder to attack and eradicate, but does arguably indicate progress because it suggests that opinion has shifted to recognise that doping is not acceptable.

• Based on interviews with current stakeholders in the cycling community, the Commission believes that partly as a response to improvements in anti-doping, technical cheating has increased. The Commission was told that today doping performance gains are perhaps around only 3-5%, compared to 10-15% ten years ago. Other cumulative gains derived from technical cheating can make up the 3% doping gains. By doping and by broader cheating, maximum gains can be made.

• Almost all whom the Commission interviewed, who were direct members of the cycling community, stated that the introduction of EPO into the peloton was a "game changer". Taking it enabled an athlete to be competitive, particularly in the grand classification races. The average gains in performance varied depending on the individual's physiology, but estimates put that gain at between 10-15%. Not one person the Commission spoke to felt EPO had no performance benefit. [Note: Further on, the report states that as much 90+% of the peloton was using EPO in that era]

• Francesco Conconi, an Italian doctor, member of the IOC Medical Committee and UCI Medical Commission President was funded during the 1990s to find a test for EPO while, at the same time, providing EPO to athletes, including Marco Pantani, Claudio Chiappucci and Gianni Bugno. He was indicated by Italian prosecutors, but the case was eventually dismissed due to the statute of limitations.

• The report summarizes multiple EPO scandals (pages 36-48).

• The ABP [Athlete Biologocal Passport] was perhaps the biggest anti-doping innovation since the EPO test was introduced in 2000. ... Prior to the ABP, only 3 riders were convicted of blood doping. In the first three years of the ABP, 26 riders were found positive for the presence of EPO stimulating agents in their specimens. In 20 out of the 26 positive cases, it was the abnormal blood profile which raised suspicions leading to a targeted anti-doping urinary or blood test.

• One respected cycling professional felt that even today, 90% of the peloton was doping, although he thought that there was little orchestrated team doping in the manner that teams had previously employed. Another put it at around 20%. Many people simply stated they "didn't know" who was clean and who was not.

• The report discusses current doping practices (pages 57 to 64).

• In one rider's opinion, 90% of TUEs were used for performance-enhancing purposes.

• The largely non-orchestrated nature of doping today was echoed by a number of knowledgeable and reliable people. They were of the view that there is an elite who are still doping in a sophisticated way today.

• It also appears that team organised doping is more likely still to take place at lower levels of competition, where anti-doping efforts are less concentrated. The Commission was told of a team below the UCI WorldTour recently involved in doping.

• The Commission believes that doping in amateur cycling is becoming endemic. This was confirmed by amateur riders, as well as professionals, managers and anti-doping personnel who had exposure to it. It has been caused by a combination of ease of access to drugs via gyms and the internet, the reduction in costs for substances, a spread of knowledge in means and methods of administration, and a lack of funding for regular testing at the amateur level.

• The Commission found that doping occurs in women's cycling, although it most probably is not as widespread and systematic. This is likely because far less money is available in women's road racing currently. The Commission was told of doping at the highest levels nevertheless, and it is logical to assume that when women's cycling is finally developed to a status comparable to the men's sport, it will attract the same problems as the men's unless steps are taken now to protect it from that fate.

• The Commission was told that women's cycling had been poorly supported in past years, and was given examples where riders in the sport had been exploited financially and even allegedly sexually. The Commission was told that the managers were often from male cycling, and were not of a quality to get a job in men's road cycling, and that glaring opportunities to recognise women's cycling for its potential were tainted by a male dominated sport that failed to realise the potential of women's cycling.

• Brief mention was made of mountain biking, and how some mountain bikers were doping before they changed to Road.

• Top riders told the CIRC that despite having won at the highest level, they were sometimes unable to obtain individual contracts with bigger sponsors because of the broader risks for the sponsor of investing in the sport. The Commission was told that top paid cyclists, at the peak of their sport globally, might earn perhaps only 10% of the income an athlete at 50th or less in world sports earning rankings.

• At least 69 different doctors between 1985 and 2014 assisted in the doping of riders. The various investigations have revealed that many of the doctors treated a large number of riders at the same time and worked across teams. These doctors played an integral role in doping programmes.

• it is the CIRC's view that the conflict between these two men [Hein Verbruggen and WADA President Dick Pound] as well as their very different philosophies of fighting doping in sport soured the relationship between UCI and WADA, which adversely affected the fight against doping.

• Cycling is not the only sport to be affected by doping. Competition inevitably leads to some athletes being determined to achieve their objectives by any means possible. The UCI has repeatedly been the target of criticism with regards to doping. There may be justification for this, but it is also clear that, despite obvious failings and errors, UCI has also been a pioneer in the field of anti-doping.

• It appears from the interviews that the UCI leadership [under Verbruggen] was not only informed of all relevant anti-doping matters, but that it also interfered in the decision-making. ... This autocratic structure based on loyal hand-picked colleagues in key roles persisted also through the era of the presidency of Pat McQuaid. ... However, unlike Hein Verbruggen, Pat McQuaid would communicate and interact more directly and openly with the ADU [Anti-doping Unit]. It is reported that Pat McQuaid would advise the ADU staff, e.g., to test certain riders at a certain time or to test them more frequently, to notify an athlete personally of an ADRV [Anti-doping Rules Violation] (instead of following the usual procedure), (when) to open a disciplinary procedure against a rider, decide to shorten the waiting period for a comeback to competition of a cyclist or decide to take action against a team doctor if the latter was not cooperative in the context of a doping control.

• CIRC suggests that, in many ways, Verbruggen continued to have a strong influence on McQuaid, keeping an office at the UCI headquarters and physically present there (pages 105-106)

• There are also serious allegations that in one country riders paid race officials in order not to be tested, to make sure that the samples were not analysed in the laboratory or that the samples would be substituted by "clean samples". According to an interviewee, these payments were referred to as an "anti-doping tax". [pre-2006]

• Dopers have adapted to the biological passport with new doping strategies that involve micro-dosing (pages 139 to 142).

• Lance Armstrong sanction [lifetime ban] is justified, compared to other riders who testified [6 months], because "At the end of the day, the difference in treatment can only be justified by the fact that some of the riders, contrary to others, chose to break the omerta. Whether this alone is justification enough for such a difference in treatment has been questioned by many people the Commission spoke to. By adopting the WADA Code the anti-doping community has decided, in the CIRC's view correctly, that the advantages of obtaining information through plea bargaining with athletes must be given priority over the principle of equal treatment of athletes."

• The Commission received multiple examples of UCI leadership favouritism towards Lance Armstrong: There was a tacit exchange of favours between the UCI leadership and Lance Armstrong, and they presented a common front against anyone who dared to attack him. As a former UCI employee summarised, "to defend the image of the sport, they defended the champions." " (pages 182 to 198)

• The Commission has considerable data on the favouring of Pat McQuaid to succeed Verbruggen as UCI President, and that efforts were made to discredit other candidates, and fund various federations to support McQuaid in the election (pages 202 to 206).

• CIRC recommends that UCI facilitate the creation of a strong riders' union. The purpose of the union would be to give riders a collective voice, particularly on issues of ownership, revenue sharing, the racing calendar and anti-doping. The riders' union should also be given a number of votes in Congress, so that riders have a say in how UCI is run. Membership could be linked to voting eligibility in the presidential elections.


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