Reform on the agenda

Al Hinds

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Facing the music... Pat McQuaid fronts the media. (Getty Images)

The International Cycling Union (UCI) Management Committee convened Friday for an emergency meeting to address the current crisis of credibility that has tarnished the reputation of the organisation and professional cycling.

There was a mandate to bring out the wrecking ball and rebuild. Panned in the international media, the sport’s governing body also got the special treatment from ABC duo Clarke and Dawe - a sure sign things had hit rock bottom.

They had.

And yet at the UCI organised presser earlier in the week in which it confirmed United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) life ban handed to disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong, the international body struggled to be consistent, coherent, and in control.

Why was it pursuing a case against journalist Paul Kimmage?

It was a matter of principle and the organisation and its members had been defamed.

Why had it accepted money from a rider? Would it do it again? Did the organisation believe it should be accepting money (donations) from riders it was supposedly policing?

Not ideal, we'd do things differently. But we'd still accept donations.

McQuaid criticised Tyler Hamilton for his book but praised David Millar's. Both are dopers, both sanctioned for their actions, and both wrote books about their experiences with drugs in the peloton.

The Irishman called Floyd Landis and Hamilton "scumbags" and failed to offer the same courtesy to Armstrong.

Despite distancing itself from Armstrong, it also emerged that the Texan had been personally notified of the UCI decision the Friday before.

It palmed off suggestions of corruption inside the organisation and simultaneously defended former President Hein Verbruggen.

To be fair to McQuaid he performed reasonably well overall. But there was never the sense this was a changed organisation fronting the media, fully aware of the gravity of the evidence in the USADA documents, and of the situation it was facing. It felt a lot more like more of the same.

I had hoped, and continue to hope, that the UCI will act decisively to usher in a new era for the sport with strong statements and actions. Part of that hope rested on the outcomes of the emergency meeting announced at the Armstrong presser, and the findings to come from it.

Two key proposals were tabled.

First was the announcement that the UCI will nominate an "independent sports body" which will investigate the "various allegations made about UCI relating to the Armstrong affair."

This is at the very least encouraging, but the details of the body's powers to investigate, how binding its findings will be and its independence, all remain to be seen.

Call me a skeptic but I can't see any scenario in which an "independent" commission set up by the UCI recommends the board to resign - and the board then resigns. Nor am I anticipating the uncovering of widespread corruption inside the UCI.

Secondly, the UCI hinted at its intention to impose life-bans for future doping infractions.

"Part of the independent commission’s remit would be to find ways to ensure that persons caught for doping were no longer able to take part in the sport, including as part of an entourage."

This would be an interesting change if it did go ahead, though it seems unlikely considering it is incongruous with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) current two-strike policy. It would be even more interesting (though far less probable) if such bans were made retroactive. Either way it's hardly a new concept and for me is still questionable as a deterrent.

Slightly facetiously I wrote in a previous blog that "self-interest alone should dictate that (UCI) leadership goes down the reform path so that it can return to cashing in on the sport's success."

After the emergency meeting I'm still unconvinced that what's been suggested is enough. Too much remains unaddressed. Truth and reconciliation wasn't even mentioned. While Armstrong has been castigated, his behaviour was hardly isolated, and much of the sport's architecture in, as McQuaid describes it, "the completely different sport from that of the period 1998-2005", still exists.

We'll know more after November 5, when the independent commission begins to take shape. Until then the jury is out.

"(The UCI) will take whatever actions are deemed necessary by the independent commission and we will put cycling back on track," said McQuaid on Friday.

Lets hope so.

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