LONDON (VN) — The ongoing battle over jurisdiction of alleged evidence that Lance Armstrong cheated his way to seven Tour de France titles took another step sideways Friday, as UCI president Pat McQuaid said that the international federation is demanding an independent panel review USADA’s evidence against Armstrong and five U.S. Postal Service team associates prior to any arbitration hearings or sanctions.
McQuaid spoke for 45 minutes with a group of journalists attending the day’s Olympic BMX races. The impromptu gathering came as a response to a letter sent to the UCI by WADA director general David Howman on Tuesday, which stated that the UCI did not have jurisdiction over the case.
As USADA pursues a sanction for Armstrong that would see him stripped of some, if not all, of his Tour titles, the UCI’s insistence that it should make a determination on whether a doping violation occurred, rather than USADA, has given the appearance that it might be stalling, or stifling, the investigation.
McQuaid stated that the UCI is trying to ensure that the accused receive a fair trial, stressing repeatedly that by withholding its information from both the respondents and the federation, USADA was violating basic principles of due process.
“I’d like to confirm that the UCI does not have, nor has it ever had, the intention to stop these investigations, nor to make any obstruction of these investigations,” McQuaid said. “Our aim and objective is to ensure the fundamental fairness of the results management process.”
Not trying to save Armstrong’s skin
To date, USADA has not shared its investigation files with the UCI, and McQuaid said by enforcing lifetime bans for three former members of the Postal team entourage — Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral, Dr. Michele Ferrari and Jose “Pepe” Martí — and withholding its evidence, the national anti-doping agency had overstepped its boundaries.
“When this started, unfortunately, USADA released the charge letters to the public immediately,” McQuaid said, although the source of the leaked charging letters has not been confirmed. “This affair is a trial in the court of public opinion, and that’s not just for anybody. I’m in no way trying to save Lance Armstrong’s skin — not in any way. The question at stake here is, I am concerned that the authority of the UCI as an international federation has been undermined by USADA with the support of WADA.”
Accompanied by UCI lawyer Philippe Verbiest, McQuaid explained that the UCI had reversed its previously stated stance — that the case “is a USADA investigation” — after USADA issued lifetime bans without allowing the accused the chance to review the case files of their alleged doping violations.
“At the time that I said this is American affair and the UCI wouldn’t be involved, the UCI legal department was still looking into it,” McQuaid said. “A few days later, when USADA announced lifetime bans on three individuals, that was when we started to closely examine what was going on. To give a lifetime ban — when you collect evidence, you prosecute, and then, so to speak, you’re the executioner — without any due process, is completely against legal principles. It’s reminiscent of medieval justice.”
Because USADA has refused to turn over its case to the UCI, McQuaid said the federation is demanding that an independent panel review USADA’s evidence.
“It was then we realized these affairs should probably be taken out of hands of USADA, and given to an independent group. Not the UCI, the UCI doesn’t necessarily want to deal with this process, but it should be given to an independent group,” he said.
“We’re now in a very strange situation, where the UCI, the governing body of cycling, is not aware of what’s going on,” McQuaid continued. “And we’re not sure that the people involved will be granted a fair defense.”
“When I made statements following the announcement of the lifetime bans, WADA put out a communiqué the following day, saying that the life bans had to be respected. To the best of my understanding, in order for the UCI to validate those sanctions, we need to see the evidence upon which they were based. And USADA is refusing to show us that evidence. Until the time we see that evidence we cannot accept or recognize that life ban.”
Under the WADA code, which the International Olympic Committee instituted in 2000 and the UCI adopted July 2004, USADA has the authority, granted by the U.S. Olympic Committee, to investigate and sanction athletes and licensees independent of national or international governing bodies such as USA Cycling or the UCI. The federations are required only to enforce the sanction determined by three-member arbitration panels at either the American Arbitration Association or, ultimately, the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.
Asked what sort of independent group might review the case material to determine whether or not USADA should be allowed to pursue sanctions, McQuaid suggested either the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) or the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“We don’t mind who the members are, not at all,” McQuaid said. “We don’t want any influence. We just want an independent review to look at all of this and decide what it is.”
A political campaign against cycling
This is not the first time the UCI has looked to an independent review related to Armstrong and doping allegations.
In 2005, the UCI appointed Dutch lawyer Emile Vrijman to run an independent investigation into claims made by L’Equipe that Armstrong had used EPO during the 1999 Tour. At the conclusion of Vrijman’s 10-month investigation, he recommended that Armstrong be cleared of any suspicion surrounding the retroactive testing of his blood samples, and questioned the ethics of then-WADA chairman Dick Pound.
WADA quickly replied to Vrijman’s report, describing it as “fallacious in many aspects and misleading.”
WADA’s response in 2006 was just another example of what McQuaid on Friday said has been an ongoing antagonism from WADA towards the sport of cycling.
“Historically, over the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a political campaign against cycling by senior people within WADA,” McQuaid said. “And I don’t think that’s acceptable. UCI does more in the fight against doping than any international federation and we do not deserve to have people attacking the sport the way that they are.”
Asked why he thought WADA had waged a campaign against cycling, specifically after the UCI had pioneered the biological passport, McQuaid said that is a question only Howman could answer.
Asked if there was precedent for any international governing body to demand that an outside group, such as CAS or the IOC, determine whether or not USADA has grounds to sanction Armstrong, Verbiest answered, “This is the first time the UCI has been confronted with this situation. It also has to do with the specifics of the proceedings with USADA. I have no knowledge of other non-analytical cases; there may have been other non-analytical cases that may have been prosecuted by USADA, but how it went exactly, I don’t know how. But for the UCI it’s the first time we’ve been confronted with this.”
That is not entirely accurate, however.
In May 2009, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) banned Spaniard Alejandro Valverde from racing in Italy for two years for his involvement in Operacion Puerto, involvement proven not by a positive drug test, but rather a non-analytical finding — a DNA match between Valverde and a blood bag seized in the Puerto raids. The UCI allowed CONI, which serves as both Italy’s national federation and anti-doping agency, to pursue the sanction without interference, and it was not until a CAS hearing that CONI requested the UCI and WADA participate in the hearing.
The key difference with that situation is that CONI shared its Valverde case file with the UCI.
“We work with many anti-doping agencies, all the time,” McQuaid said. “They share their evidence, their files, we see the evidence, and we allow them to work with the results management after we’ve seen the evidence, and it works quite well,” McQuaid said. “But from the beginning USADA has refused to share any evidence.”
In the past few years, USADA has suspended at least five cyclists for non-analytical sanctions — without testing positive for performance enhancing drugs — including Kayle Leogrande, Jonathan Chodroff, Kirk O’Bee, Joe Papp and Phil Zajicek.
“What is also important is that the case was started based upon UCI rules, not the rules of another organization,” Verbiest added, “and in the letter of incrimination to the six respondents, it said (USADA) was proceeding on the basis of UCI rules. So then the UCI should have been involved.”