There has been considerable comment on the much anticipated CIRC report — and reactions have predictably varied across the spectrum. There seems to be general agreement that, in terms of the first of its three major objectives, the Commission has put together a reasonable historical narrative about doping in the sport.
But there is little information not already well-known to anyone with the interest to plow through the document, and contrary to Brian Cookson’s warning, there really aren’t “a lot of worms” here. The narrative is vague and non-committal in places. For example, it states that doping is “probably not as endemic” now as it used to be, and that today, a “good number” of athletes and teams are trying to participate in cycling without doping. There has already been wide ridicule of the varying allegations that somewhere between 20 and 90 percent of the current peloton is still doping. And some other rather sweeping conclusions are made about behavior in the peloton based upon the input of a mere 16 riders — the total athlete representation out of an identified 174 people who were interviewed. The report would carry more credibility if the Commission had spoken with more riders. However, the simple fact that the Commission researched and verified this narrative lends an aura of previously lacking authority and legitimacy. For this reason alone, the Commission’s report represents an important step forward.
It is important to remember that almost half of the original “Terms of Reference” dealt with how the Commission was to treat individuals who came forward to admit anti-doping violations. This reminds us that the UCI and CIRC had initially hoped that many riders would voluntarily step up to admit their past discretions and discuss the broader doping situation. Yet the report mildly states that not one single rider did so, and then adds that the Commission found this “not surprising.” This seems quite odd — as if the Commission is quietly revising one of its primary objectives after the fact — and represents either a significant initial miscalculation or a failure vis-à-vis the original guidelines and hopes.
The second major objective was to look into the past behavior of the UCI and its collusion in the doping culture. Here, the Commission has taken a thorough and independent look at these events, and has provided a damning report on the past behavior of the UCI. Although it seems to focus disproportionately on a few alleged incidents — particularly those involving Lance Armstrong — rather than the historical role of the UCI in general, the Commission has again provided a comprehensive and interesting historical overview. The willingness to uncover and acknowledge poor past management practices, questionable decision-making, and the general lack of transparency — even though the report stops short of directly accusing the UCI of corruption — is also a step forward for the sport.
The third objective and “the main purpose” of the report was “to provide recommendations for the future” and “make targeted recommendations. …” (italics added). In terms of this final objective — where the Commission had the greatest opportunity for positive impact — its report fails to live up to expectations. The Commission’s 30 or so individual recommendations cover a mere 10 pages at the end of the 227-page report, and while a few are new and raise some interesting ideas, most of them are disappointingly self-evident, have already been proposed in far more detail elsewhere, or are so overly simplistic and generalized that they seem like “throwaways.”
Recommendations for a collective race pharmacy, nighttime testing, and a confidential UCI whistle-blower desk are interesting ideas that haven’t been widely discussed. The recommendation to work with major pharmaceutical companies to develop earlier tests for new compounds and to restrict the flow of illegal PEDs is a good one.
Many of the other recommendations are also solid, if not exactly original: coordination with governments to better attack and control doping; better monitoring of “doping doctors;” financial punishment for dopers and teams; minimization of lab leaks and “public shaming” campaigns; more consistent sanctions; and so on. Hard to argue with, but hardly new ideas — and they are generally proposed here as quick two or three sentence paragraphs with virtually no back-up analysis, detail or implementation suggestions.
In other areas, the Commission’s recommendations are even more obvious — almost absurdly so in places. Do a study to make the UCI election process more transparent? All teams should be treated equally? Address financial instability in the sport? These items are so obvious and have been written about previously in so many other places that they come across here as hollow and naïve. Relative to the detail provided in other parts of the report, it almost seems as if the Commission got tired of writing the report, and decided to skimp on the recommendations section just to get things finished.
At the end of the day, the CIRC report should at least be considered a nominal step forward. Pro cycling and the UCI have now officially recognized and conceded that the sport and its governing agency have problems. But the flimsy and abundantly obvious nature of the report’s recommendations is a major disappointment, given the magnitude and gravity of the situation. There was an opportunity to accomplish much more here. Pro cycling — and its fans and its sponsors — needed a complete unveiling of the wrong-doings, and more detailed and actionable suggestions for repairing the sport. We didn’t need two hundred pages of facts validated; we needed two or three pages of clear future direction.
We stand by our editorial comment of a year ago — the CIRC was a step forward, but it wasn’t enough.