Editor’s note: The executive summary of CIRC’s Report to the President of the UCI touches on the major points of the larger, 227-page complete report. It is published below in its entirety.
The Cycling Independent Reform Commission (“Commission” or “CIRC”) was established by the Union Cycliste Internationale (“UCI”) “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.” (Terms of Reference, paragraph 3). This Executive Summary sets out the CIRC’s key findings on the serious allegations of corruption made against UCI and its officials, allegations that it failed to apply and enforce its own antidoping rules, and CIRC’s conclusions following an assessment of UCI’s governance structures and anti-doping policies. The summary then addresses the state of doping in cycling today, and the main factors that led to a doping culture, before listing some of the key recommendations.
Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)
Allegations concerning irregularities by UCI in relation to doping
The CIRC has considered a number of allegations made against UCI; these include allegations that, if true, could potentially amount to corruption, as well as failures to apply or enforce its own anti-doping rules.
Uncorroborated allegations of corruption
The Commission specifically considered two allegations in respect of payments by Lance Armstrong to UCI; however the Commission found no evidence to support the allegations:
1. Despite allegations that Lance Armstrong tested positive during the June 2001 Tour de Suisse and paid UCI to cover up it up, reports from the laboratory show that he did not test positive during the Tour de Suisse (although three of his five samples came back as suspicious for EPO). A donation of $25,000 was made by Lance Armstrong to UCI for the fight against doping, but it was not paid until May 2002 and there is no evidence that the two were linked.
2. It was also alleged that Lance Armstrong paid money to help finance the Vrijman report, which had been commissioned by UCI to investigate accusations by L’Équipe in August 2005 that Lance Armstrong tested positive for EPO during the 1999 Tour de France. Six months earlier, in January 2005, Lance Armstrong had proposed to contribute USD 100,000 to UCI’s anti-doping programme and in July, a Sysmex machine was bought by UCI, which was finally paid for by Lance Armstrong in January 2007. There is no evidence to link the donation by Lance Armstrong and the Vrijman report, and the timing indicates that the two were not related.
Failure to apply or enforce its own rules
One area where UCI consistently failed in the past to apply its own anti-doping rules properly was Therapeutic Use Exemptions. Two clear examples of this were the cases of Laurent Brochard (1997) and Lance Armstrong (1999), when both riders were permitted to provide backdated prescriptions to avoid sanction.
Another example of UCI failing to apply its own rules was the decision to allow Lance Armstrong to compete in the Tour Down Under in 2009, despite the fact that he had not been in the UCI testing pool for the prescribed period of time. Whilst there is no direct evidence of an agreement between Pat McQuaid and Lance Armstrong, information in the Commission’s possession shows that: (i) Pat McQuaid made a sudden U-turn and allowed Lance Armstrong to return 13 days early to participate in the Tour Down Under, despite advice from UCI staff not to make an exception, and (ii) there was a temporal link between this decision, which was communicated to UCI staff in the morning, and the decision of Lance Armstrong, which was notified to Pat McQuaid later that same day, to participate in the Tour of Ireland, an event run by people known to Pat McQuaid.
Preferential treatment for Lance Armstrong
UCI saw Lance Armstrong as the perfect choice to lead the sport’s renaissance after the Festina scandal: the fact that he was American opened up a new continent for the sport, he had beaten cancer and the media quickly made him a global star. Numerous examples have been identified showing that UCI leadership “defended” or “protected” Lance Armstrong and took decisions because they were favourable to him. This was in circumstances where there was strong reason to suspect him of doping, which should have led UCI to be more circumspect in its dealings with him. UCI exempted Lance Armstrong from rules (see above), failed to target test him despite the suspicions, and publicly supported him against allegations of doping, even as late as 2012 when UCI threatened to challenge USADA’s jurisdiction. In addition, requesting and accepting donations from Lance Armstrong, given the suspicions, left UCI open to criticism. In respect of the Vrijman report (see above), UCI purposely limited the scope of the independent investigator’s mandate to procedural issues contrary to what they told stakeholders and the public and against Emile Vrijman’s own suggestion. UCI, together with the Armstrong team, became directly and heavily involved in the drafting of the Vrijman report, the purpose of which was only partly to expedite the publication of the report. The main goal was to ensure that the report reflected UCI’s and Lance Armstrong’s personal conclusions. The significant participation of UCI and Armstrong’s team was never publicly acknowledged. 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.
From the late 1980s, UCI grew rapidly as an institution. It vested extensive powers in the office of president, which created an entity run in an autocratic manner without appropriate checks and balances. Internal management bodies appear to have been devoid of any real influence and the governance structure was such that if the president wanted to take a particular direction, he was able to do so almost unchallenged. This style of management was (and sometimes still is) not uncommon in sports governing bodies, although this does not justify either the governance structure or the decisions that were taken.
Lack of transparency
One of the clearest examples of the absence of good governance within UCI is the previous presidential elections. In 2005, Pat McQuaid, unlike other candidates, received considerable benefits and other support from UCI and Hein Verbruggen. These actions were strongly criticised by a UCI Management Committee member, but management rejected her claims and took action to quash the allegations. In the 2013 elections, Pat McQuaid sought to rely on a nomination by the Moroccan and Thai Federations (the Swiss having withdrawn their support and the Irish having refused to nominate him), despite the rules providing that a candidate’s own federation should nominate him. There are also unproven allegations regarding the 2013 election: a Management Committee member accused Pat McQuaid of corruption in a confidential report (parts of which were leaked to the press) and the same Management Committee member was himself accused of having given money to a National Federation to finance Brian Cookson’s election. These incidents highlight both the serious problems with UCI’s governance and the deficiencies in its democratic process.
The CIRC also identified a lack of transparency and oversight in respect of financial matters, including in respect of expenses and approvals for some costly projects.
Impact on anti-doping
For a long time, the main focus of UCI leadership was on the growth of the sport worldwide and its priority was to protect the sport’s reputation; doping was perceived as a threat to this. The allegations and review of UCI’s anti-doping programme reveal that decisions taken by UCI leadership in the past have undermined anti-doping efforts: examples range from adopting an attitude that prioritised a clean image and sought to contain the doping problem, to disregarding the rules and giving preferential status to high profile athletes, to publicly criticising whistleblowers and engaging in personal disputes with other stakeholders. These actions severely undermined the credibility of UCI and therefore the reputation of the sport. However, 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, meant that these matters were not subjected to the rigorous scrutiny and application of the rules and best practice that they should have been.
Analysis of UCI’s anti-doping policy
The doping problem was well known to the UCI leadership and it was clear to everyone that doping was endemic in cycling. Hein Verbruggen had acknowledged this, in principle, in his campaign manifesto when running for president of UCI in 1991. After his election, UCI employed a strategy of diverting public opinion from the fact that UCI was responsible for the doping issue in cycling. Doping was portrayed by UCI leadership as the faulty (and surprising) behaviour of a few individuals, but not as endemic group behaviour or as a structural problem within its sport.
Not only did UCI leadership publicly disregard the magnitude of the problem, but the policies put in place to combat doping were inadequate. Credit should be given to the UCI insofar as it was at the forefront of anti-doping in introducing new testing techniques. However, the science is only one part of anti-doping strategy. To have an effective antidoping strategy, it is essential to get the right sample from the right rider at the right time and to the right laboratory. In the CIRC’s view, there was not enough willingness to put such a system in place. 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.
Since UCI’s anti-doping strategy was directed against the abuse of doping substances rather than the use of them, only the visible tip of the iceberg was tackled. Deterrence was not an integral part of the strategy. Instead, the CIRC considers that the policies of announcing sample collections, notifying riders and leaving them unattended, gave riders the opportunity to adapt and to evade testing positive through medical supervision, whilst at the same time giving the impression to the public that cycling was trying to address the doping problem.
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. UCI portrayed itself as always being at the forefront of the fight against doping. However, there was more that could have been done to address the roots of the doping problem or to discuss strategies against doping proactively. Such an active policy was seen as an impediment to the development of cycling and was, therefore, not encouraged. There was little incentive for self-reflection within UCI leadership or to reassess its anti-doping policy. This is true even when concrete problems were brought to the attention of the UCI leadership.
2006-07 to today
The period starting from 2006/2007 has been marked by steady improvements and a growing willingness to combat doping at its roots. The original policy of containment was abandoned in favour of a policy that sought to catch the cheaters. Within a short period of time, important changes were agreed and implemented, such as the introduction of out-of-competition testing, more targeted testing, the introduction of the athlete biological passport, and the transformation of the anti-doping unit into the Cycling Antidoping Foundation (CADF). Funding for anti-doping also improved, and teams and event organisers now contribute substantially to the funding of the anti-doping programme. All these measures have, so the CIRC has been credibly told, changed the behaviour of elite road cyclists considerably.
The reason why the public has not acknowledged and given credit for these positive changes is probably due to the hesitant and poor leadership of UCI. Interference with antidoping operations, continuing disputes with other stakeholders, ineffective public management of crisis situations (for example the Lance Armstrong comeback, Alberto Contador, jurisdictional disputes, accepting donations from Lance Armstrong), general problems of good governance, close relationships between UCI leadership and riders (in particular with Lance Armstrong), obvious conflicts of interest as well as a devastating election campaign in 2013 have ruined UCI’s credibility in the eyes of the public, including in respect of anti-doping. The new leadership that took over in 2013 now seeks to avoid these past mistakes: relationships with other stakeholders have significantly improved and influence over CADF’s anti-doping operations has ceased. However, it appears to the CIRC that the transition to a more independent CADF also presents challenges, which are addressed in the Report.
Anti-doping is not a static matter. Once a new level is attained, the battle is still far from won. Instead, the history of anti-doping is marked by constant adaptation by those who seek to cheat and those who seek to catch them. Therefore, a good anti-doping policy is distinguished by a constant effort to improve the existing tools, search for new strategies, and coordinate with others in the field and to prevent the kinds of predictable routines that facilitate and encourage dopers to adapt. Even though UCI’s anti-doping programme today is one of the best among international federations, the CIRC sees room for further improvement.
Elite road cycling
The general view is that at the elite level the situation has improved, but that doping is still taking place. It was commented that doping is either less prevalent today or the nature of doping practices has changed such that the performance gains are smaller. The CIRC considers that a culture of doping in cycling continues to exist, albeit attitudes have started to change. The biggest concern today is that following the introduction of the athlete biological passport, dopers have moved on to micro-dosing in a controlled manner that keeps their blood parameters constant and enables them to avoid detection. In contrast to the findings in previous investigations, which identified systematic doping organised by teams, at the elite level riders who dope now organise their own doping programmes with the help of third parties who are primarily outside the cycling team. At the elite level, doping programmes are generally sophisticated and therefore doctors play a key role in devising programmes that provide performance enhancement whilst minimising the risk of getting caught.
Factors still exist that could be seen to encourage or facilitate doping. For example: there is financial instability throughout the sport (teams often depend entirely on one sponsor, and teams, and therefore riders, can be under huge pressure to obtain good results to keep sponsors or get an extension of their short-term contract); riders often train predominantly away from the team and might engage their own doctors (and doctors operating outside the sport are hard to regulate); riders who rode in an era when doping was acceptable continue to work in the sport which makes it hard to change the culture; and although the influence of the classic omerta has declined, riders are still reluctant to report doping or suspicious conduct to the authorities.
At the elite level there are now teams that have a strong anti-doping culture and that are trying to foster an environment in which riders can ride clean. However, interviewees expressed concern that this was not the case in all teams. Ultimately, riders who dope have shown themselves to be highly adaptable. Consequently, anti-doping tests, combined with proper procedures and complemented by investigative powers of national authorities, are the most effective deterrent. Therefore UCI and other stakeholders must ensure that resources continue to be devoted to improving the antidoping programme.
It was well known to UCI that use of performance enhancing drugs was pervasive in the sport. The direction of UCI’s anti-doping policy was determined by UCI management until the late 2000s when greater operational control was given to the CADF. It was only then that UCI started to move away from a policy of containment and protecting the sport to seek instead to tackle the problem. It is fair to note that UCI took more steps as part of its anti-doping policy than many other international federations. However, whilst there is a debate as to whether it should receive much credit for this given the scale of the doping problem, the more significant point is that despite adopting new tests, many of the other steps it took prior to 2006/2008 served to undermine anti-doping efforts. In addition, the governance failures and specific actions of UCI’s presidents/management seriously undermined UCI’s credibility.
It is clear that positive developments have been made in UCI’s anti-doping policy in the last six years, although there is still considerable room for improvement. The Commission considers that in addition to addressing operational issues in anti-doping policy, one of the key lessons from the Report should be that good governance is an essential part of a strong commitment to anti-doping. As the issues described above demonstrate, good governance is critical not only to anti-doping, but also to the management and credibility of a sport more generally. It is essential that institutions put in place clear rules that provide for fair processes, and which will be properly implemented by management. The recommendations focus on anti-doping and governance issues as well as areas for UCI to develop with other stakeholders, who are also essential if UCI is to combat the doping issue in the future.