To say that Dr. John Hoberman is skeptical of the independent commission set to review the UCI — and even more so the authorities in world sport — is an understatement.
Hoberman is a University of Texas, Austin professor who has been studying doping in sport for the bulk of his career. The 68-year old professor’s curriculum vitae overflows with publications on the role of performance enhancing drugs in both sports and our everyday lives. His 2005 book, “Testosterone Dreams,” explores cultural attitudes toward synthetic hormones and human performance and image enhancement.
Shortly after VeloNews profiled Hoberman in November of 2012, he attended the Change Cycling Now summit in London, England. After the conference, Hoberman responded in writing to VeloNews‘ questions about the conference and the independent commission the UCI appointed to investigate its own role in the Lance Armstrong affair. Hoberman’s responses are at once wide-ranging and incisive.
VeloNews: What was your role at the Change Cycling Now conference?
John Hoberman: I was the doping historian sitting around a table with 16 other people. As an historian I have two roles: one is to apply my knowledge of the 60-year doping epidemic to the challenge of creating the closest thing to drug-free cycling that can be achieved at this time; the other is to apply what I know about international sports federations and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to dealing with the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the controversial sports officials who are currently running that organization. Interestingly, both of them are IOC members, a fact we will come back to later in this conversation.
VN: Did you learn anything new at the conference about pro cycling, its future, its power players, and how it manages doping?
JH: I learned a great deal by listening to people who have devoted their adult lives to cycling, whether by riding, coaching, sponsoring, journalism, or doing applied science, like Michael Ashenden and Antoine Vayer. Much of what I heard and observed confirmed what I already knew from researching professional cycling’s long involvement with doping. You can’t be a doping historian without studying the history of cycling and its entanglement with performance enhancing drugs.
At this point, the future of cycling is unclear. If the federation apparatchiks are allowed to stay in power, progress against doping is doubtful. Look at the sequential reigns of Hein Verbruggen (1991-2005) and Pat McQuaid (2005-present) at the top of the UCI. Together, they have presided over all of the major doping scandals of the past 15 years. Under Verbruggen’s leadership, the principal result of the 1998 Festina scandal was the age of Lance Armstrong, which the UCI did nothing to bring to an end. On the contrary, even during the endgame, as Armstrong was going over the cliff, McQuaid and Verbruggen stuck with their man. They protested how (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) pursued Armstrong. They are still denying USADA access to documents. That is how closely they identify with the systematic doper who has done so much to enable their operation and their hold on power. And that is why Armstrong’s lawyers were desperate to wrest jurisdiction over his case from USADA and give it to the UCI — “a safe pair of hands,” as they say in cricket.
So, as usual, it was an outside agency like USADA that did the work. USADA exposed systemic corruption that had persisted for years under the UCI’s nose. No one is more powerful than sports officials in positions of responsibility who decide to keep their foot on the brake and do as little as they can get away with to catch dopers. This quiet sabotaging of anti-doping efforts was an unofficial, but very effective, policy during the IOC presidency of Juan Antonio Samaranch (1980-2001). About every thousandth athlete at the Summer Olympic Games was testing positive, and only a fraction of this tiny number involved anabolic steroids. Most of the positives were for stimulants, including over-the-counter products.
This pathetic “anti-doping program” served the IOC as a successful PR strategy for many years until the Festina Affair blew up in 1998. Then the IOC was forced to co-sponsor WADA with the governments, and the number of positives began to go up, but not by much. In fact, the latest word from the top of WADA is that the war against doping cannot be won. So what is to be done in these daunting circumstances? CCN is looking for a solution that can help all of sport by focusing on the sport of cycling. The opposition to organized doping needs some new ideas. Jaimie Fuller, the Australian businessman and cycling sponsor who founded CCN, has decided to provide one, and he is off to a successful start. CCN was awarded representation status by the UCI Independent Commission within hours after the CCN press conference in London on December 3. In addition, CCN has entered into an informal alliance with WADA and USADA for the purpose of making sure that the UCI Independent Commission has a properly broad remit to find out what has been going on at the UCI.
VN: Having met with them, what is your take on the people CCN brought together? Do they have the credibility and experience to make permanent change happen?
JH: The CCN group has tremendous credibility and experience to apply to the huge problem of changing the culture of professional cycling. And credibility and experience are what it will take to solve this problem. At the same time, the corruption, hard and soft, of certain international federations, including the UCI, has produced an attitude of cynicism and resignation in a lot of people, including some of the journalists who shape the attitudes and expectations of the sporting public. That attitude did not, however, prevail at the CCN meeting. We think change is possible.
A lot of the fatalism about doping that is floating around in the sports world infects people who then give up and use that as an excuse to stop thinking about how the doping system works. The whole point of CCN is to think hard about what can be done on behalf of clean athletes. By the way, there is no party line in CCN, so I will not hesitate to express my own view that scaling down the financial incentives (and thus the business opportunities) in cycling will be part of any solution that works. You can’t keep the old business model that pressures and scapegoats cyclists and transform cyclists’ attitudes toward doping at the same time.
VN: Is the CCN group naive to the complexities of society’s attitudes toward PEDs in public and private life? For example, was the panel aware of the degree to which national sporting bodies can be influenced by sportive nationalism when enacting anti-doping policies?
JH: The December 2-3 CCN meeting and press conference were primarily concerned with how this group could intervene in the politics of cycling in a constructive way. It was not an academic discussion of the complexities of the doping problem. Nevertheless, you have raised the issue of sportive nationalism, a mindset that has driven many governments to promote or tolerate doping practices that can win medals in international competitions. In fact, sportive nationalism is not that relevant to cycling due to the competition among teams that recruit riders from various countries, depending on their ability rather than their nationality. A professional cycling team is a small-business enterprise rather than a national entity.
As for societal attitudes toward performance-enhancers in general, the fact is that our modern technology-based civilization is riding a wave of enhancements that will roll through the 21st century and beyond. Testosterone gels are being marketed on American television like sun tan lotion. There are plastic surgeries, erectile dysfunction drugs, stay-awake drugs for shift-workers (Provigil), tranquilizers and antidepressants for busy professional lives, anabolic steroids for police officers, soldiers and action-film stars, energy drinks for everyone wiling to risk caffeine poisoning and heart trouble. I’ve spent years wondering whether these developments outside the sports world will simply overwhelm any efforts we make to prevent sports from being absorbed into this cultural dynamic.
Calls to legalize sports doping are one response to this predicament. I do not endorse the legalization of doping because I think this would produce socially harmful consequences about which the legalizers are either unaware or unconcerned. How many parents will want to send their athletically talented children into a sports culture that has officially embraced needles and blood bags? How much farther do we want to push the corruption of sports medicine? Where does this leave the conscientious objectors who will not dope under any circumstances? Don’t we want to keep them in sport? When will the doping enthusiasts wake up to the fact that doping drugs do not confer equal advantages on biologically diverse populations of athletes? Finally, why should we abandon the healthy values sport can represent and promote among people of all ages? Because there are “ethicists” who enjoy the idea of transforming high-performance sport into a science fiction scenario? No, thank you. Those of us for whom sport has provided comradeship, physical well-being, and an opportunity to develop self-respect will not go down that road.
VN: What do you make of the commission the UCI assembled to investigate its own involvement with the Armstrong saga?
JH: The so-called Independent Commission (IC) created by the UCI to investigate itself raises all sorts of questions. There are three issues here. First, who are the three members of the IC and who appointed them? Second, what are the Terms of Reference that are meant to guide (and, perhaps, confine) their investigation; are these guidelines broad enough to find out what the UCI leadership has been up to in recent years? Third, and most important, do the members of the IC really understand the doping politics of the IOC and the international federations with which it is affiliated? How much do they know about the personalities that recruit themselves into the most powerful positions in world sport?
The members of the Independent Commission are Former British Court of Appeal judge Sir Philip Otton (chair), 11-time Paralympic gold medalist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, a member of the House of Lords, and the Australian lawyer Malcolm Holmes QC. On November 30, 2012, UCI president McQuaid thanked John Coates, president of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS), “for assembling such a high caliber and truly independent commission.” Travis Tygart, the head of USADA, has called them “esteemed and well respected.” But how did this procedure actually work, and why was Coates put in charge of staffing the IC?
It was the UCI that “invited” Coates to select the panelists. As CAS president, he might seem like a logical choice for the role; one would like to assume that anyone who has ascended to the top of CAS must be a person of integrity. But here is where we must begin the process of looking past respectable appearances and look directly at some of the unpleasant facts that call the purity of the UCI-IC process into question. Back in the 1990s, Coates was part of the hard-driving team that made very sure the 2000 Summer Olympic Games would go to Sydney. That is why, the night before the crucial vote in Monte Carlo in September 1993, Coates gave $35,000 to the Kenyan IOC representative, Charles Mukora, and another $35,000 to the IOC member from Uganda, Major-General General Francis Nyangweso. In 1999, Mukora was expelled from the IOC for taking another $34,650 from officials in Salt Lake City who were seeking IOC votes for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. While Coates’ name does not appear in The New York Times February 5, 1999 report of Mukora’s expulsion, it does appear in a January 28, 1999 editorial in The Economist, which reported that the payments to Mukora and Nyangweso were contingent on Sydney’s winning the bid — an arrangement that is normally referred to as bribery.
I have wondered for years how it was the white Australian party to this deal that emerged unscathed, and was eventually inducted into the IOC and appointed to the top of CAS, while his black African partner was expelled from the Olympic club. Similarly, Coates’ (honorary) IOC colleague Verbruggen has had his own troubles with the issue of corruption. In 2008, a BBC investigation turned up documentary evidence of $3,000,000 of payoffs to the UCI from Japanese race organizers that included subsidizing Verbruggen’s international air travel. Verbruggen denied any wrongdoing. What is more, as we shall see, Verbruggen has fought effective doping control every step of the way. One might ask how it is that these two compromised sports officials have been allowed to organize an investigation of the widely distrusted UCI in whose recent history Verbruggen has played such a central role.
One might also ask what Coates and the IOC knew about the past of Major-General General Francis Nyangweso, who accepted Coates’s money yet somehow avoided expulsion from the IOC in 1999. Nyangweso served the murderous dictator Idi Amin throughout the eight years of his regime (1971-79) as Army commander, minister of culture and ambassador. In early 1973, Nyangweso went on the radio to warn the people of the Bugisu district that any village found to be sheltering “guerrillas” would be “destroyed completely.” The barbarities of Amin’s rule included a body count estimated at 300,000 victims. IOC president Samaranch brought Nyangweso into the IOC in 1988.
Coincidentally, another IOC member, Judge Keba Mbaye of Senegal, had already investigated human rights violations in Uganda during the 1970s. Did he inform Samaranch about Nyangweso’s service to Idi Amin? And, if he did, would the old Spanish fascist have cared? In summary: Did the IOC knowingly induct a potential war criminal into its ranks? Or did they accept Nyangweso, unaware of his service to Idi Amin? Were they venal or stupid? Neither possibility speaks well for the ethics or deliberative competence of the world’s most influential sports functionaries. Finally, did the IOC spare the Ugandan Major-General in 1999 so that he would not make embarrassing comments about his welcome into the IOC? And did Coates know that he was making a deal with a man who might have blood on his hands?
The Terms of Reference imposed on the Independent Commission are too limited to allow for a thorough investigation of the UCI. Travis Tygart has called these guidelines “overly narrow and [they] seem to handcuff and blindfold. That’s an obvious concern. Even Interpol, with blinders on and handcuffs on and a straitjacket is not going to do anything,” he said on December 18. For example, the UCI can refuse to release documents on the grounds of confidentiality or legal privilege. Look at the IC’s press release of November 30, 2012. It says the IC will “request the UCI to disclose all relevant documents identified in the Terms of Reference…” It will “request” that the UCI “identify and provide statements from relevant UCI officers and employees or former officers and employees.” There is no mention of subpoena power.
In addition, and no matter which conclusions the IC comes to, the UCI does not have to release them to the public. Now look at the Terms of Reference, in which the IC claims that it is going to conduct a competent investigation of the UCI’s conduct between 1998 and 2012 and then commence its hearing on April 9, 2013 — less than four months from now. Paragraphs A.1, A.2, A.3, A.4 and A.5 of the Terms of Reference would tax the brains of an entire team of doping experts for a lot longer than four months. Yet a panel of three non-specialists are charged with coming up with a reasoned decision and submitting its report to the UCI By June 1, 2013.
VN: Why should the personalities of the people who climb to powerful positions in world sport matter to the Independent Commission?
JH:Let us begin with some of the personalities that have been recruited by the IOC. Juan Antonio Samaranch, the unrepentant Spanish fascist who occupied the IOC presidency from 1980 to 2001, brought with him from Franco’s Spain an authoritarian style that facilitated the bribery of many IOC members, damaged the prospects for moving against doping, and produced a generation of compliant (formally “elected”) appointees who were eventually instructed to address the IOC president as “Excellency.” In 1985, Samaranch conferred Olympic Orders on the East German dictator Erich Honecker and the architect of the East German doping system, Manfred Ewald.
By my count, during his term of office Samaranch presided over the induction of 83 members and honorary members of the IOC. A striking number of those “elected” turned out to be criminals or frauds or simply ethically dubious people whose presence among the Olympic elite should raise serious questions about the values the IOC claims to represent.
Franco Carraro (IOC 1982), an Italian politician and football executive, was forced out of the Italian Football Association (FIGC) as a consequence of his involvement in the Calciopoli scandal regarding the rigging of professional soccer games; yet he remains an IOC member. In 2005, Carraro was denying that Juventus players were still doping, following the revelations about their doping regimen during the team’s fantastically successful run during the period 1994-1998.
Pál Schmitt (IOC 1982), elected in 2010 as president of Hungary, resigned from office in April 2012 as a result of a plagiarism scandal around his doctoral thesis. The moral of this story is that, while too crooked to be a Hungarian politician, he’s still good enough for the IOC.
The former South Korean CIA operative and Tae Kwando entrepreneur Kim Unyong (IOC 1986) wound up serving prison time in Seoul for corruption in his native country.
Ivan Slavkov of Bulgaria (IOC 1987) was caught by journalists soliciting a bribe in 2004. In 2005, the IOC Ethics Committee ruled that his willingness to be bribed and to solicit bribes for London’s 2012 Olympic bid was “contrary to the ethical principles derived from the Olympic Charter and the IOC codes of ethics and of an extremely serious nature.” So out he went.
The Indonesian timber magnate Mohamad (Bob) Hasan (IOC 1994), a longtime crony of the disgraced former President Suharto, was convicted in 1998 of defrauding the Indonesian state of $75,000,000 and sentenced to a six-year prison term.
The South Korean businessman Kun Hee Lee (IOC 1996), the chairman of Samsung Electronics, was convicted of bribery and tax evasion in 2008. The Seoul Central District Court imposed a fine of $109 million and a suspended jail sentence of three years. In Dcember 2009, the South Korean government pardoned Lee to promote its bid for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. In February 2011, he was reinstated as a member of the IOC, despite the fact that he had “violated ethical principles and tarnished the reputation of the Olympic movement,” according to an IOC spokesman.
Guy Drut (IOC 1996), a French Olympic hurdling champion (1980) and former French sports minister, was handed a 15-month suspended sentence in 2005 by a French court on account of his involvement in a kickback scandal at Paris city hall. Pardoned by President Jacques Chirac, he remains on the IOC.
To this list we can add, among others, Joao Havelange (IOC 1963), the all-powerful FIFA president from 1974 to 1998, who resigned from the IOC in disgrace in 2011 following the disclosure of court documents that showed he had accepted millions of dollars in bribes from the bankrupted marketing company ISL during the 1990s.
By now it should be clear that IOC membership offers no guarantees regarding the integrity of the people who are inducted into this exclusive group. At the same time, the sheer inspirational force of the opening and closing ceremonies at the Olympic Games has led millions around the world to assume otherwise. How, after all, could the custodians of the world’s most popular secular religion be anything other than honorable international public servants?
The IOC’s response to the doping epidemic during the Samaranch presidency was inadequate to the point of being fraudulent, as previously noted. Given the IOC’s disinterest in formulating a real anti-doping policy, and the high concentration of self-serving opportunists in its ranks, it is not surprising that its prominent members have included facilitators of systematic doping.
Primo Nebiolo, who was inducted into the IOC in 1994, served as president of the International Track & Field Federation (IAAF) for almost two decades (1981-1999). In 1987, he presided over the IAAF Athletics Championships in Rome. The 1987 Championships are remembered for two reasons. First, Nebiolo was implicated in a long jump cheating scandal that was staged to win a medal for a fellow Italian. Second, a competition that included Ben Johnson, a host of East Germans, and many other steroid-boosted athletes produced exactly one doping positive: a Swiss female runner few people had ever heard of. In addition, Dr. Francesco Conconi, the notorious Italian doping scientist whose blood doping activities were exposed in the Swedish press as early as 1985, kept Nebiolo informed about his secret use of the blood-boosting drug EPO with many elite athletes. Conconi spent many years as a member of both the IOC and UCI Medical Commissions. This was not the first time a major Medical Commission had been infiltrated by a pro-doping advocate. Günther Heinze (IOC 1981), a former general secretary of the East German National Olympic Committee and an unapologetic facilitator of doping in the former GDR, served on the IAAF Medical Commission along with Manfred Höppner, once the director of the East German Sports Medical Service and a convicted facilitator of doping. Heinze remained an honorary member of the IOC until his death in 2010.
Francesco Conconi was financed by Mario Pescante (IOC 1994), president of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), who lost this position in 1998 on account of the corruption scandal that closed the CONI doping laboratory at Acqua Acetosa near Rome. Pescante retained his position on the IOC and was made minister of sport by Silvio Berlusconi after his election as prime minister in 2001. (Berlusconi dismissed the CONI lab scandal as a left-wing conspiracy against the honor of Italian sport.) Pescante ignored the report on Italian doping practices the anti-doping activist Alessandro Donati gave him in 1993. Three years later, Donati provided this report to the UCI, which instituted hematocrit surveillance as a form of doping control in early 1997.
Serving as an IAAF vice president throughout Primo Nebiolo’s 18-year term as IAAF president was the Swedish sports bureaucrat Dr. Arne Ljungqvist (IOC 1994), who also chaired the IAAF Medical Commission from 1980 to 2004. He has chaired the IOC Medical Commission since 2003 and risen steadily at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) since being appointed to the WADA Foundation Board in 1999; as of 2008 he had become a WADA vice president. When Nebiolo died in 1999, Ljungqvist praised him as “a very strong leader.” Ljungqvist seems to have had a taste for strong leadership, including his long collaboration with IOC president Samaranch. Ljungqvist waited for Samaranch to die before criticizing Samaranch’s toleration of East German doping. “The worst thing is, he knew about it,” said the self-proclaimed anti-doping champion, long after the time to act had passed.
Joseph (Sepp) Blatter (IOC 1999) has since 1998 been the president of the International Football Federation (FIFA), which in recent years has become notorious around the world as a financially corrupt organization. That FIFA president Blatter remains in office after the revelations of 2011 is a testimony to the sheer power of the international federation autocrats, an advantage currently enjoyed by Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen among others. There is no one on earth with the statutory authority to remove a Sepp Blatter, no matter how ethically compromised he may be. Only a majority vote of FIFA’s 209 national associations can remove him, and Blatter’s various payoffs to national officials have ensured this would not happen.
FIFA’s anti-doping operation and its relationship with the global anti-doping authorities have proceeded without reference to FIFA’s endemic corruption. In January 2004, WADA president Richard Pound met with FIFA President Blatter — who is a member of WADA’s governing board — to agree on a collaborative anti-doping agreement. This was a major propaganda victory for Blatter, who magnanimously offered to put at WADA’s disposal FIFA’s doping control officers, all of whom were medical doctors, and Mr. Pound was duly grateful for this offer: “We’re very anxious to tap in to FIFA’s worldwide network of doping control officers,” he said. “The opportunity to take advantage of the technical, logistical and economic benefits of this network creates a win-win situation for us all. In addition, the message that will be delivered in the fight against doping in sport by the caretakers of the most popular sport in the world will be very powerful.”
In April 2008, FIFA and WADA signed a letter of intent to strengthen their relationship. A year later, FIFA Chief Medical Officer Jiri Dvorak announced that WADA had “accepted a plan to limit the number of players who will be required to detail their whereabouts each day during the offseason.” WADA president Fahey objected that this arrangement “ignores the reality of doping in sport,” but it was accepted anyway. Dr. Dvorak successfully argued that testing should be limited to players deemed “at risk,” referring to players who were recovering from injuries or who had a previous doping violation. “If there is any suspicion, then anybody can be tested anywhere at any time.” WADA director-general David Howman insisted that FIFA was not getting special treatment. But he also commented: “It was done because they specifically said they would appreciate it.” He added: “We will stand by and watch and see. We are waiting with some patience but certainly optimism to see how the year pans out.” In October 2009, WADA president John Fahey praised FIFA’s “robust and extensive testing program,” but added there was room for improvement. Mr. Blatter conceded that he had once been too optimistic to claim that there was no doping in football. “There is,” he said, ”but not very much.”
On August 3, 2010, FIFA announced that its doping controls officers had carried out 552 urine and blood tests on 256 players prior to the World Cup matches in South Africa, and that there had not been a single positive result. In addition to the tests conducted by FIFA, member associations and national anti-doping organizations had done additional tests. This was the fourth World Cup in a row that has produced no positive doping tests. “In comparison to the 2006 FIFA World Cup,” said FIFA Chief Medical Officer Dvorak, “FIFA has doubled the number of pre-competition tests. Players have never been subjected to such in-depth testing ahead of a World Cup as they were this year. It was therefore all the more pleasing that the teams were so cooperative, and the test results prove that top performances can be achieved in football without resorting to prohibited substances and methods.”
Manuela di Centa (IOC 1998) is an Italian former cross-country skier who won seven Olympic medals, including two gold, at the 1994 Lillehammer and 1998 Nagano Winter Olympic Games. In October 2012, di Centa announced that she would be suing the Italian anti-doping activist and researcher Alessandro Donati in response to his claim that she used the blood-boosting drug EPO during her athletic career. Her problem is that in 1999 the Italian magazine GQ reported that her name had been found on the hard disk police had confiscated from Francesco Conconi’s medical office computer. According the report, di Centa was one of about a thousand Italian and non-Italian endurance athletes who had been treated with EPO. In 2003, Donati was asked why an IOC member described by the Public Attorney of Ferrara as a doped athlete was still a member of the IOC: “Why doesn’t international sport ask for her removal? Because there is a general complicity. They accept Manuela Di Centa and she accepts them.”
VN: As a historian, what do you think the Independent Commission should know to make sense of the UCI’s relationship, if there is one, to systematic doping?
JH: First, the three commission members must understand that the world’s most powerful sports bureaucrats have facilitated or accommodated doping for decades. When the IOC reported no positive drug tests from the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, this nonsensical claim was greeted with the ridicule it deserved. Unofficial screening by the IOC doping expert Manfred Donike indicated testosterone doping by 20 percent of all athletes tested — male and female — at the Moscow Games. But when FIFA reported in 2010 not a single positive test over four consecutive World Cup competitions (1998-2010), not one protest was heard. The fact that FIFA chief medical officer Jiri Dvorak sits on WADA’s Health, Medical & Research Committee is only a detail in the context of the WADA-FIFA relationship. (The chair of this committee is the ubiquitous Arne Ljungqvist.) Far more significant is the anti-doping kabuki WADA’s top officials have consented to perform in public with the hustler-apparatchik Sepp Blatter. For what all the little emperors — Samaranch, Nebiolo, Blatter, and others — have understood is that doping can be managed as a public-relations problem. Going through the motions of drug testing can be enough.
This is the most important type of evidence the UCI Independent Commission should consider as it tries to make sense of the conduct of the UCI in relation to the systematic doping of professional cyclists.
Finally, there is one more international-federation autocrat to deal with, and that is Hein Verbruggen (IOC 1996), currently the honorary president of the UCI. Verbruggen’s attitude toward doping was forcefully conveyed to a shocked Richard Pound (IOC 1978) in 1999: “Hein Verbruggen said to me: ‘If people were satisfied with the Tour de France being ridden at 25km/h, there wouldn’t be a doping problem. But if you want them to ride 42km/h, there’s only one way to do it: by doping.’ The president of the UCI actually said that to me.” (Here, Verbruggen is repeating the words of the five-time Tour de France champion Jacques Anquetil, who made this public statement in 1967.)
Verbruggen’s contempt for anti-doping initiatives and his claims of ignorance have also been stated publicly. When the Tour de France came under attack during the 1998 doping scandal, its organizers, team managers, and athletes reacted to this political and media assault as a community that was bent on defending its autonomy, its values and, not least, its survival as a profitable business operation. The president of the UCI, Hein Verbruggen, expressed his amazement at these events along with an evident resentment directed at certain members of his community who were speaking out about the doping subculture of professional cycling: “I was very shocked when I discovered what Festina was doing,” he said. “If that sort of thing were the rule, I would resign immediately. But I don’t trust these pseudo-doctors and frustrated former riders, who claim that the whole team is ‘involved’.”
Three years later, following a massive Italian police raid on riders’ hotel rooms during the 2001 Giro d’Italia, Verbruggen adopted the same position in defense of the cycling community and its doping practices. Just as in 1998, he expressed his understanding of the riders’ protest action against the enforcers of the law who, once again, had found substantial quantities of illegal performance enhancing drugs. “I can understand why the riders feel insulted,” he said. Defying the world’s disapproval, the UCI leader and his rank and file declared that the forces of law and order had invaded and defamed an honorable brotherhood.
In January 2000, in the wake of doping confessions by three Dutch riders: Steven Rooks, Maarten Ducrot and Peter Winnen, Verbruggen abruptly dismissed their claim that they had been prompted by ethical considerations: “With their confession, they have created an impression that doping was endemic inside their teams and that they had no other option. That is complete nonsense. A rider always bears the primary responsibility for doping. They could have said: ‘We’re not going to do it’. I have no respect for them.”
Verbruggen’s disdain is unconvincing because it ignores the economic facts of life he has acknowledged on other occasions, namely, the fact that that riders are workers who do not want to lose their jobs and who may well sue their federation to keep them. That is why the UCI opposed the two-year doping ban proposed by the IOC at its World Anti-Doping Conference in February 1999. The job security of professional athletes, according to this view, should not be contingent on their demonstrated abstinence from work-related drug use. At the same time, this sort of pragmatism does not accommodate ethical objections to doping, which are regarded as a gratuitous kind of nest-fouling that endangers the community as a whole.
The conflict between employment-related doping and official demands for drug-free sport has put cycling officials in a difficult position. On the one hand, UCI president Verbruggen found himself under pressure from the International Olympic Committee to adopt strict anti-doping penalties that would mean long periods of unemployment for riders who were caught doping — an initiative he helped to defeat at the World Anti-Doping Conference in 1999. It is also worth noting that he refused to accept any responsibility for the 1998 Tour scandal that occurred on his watch, despite the fact that UCI doping control had shown itself to be wholly ineffective. A year later, Verbruggen made it clear that the entire concept of doping control would have to adapt to the continuing medicalization of high-performance sport: “Society and sport are becoming increasingly adjusted to high-tech medical methods,” he said. “It’s an irreversible reality. The fight against doping has to adjust to that reality.”
The UCI regulations adopted in 1999 include a provision that would seem to invite the abuse of hormone therapy by the sort of physician who favors the doping of elite athletes: “Hormone supplementation is acceptable only if it is established that there has occurred an abnormal drop in the hormone level which modern medical knowledge regards as a continuing threat to the health of the athlete.” Such rationalizations are yet another expression of the informal but effective arrangement that sanitizes doping practices as medical routine.