Opinion: We deserve better than the UCI’s foolish omerta

The sport deserves better than the UCI is giving it through its restrictive review rules

BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — At the UCI, it’s the same as it ever was.

Two leading anti-doping bodies walked away from the Union Cycliste Internationale’s “independent” review on Tuesday, signaling not only a loss of heart in the governing body’s ability to undergo scrutiny, but a much more troubling notion all together: that the UCI doesn’t have what it takes to move its own sport out of the darkness of the Lance Armstrong scandal.

After the exhaustive dossier released by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency assailed the Armstrong myth and implied misdeeds of the highest level by the UCI, it was clear the sport’s governing body had to take a hard look in the mirror and address the deep cynicism that’s creased the sport for years.

What the UCI did was establish what it called an “independent commission” to review its conduct during the EPO era of the 1990s and 2000s. The commission approached USADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency to help with the review, but both agencies declined to participate on Tuesday, taking issue with the fact that the UCI failed to offer a sort of truth and reconciliation commission that would protect riders and staff looking to admit to cheating and tell what they know of a deeply flawed system.

It’s understood that while the review commission supported such measures, the UCI did not, and will not allow the charter documents for the review commission to be modified, according to USADA.

Now just how “independent” could a commission possibly be if it isn’t sovereign, and free to operate beyond the clutches of the entity it’s reviewing? Not at all, right? Furthermore, why would the UCI not support a mechanism to protect those looking to tell the truth, in hopes of cleaning up the sport for good?

Because it might be bad for the UCI? Because there’s no telling what could come out once riders and staff are free to discuss the misdeeds of the pro peloton and perhaps the umbrella under which it operates, the UCI?

The UCI did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter. Trust in president Pat McQuaid and his cohorts is certainly had to muster after USADA and WADA failed to see any reason to stick around for the review.

USADA CEO Travis Tygart said on Tuesday that the UCI’s refusal to set up such a truly independent commission calls into question the UCI’s commitment to the truth and a true review, citing a “grave” concern that the UCI is pressuring its very reviewers. And it’s hard to argue with him, notably since WADA has taken the same stance, distancing itself from the review process on virtually the same grounds. A release from WADA notes: “The terms of reference were signed off by the UCI and the commission without consultation with anti-doping authorities, while the requirement for the commission to deliver its report to the UCI before any other party is unacceptable.”

These are policies that only further doubt and do more harm than good. The UCI now gets to review the findings on its own conduct before making them public? In what court — legal or otherwise — would something like this take place, ever? Must a verdict be agreed upon before it’s shared?

The question now is, what is there to hide? The sport is molting its skin, and The New York Times reported on Monday night that Armstrong himself may flip on the governing body, offering all the more reason for the UCI to come clean and protect others who do the same. Anything less than complete transparency, which now appears unattainable, is a slight to the beautiful sport of cycling and spits in the face of its fans and clean competitors, of which there are plenty.

This is a time for truth and for progress, not for an extension of the same tired, establishment-preserving policies that have kept cycling in the muck for too long. And this much is clear: Cycling deserves better and it deserves the truth, even if it’s bad for the UCI.