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UCI asks Aussie Olympic chief to name investigative panel

Cycling's global governing body makes moves to bolster sagging credilibity

World governing body also seeks consultation with ‘stakeholders’

AIGLE, Switzerland (VN) — Cycling’s governing body made moves Wednesday to try to bolster its battered credibility with two initiatives it hopes will help it regain its footing in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

The UCI has stubbornly resisted making any sort of public acknowledgement that it was asleep at the wheel during cycling’s EPO era, but two moves Wednesday indicate that the UCI is not turning a deaf ear to growing criticism of its ability to steer the sport.

On Wednesday, the UCI appointed Australian John Coates, president of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport, to recommend who will sit on a three-member commission that the UCI agreed to appoint last month.

Coates, 62, is also president of the Australian Olympic Committee and a member of the arbitration panel for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the “supreme court” and final stop for disputes in sport.

The three-member panel will be charged with investigating claims of corruption and cover-up during the Armstrong scandal, but many question how independent the panel will be with the UCI insisting on retaining control of who will participate in the internal investigation.

The UCI on Wednesday insisted the body would remain independent and enjoy complete freedom during its inquiry. According to the UCI, the chair will be a “respected senior lawyer; the second will be a forensic accountant … and the third will be an experienced sports administrator.”

“The purpose of this independent commission is to look at the finding of the USADA report and ultimately to make conclusions and recommendations that will enable the UCI to restore confidence in the sport of cycling and in the UCI as its governing body,” UCI president Pat McQuaid said in a press statement.

A deadline for the final report with recommendations has been set for June 1, 2013.

Also Wednesday, the UCI called for what it characterized as a “wide-ranging consultation exercise involving all the stakeholders in the sport.”

According to the UCI, the review will begin in the spring of 2013 and will be conducted parallel to the independent review, with the involvement of “all stakeholders” in how to move the sport forward.

“All stakeholders will be invited to participate in this consultation, which will also look at measures to continue the process of globalizing the sport, encourage wider participation and ways to make the sport even more interesting for spectators,” McQuaid said in a release. “We must all work together to recover from the damage (that) the Armstrong affair has undoubtedly done to our sport, the sport we all love and cherish.”

The UCI promised more details would be forthcoming about the so-called review before the end of 2012.

The world governing body has come under intense fire from critics following the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s case against Armstrong and the widespread doping ring.

The UCI has vigorously denied allegations of cover-ups, bribes and corruption at the highest levels of the sport, but those doubts are clearly what prompted the organization to make its moves this week.

A growing chorus of critics suggest that the UCI is part of the problem and that McQuaid and former president Hein Verbruggen, who led the cycling governing body during the 1990s to 2005, should be removed. ().

Several prominent figures, including former World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound and ex-pro Scott Mercier, have questioned the UCI’s ability to lead the sport.

The UCI has received vital support from the International Olympic Committee, however, when IOC president Jacques Rogge told The Associated Press last week cycling’s future as an Olympic sport is secure despite the fallout from the Armstrong affair.

“It would be unfair to penalize the huge majority of clean athletes by banning UCI from the Olympic Games and we believe there are a number of ways by which cheaters can be kicked out of the sport,” Rogge said told The AP.

“Sadly, the sport of cycling has often been involved in high-profile doping cases and necessarily the UCI has always been at the forefront of the fight against doping, being one of the first sports to introduce biological passports and also conducting a record number of tests on cyclists all year round.”

The UCI misread the waters when it decided to press a lawsuit against Irish journalist Paul Kimmage. An online defense fund raised more than $80,000 to fight the case in what many viewed as an unofficial referendum on the world governing body. The UCI retreated on its case against Kimmage only to see the fiery journalist counter with his own legal action against the organization.

How far the independent review and the stakeholders’ consultation go to address these issues will be interesting to watch.

Critics also charge the UCI is mishandling the day-to-day operation of elite professional cycling and many are calling for a stronger voice and more transparency on how rules and regulations are decided, such as the ban on race radio, tech limits on bicycles, team licensing and how points are awarded.

Others suggest that the Armstrong scandal proves that the UCI should not be running anti-doping controls.

Jonathan Vaughters, president of the AIGCP and an ex-pro who admitted he doped during his racing career, called for doping controls to be operated by an independent body beyond the reach of the UCI.

Other questions, such as the battle over TV rights and the threat of a breakaway league, are also hanging over the UCI.

Whether these questions will be addressed in the stakeholders’ review remain to be seen.

McQuaid said he admits sensing that cycling faces a credibility crisis, but suggested too many focus on the past and do not see the complete picture of where cycling is right now.

“I perceive it, yes. I can read it because you guys write about it all the time,” he said in a recent press conference. “I know the work I do. I know the work my staff does. Everyone is 100 percent committed. No one takes a day off.

“There were 1.5 million people on the roadside for the Olympic road race. That tells you something as well. The perception may be there because certain people are so focused on doping and doping issues that they do not see the rest of what’s going on. Cycling does suffer from that and I am aware of that.”