When it comes to doping in cycling, it’s clear from the USADA report focussing on Lance Armstrong’s systemic doping practices that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. Men’s international road cycling has perpetrated an extraordinary and wide-ranging fraud on the spectators, the sponsors and those athletes who wanted to compete in the sport of cycling — clean.
Overnight the UCI announced that they have decided to recognise USADA’s decision to ban Armstrong for life. The UCI, and the Tour de France organisers, have previously stated that Lance will now be stripped of his seven Tour victories. Further, they have agreed that they won’t be awarding Lance’s yellow jerseys to the riders who had come second, as would ordinarily be the case. They can’t: many of the second place riders during Lance’s reign have already gone positive or otherwise admitted to doping. It is clear that many of the riders were forced, or expected, to dope to remain in the professional teams; whether they were the stars or the supporting hacks in the peloton.
So where to from here?
Federal Minister for Sport Kate Lundy has apparently asked the Australian Sports Commission to “do everything necessary to re-establish confidence in the sport of cycling, including undertaking whatever investigations are necessary to achieve this”. Cycling Australia’s Klaus Mueller has attempted to facilitate a discussion on how best to save his sport and suggested an amnesty for doping athletes, and the criminalisation of doping. Given the Australian Sports Commission allocated $8.84 million to cycling in the 2011-12 financial year, the Cycling Australia board has indicated it will be conducting an internal investigation to reassure Lundy cycling is (or will be) clean.
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Cycling Australia has already accepted resignations from vice-president Stephen Hodge and elite men’s road national co-ordinator Matt White. Other employees, riders and contractors are under increasing pressure to confess to their involvement in doping.
In an article last week, I raised my concern about the suggestion from CA that doping athletes should be given an amnesty. This is not to suggest that doping athletes should be banished from the sport, and locked away in eternal purgatory. I totally agree with the comments of Jonathan Vaughters that anti-doping agencies have a lot to learn from “fessed up” doping athletes. Vaughter is one of the 11 former US Postal Service riders who admitted using performance-enhancing drugs, and who testified against Armstrong.
I assisted UK Anti-Doping to set up their intelligence unit, and UKAD has been extremely proactive in involving banned cyclist David Millar, for example, in their anti-doping education programmes and in learning from Millar about how to improve their drug testing programs. Millar is also a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Athlete Committee for the same reason. To ignore the positive contribution to sport by people such as Hodge and White, particularly since their athletic retirement, is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we absolve everyone involved in doping from their responsibilities with the mere sweep of an arm. My concern is to ensure that we investigate the role the administrators, doctors and other support personnel played in assisting or turning a blind eye to the doping practices. An amnesty, or proposed UCI “truth and reconciliation” process, must not allow those responsible at CA, and the UCI, to avoid answering their critics. Those supporters and leaders in the sport must be called to account; to explain what they knew, and how they assisted in the cover-up and resulting corruption.
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority was granted the power to prosecute athletes on behalf of the sports when it was established in 2006. Since the introduction of ASADA’s enhanced powers, there has been plenty of time for Cycling Australia, and other national sports organisations in Australia, to take a stronger stance against doping in their sports.
What has led to this lack of strong leadership, and abject failure to act in the face of debilitating threats to the integrity of sport? The fear of speaking out may come from people being involved in the sport so long that they have become part of the system. They can’t speak out against a system that supports them. Once you start to enjoy some of the spoils, you are stuck not being able to rail against the lies. You then become part of a corrupt system, and so it perpetuates.
*Catherine Ordway works with national and international sporting organisations to provide policy advice on integrity and anti-doping issues. This article was first published at Women’s Agenda.