Friday, May 21, 2010

Professional Cycling - escaping the crisis.

This week the cycling world again has been plunged into controversy after doping statements made by Floyd Landis. This is a further chapter in a saga that started with doping allegations in the Festina Tour of 1998. The allegations made by Floyd Landis this week raise issues that many people believe go to the heart of world cycling – its ability to deal with doping that appears to be embedded in the sport.

It is submitted that cycling can only come out of its crisis by dealing with the issues it faces in an open, transparent and impartial manner. Nothing less will work.

Landis’ allegations have yet to be fully investigated. However they are not the only such allegations of doping and abuse of power within the administration of the anti-doping system by the International Cycling Union (UCI). These allegations evidence a growing concern that the rules are not administered in a fair and transparent manner.
The UCI, Lance Armstrong and his team manager Johan Bruyneel have all responded to the allegations of Landis by denial. The UCI stated:

“The UCI regrets that Mr Landis has publicly accused individuals without allowing sufficient time for the relevant US authorities to investigate.
An impartial investigation is a fundamental right, as Mr Landis will understand having contested, for two years, the evidence of his breach of the Anti-Doping Rules in 2006.”

With this statement the UCI has opened the door to what has been a hoary chestnut in the past - that an impartial investigation is a fundamental right.
There is no doubt about that.
In this respect the comments of the World Anti Doping Agency chief John Fahey should be welcomed as Mr. Fahey has vowed there should be a complete investigation into the claims made by Landis and others regarding the administration of justice by the UCI.
But the solution does not simply lie in an impartial investigation to determine the veracity of the Landis allegations. What is required is an overhaul of the current system to prevent similar allegations in future.

One of the fundamental problems with the current anti-doping system is that the current system is not sufficiently transparent and the key roles are not sufficiently independent. The UCI acts as administrator, investigator, prosecutor and judge. It matches the anonymous samples against the names of riders, decides who will be prosecuted and whether they are guilty. In addition, important cases are resolved in closed hearings, hidden from public scrutiny. This situation is fraught with problems, rendering the UCI vulnerable to allegations of improper and unfair conduct.

Allegations such as those concerning the Russian rider Vladimir Gusev where it is alleged that the UCI acted at the direction of Bruyneel reflect serious mistrust in the integrity of the organisation and its processes. In the end proper, impartial and transparent processes will protect not only the riders but also the UCI.

The administration of justice in cycling as in every walk of life must occur in public to avoid perceptions of unfairness and cronyism.

What cycling desperately needs is an independent honest broker to finally bring these matters to resolution. Neither the national federations nor the international union are in a position to do this alone. In addition, serious open discussion is required to create a new ethical cycling culture. Otherwise we will only continue to hear more of the same from this beautiful sport.

Australia has a place to play in cycling’s rejuvenation. A few years ago the Spanish Secretary for Sport, Jaime Lissavetsky, proposed a grand round table meeting to deal with cycling’s own cancer. In September to coincide with the World Cycling Championships Deakin will hold the New Pathways for Professional Cycling Conference. We offer this as an opportunity for the cycling world to come together to share ideas about the shape of the sport and its administration in the future and to prepare the ground for meaningful and continuing dialogue.

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