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Cycling's Commission & Counsel Clash

Jan 25, 2013  - Craig Lord

In developments relevant to all anti-doping in sport and the culture that has been prevalent in numerous international sports federations, the UCI, cycling's world governing body, has yet to release any documents to the independent commission it set up to investigate allegations at the heart of the Lance Armstrong drugs scandal.

At a hearing of the UCI Commission today in London, Britain's 11-times Paralympic champion Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, one of the three members on the panel, told Ian Mill, counsel for the UCI: "It amazes me that we've had no documents whatsoever."

The hearing was intended to set up the procedures, fix a timetable for witness statements and the date for a hearing, set provisionally for April 9-26. Mill said that the proposed April hearing would not be capable of going ahead and a report would not be ready for June. Mill said the process could take two years - if the commission was not disbanded before that.

There had been "no desire to suppress or conceal any documents", said Mills in answer to Grey-Thompson, with 16 files of material available. However, he cast doubt on the commission's need for them, particularly in light of a broader 'truth and reconciliation' hearing being set up with other bodies.

Australian journalist Jacquelin Magnay, attending the hearing, tweeted: "Its clear the UCI now wants new truth commission, under WADA with costs shared. Its own independent panel will get chop."

Mill said the UCI was open to a truth and reconciliation process, with the world anti-doping agency WADA and the US anti-doping agency USADA, but subject to changes to the WADA code to allow an amnesty to be offered to those testifying.

"The UCI has accepted that a truth and reconciliation process was one they wish to engage with, notwithstanding that it was limited to the problems of doping in the sport of cycling," he said. "WADA has accepted that it's code would require to be changed so as to enable the sort of amnesty to be offered which would be likely to result in important evidence being made available. We have asked WADA to tell us how and when such a change to the code can be achieved."

Mill cast doubt on the independent commission's view that a truth and reconciliation process would form part of their enquiry, saying: "That was not what this (independent) enquiry was designed to do." He noted the costs involved in setting up and having a commission inquiry. Funding another longer and broader inquiry was beyond the resources of the UCI, he suggested. 

Perhaps Lance Armstrong will make another donation in the interests of future fair play.

"If others, in particular WADA, are being asked for help to fund the process then they have to have the opportunity to discuss and agree with us the process itself and we envisage that," added Mill. "It therefore does not follow that this commission will ultimately be involved in that process."

The relationship between the UCI and the commission it set up is already proving difficult. Responding to concern expressed by the independent commission chairman Philip Otton that anything that risked the UCI's reputation might be ruled out of bounds, Mill said: "We're not trying to kill this enquiry, we set you up."

"Now you want to knock us down," replied Otton, before withdrawing the comment.

He added that it was "blindingly obvious" that there was immense public interest in determining why and how Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team was able to engage in systematic doping without detection or sanction. 

The UCI drug-tested Armstrong 218 times without a positive result. The federation is keen to knock down allegations that it knew that cheating was prevalent. If the case proves that the UCI knew nothing, then the entire anti-doping regime will be forced to face a stark reality: in the wake of Jones, Armstrong and others, the evidence would point to the cheat winning the war in commanding style.

One of the consequence of that is clear: the defence of "but I never tested positive" is one that no athlete or anyone else can ever use with conviction, in cases of innocence or not. The worst position for any clean athlete to be in. 

The statement from the UCI Commission in full:

The Commission wishes to express its gratitude to both Leading Counsel for their statements which have enabled the Commission to assess the present position and to reach its conclusion.  

The first item on the Agenda for today is to consider the proposed Amnesty and Truth and Reconciliation process.  The Commission has tried to assess what progress has been made by all parties since the Commission voiced its concerns publicly last week.  

One of the difficulties that the Commission has faced in carrying out this Inquiry is the reluctance of some witnesses to engage with this Inquiry without the protection of an Amnesty that would ensure that they could provide evidence to the Commission without the fear of subsequent disciplinary action against them.  Another difficulty has been the reluctance of WADA, USADA and CCN to participate in our proceedings or to provide evidence that they undoubtedly have unless there was an Amnesty in place; to which UCI until recently has been unwilling to agree.

The Commission came to the view that some form of witness Amnesty was desirable to enable the Commission to gather comprehensive evidence for this Inquiry.  The Commission also believed, and still strongly believes, that an Amnesty is important for the good of professional cycling generally.  

There is at present no agreement between UCI, WADA and USADA in relation to any Amnesty.  The Commission is aware of the original proposal suggested by USADA which has been discussed today.  The Commission was informed only yesterday of UCI’s position.  

Accordingly we do not know the reaction of WADA and USADA to UCI’s position.  The UCI has been unable to establish to our satisfaction what the true position is of WADA and USADA in response to UCI’s present position.  

It appears to the Commission that an all-embracing agreement is not a sufficiently real possibility that we should accede to UCI’s proposal that we should suspend this Inquiry.  The Commission is persuaded that we should allow an opportunity for discussions to continue and for the parties to reach a viable agreement in sufficient detail on an Amnesty.

In the circumstances the Commission has decided, with considerable reluctance, that the best course is to adjourn this Procedural Hearing until Thursday 31 January 2013 which should be sufficient time for the participants to reach an agreement in principle, if not detail.  In the meantime the Commission expects to be informed by UCI of the progress of the Amnesty discussion.

Next week, the Commission will then decide whether to proceed with the present Agenda which includes as its next item a reconsideration of the Terms of Reference. 

On that occasion we will consider whether or not the Commission will continue with the present timetable and whether or not to vacate the hearing due to take place in April 2013 or to take any other appropriate action.  In the meantime the Commission will consider the documents in UCI’s possession, custody or control, which Leading Counsel for UCI has said will be made available today to the Commission.  

There must be no doubt that the Commission is concerned to ensure that embarking on an Amnesty process does not prevent the criticisms of the UCI in the USADA Reasoned Decision from being fully investigated with expedition.  The Commission recognises the immense public interest in determining why and how Lance Armstrong and the USPS team were able to engage (as recently, publicly admitted) in systematic doping without detection or sanction.

In the meantime the Commission will remain on standby and offers assistance in the process if required and will remain so whatever the outcome of the adjourned hearing.

We note the verbal assurance that if a witness gives evidence against UCI no subsequent or other disciplinary action will be taken by UCI.   We direct the Solicitors for the Commission and the Solicitors for UCI to confer and formulate the precise terms of any such assurance which we will consider at the next hearing.  We would like this assurance to be conveyed to any witness who is minded to come forward.