UCI disbands Independent Commission in favor of Truth & Reconciliation process

In another death knell for transparency, the UCI has disbanded their “Independent Commission” – established to investigate the allegations made against the UCI in the USADA reasoned decision on Lance Armstrong – in favor of a “truth & reconciliation process” that shifts the focus and blame of doping investigations away from the sport’s governing body to riders and sports directors.

The UCI says that the decision is based on the refusal of USADA and WADA to cooperate with the supposedly independent commission, but anyone who followed the founding of the panel could see that the UCI’s hand was deeply at play in their work. All of the communications went through the UCI, they had a hand in choosing the members of the commission. Few would view the commission as truly independent and USADA and WADA certainly saw it that way as well.

UCI President Patrick McQuaid as much as says that WADA would not have faith in the outcome of the panel as being unbiased, saying that “…the federation could no longer fund a procedure whose outcome is likely to be rejected by such an important stakeholder”.  From the time that the commission’s members were appointed by CAS President John Coates, WADA and USADA (rightly) attacked the independence of its members and the terms of reference set by the Commission.

Just last week, the start of the commission’s proceedings were delayed when documents that were promised to be provided by the UCI were not available, forcing the meeting to adjourn and moving the date for other meetings until later in the year. The writing was on the wall when UCI counsel Ian Mill said there had been “no desire to suppress or conceal any documents”, with 16 files of material available, but cast doubt on the commission’s need for them.

The proposed “Truth and Reconciliation” process aims to give cyclists who have doped during their career a chance to come forward without fear of reprisal, but does little to expose wrongdoing by those organizations that were charged with ensuring that anti-doping efforts were enforced in the first place. It’s not hard to see why the UCI would prefer that option.

The entire press release from the UCI follows:

The UCI today announced that it is disbanding the Independent Commission – established to investigate the allegations made against the UCI in the USADA reasoned decision on Lance Armstrong and the United States Postal Service (USPS) team – since WADA, USADA have refused to cooperate with the inquiry. The Independent Commission itself has said that any report it produced without these bodies being involved in the process would be dismissed as not being complete or credible.

UCI President Pat McQuaid said: “As I said last Friday, we have listened carefully to the views of WADA, USADA and cycling stakeholders and have decided that a truth and reconciliation process is the best way to examine the culture of doping in cycling in the past and to clear the air so that cycling can move forward.

“Over the weekend I spoke to John Fahey, President of WADA. He confirmed WADA’s willingness to help the UCI establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), as well as saying that WADA had no confidence in the existing Independent Commission process.”

McQuaid continued: “Given this development, the UCI Management Committee today decided that the federation could no longer fund a procedure whose outcome is likely to be rejected by such an important stakeholder. We have therefore decided to disband the Independent Commission with immediate effect.

“We do this with regret, but given the stance of WADA we did not see any other option. I would like to thank Sir Philip Otton, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Malcolm Holmes QC for their work which I am sorry they will not be able to complete.

“We will now focus our efforts on establishing a TRC, with which we expect WADA to be fully engaged, to look at doping in professional cycling, as well as the allegations contained in the USADA reasoned decision. The work that has so far been undertaken by the Independent Commission will be shared with the TRC.”

It is expected that the TRC process will launch later this year – and, following its completion, its report will be published in full. The Independent Commission, established in November 2012, was chaired by the eminent former Court of Appeal judge Sir Philip Otton, and included the UK House of Lords Peer and Paralympic Champion Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and the Australian lawyer Malcolm Holmes QC.

Despite the Independent Commission members being appointed by John Coates, President of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport, WADA, USADA and others immediately attacked the independence of its members. These bodies also criticised the terms of reference set by the Commission itself and wrongly claimed the UCI might block publication of the Independent Commission’s report, despite it being made clear publicly from the outset that the report would be published immediately and in full.

The Management Committee took the decision to disband the Independent Commission before its second public hearing on Thursday since it made no sense to spend six figure legal fees and other running costs this week when it was clear that WADA and USADA would not co-operate with it and thus any final report would be dismissed as not being complete, or not credible; a TRC was widely seen as the way forward, but WADA and others didn’t see the Independent Commission as part of that new process.

Mr McQuaid added: “This is too important for rushed discussions, or hasty decisions. It is completely unrealistic to expect that we and WADA can sort through all the details of setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in just a couple of days, based on an arbitrary deadline set by the Independent Commission of Thursday.

“There is still a huge amount to discuss before we can finalise a detailed legal framework, including how such a TRC, which is completely unprecedented in sport, should be funded now that WADA contrary to earlier indications refuses to contribute financially. This is something that will be discussed fully at the management committee
meeting on Friday. I would stress that, while I am committed to a TRC, it needs to be a process which is in the best interests of our sport and our federation – and which also does not bankrupt it.”

“I hope the lessons learned from the truth and reconciliation process will help in particular to educate young riders and to help eradicate doping in its entirety from cycling.”

Ron Callahan is the chief cook and bottlewasher at Bike World News, doing everything from website design to bike reviews.