You probably saw (or you may have missed it) that Verbruggen now concedes the UCI suspected Armstrong of doping. But the darn problem was, without proof they couldn’t do anything. In Vrij Nederland Verbruggen said:
‘It was hard for me to the extent that you know more than you can say. You have questions but you can’t express it publicly.’
You know what, I agree with that principle. Innocent until proven guilty is a pretty solid concept I would say, you can build whole societies on that. Of course, it doesn’t explain why Verbruggen went out of his way to tell people Lance “never, never, never” doped, but that’s another story.
The point I would like to make today is not that we should expect the UCI to prosecute without proof, to do things the rules don’t allow. That would be crazy. What we should expect however is for the UCI to do everything the rules DO allow to figure out if their suspicions are correct and to make it as difficult as possible for those they suspect of doping. In this regard the UCI has failed spectacularly.
I can even understand the concept of warning riders who are suspected, on the basis that if you know you can’t catch them, scaring them into reducing their doping may be the best tool you have (even if it is far from ideal). But what I can’t understand is this:
- If the UCI “knew more”, then it should have been abundantly clear that accepting money from Armstrong “for the fight against doping” was a no-no.
- If the UCI “knew more”, then surely they should not have facilitated a meeting for Armstrong with the Swiss anti-doping lab.
- If the UCI “knew more”, waiving the mandatory 6 month waiting period for Armstrong so he could participate in the Tour Down Under makes no sense.
- If the UCI “knew more”, they should have targeted Armstrong when he came back, so not sending his profiles to the biological passport expert panel after May 4, 2009 (when he had barely commenced his comeback) is negligent.
- If the UCI “knew more”, it should have cooperated with the US Feds and later USADA as soon as it became aware an investigation was going on. Their suspicions plus evidence gathered by those agencies could have been a strong combination.
Yet the UCI did none of this. Note I say “UCI” and not “Verbruggen” or “McQuaid”. It affects the whole management committee of the UCI, as well as the federations that elect them. Either they knew nothing about this, in which case they aren’t doing their job very well. Or they do knew about it but are deciding to stay silent.
I can understand that in the past, some or even most of this stuff may have been hidden from management committee members. But those days are over, everything is out in the open now. So they either have to act very soon, or accept to be clearly seen as supporting the old-guard and its failing judgements.
British management committee member Cookson was quoted as saying cycling needs “unity” in the UCI right now. There’s a time and place for unity, and it’s definitely not advisable to be seen quarreling all the time. But right now is not that time and place. Unity won’t save cycling, unity will save the status quo. Let’s hope that in the coming months, those who can really change the sport (those on the inside) will figure out the difference between saving cycling and saving your ass.