The truth about reconciliation

July 4, 2013

The JaJa case, Cookson’s manifesto, McQuaid’s diatribe against same, Jonathan Vaughters on twitter; after a brief lull, truth and reconciliation is back in a big way.

It seemed to gain momentum right after the USADA report, when it was even embraced (likely with the goal to smother it) by McQuaid. At least I think it was, tough to figure out through the usual contradictions. Here are some points to consider:

  • Many of the bureaucrats ditched the concept after first seeming to embrace it “because the WADA code doesn’t allow for it”. But the WADA code was not sent to us from Mars with explicit instructions never to change it. Humans from planet Earth wrote the code, and if enough people make good arguments to change it, it can be. So if the bureaucrats think T&R is the way to go, they should not complain the WADA code doesn’t allow it; they should work to change the code. And personally, I think such a request would be seriously considered by WADA if it didn’t come as part of a salvo of sniping press releases and asinine public statements.
  • Can we allow people to “get away with it”? I wrote about that in my previous blog post, and we have to accept that there is no perfect solution. The outcome will feel insufficient and unfair regardless. But if it is possible to use the concept of Truth and Reconciliation in a country that has suffered murder, torture, bomb attacks and other unspeakable crimes, then surely it should be possible with something as insignificant as illegal drug use in sport. Furthermore T&R needn’t mean there is zero punishment for transgressions.
  • Ex-dopers can’t call for Truth and Reconciliation. It’s quite alright for ex-dopers to call for truth, but they should leave to others the call for reconciliation. Problem is, there is no real “other side” in this conflict. Actually there is, made up of clean riders, fans who were fooled, etc, but this is a rag-tag group that is not easily identifiable Even worse, until the moment a T&R process starts, every rider will continue to claim they were part of that small minority in the “clean rider” camp. Tough to start Truth and Reconciliation with such a fundamental lie.
  • Cycling doesn’t have a bishop Tutu. Whatever you may think of the man, he could speak to large parts of both sides with authority. Cycling doesn’t have a person like that – there is so much conflict on so many levels and so many topics. Who has the authority or even credibility with a large portion of the cycling world?
  • What is the purpose of a T&R process? Is is that (ex-)dopers no longer have to fear getting found out? Is it to avoid embarrassing stories appearing one by one for the next decade? Those are all pretty self-serving goals. But what is the goal for cycling, what will the sport get out of the process? You hear very little about that.

As a result, it is entirely possible cycling (and maybe other sports) will have a process through which people will confess their doping sins without penalty. The truth part is easy, it can certainly be “bought” with the prospect of never having to worry about getting caught up in your past anymore, and in essence future job and financial security. Just like any bank robber would confess to the crime if he could keep the loot and avoid jail.

But the question is, how does this help the sport? Will it make the environment any healthier for the next generation? Will it give riders who are doping as we speak an incentive to stop? Will it encourage their clean teammates or pelotonmates a reason to speak out about them?

As long as it is unclear how Truth and Reconciliation will help the sport – aside from giving peace of mind to the ex-dopers and avoiding future embarrassing media stories because all the sewage comes out at once – there isn’t any real point.

And as long as we don’t really know what reconciliation entails, and with whom, it’s an affront to South Africans to even use the expression.

27 Responses to “The truth about reconciliation”


  1. I think this is a brilliantly succinct and balanced post. A refreshing read away from the oxygen starved ranting of twitter and the “sniping press releases and asinine public statements”.

    The one thing I would challenge though is that “the truth part is easy”. Even without the risk of retribution not everyone would want the world to know that they are a bank robber. Especially if they have looked their friends, family and supporters in the eye and said categorically that they are not bank robbers.

    I think ultimately that the social shame is a bigger deterrent to truth than sanction.


    • While I would agree on an individual basis, as a group this may not be true. Not everybody has to speak the truth for it to come out. If 50% of a team tells the truth, the denials of the other half won’t carry much weight.


      • But how do you get 50% of a team to admit to something that they feel shameful about? You have to catch them and then hope that they “super-grass” others.

        Just having a forum to discuss the past will not suddenly free people up to talk honestly about their past. Admitting to their children and parents that they lied and that their achievements are bogus will hold them back more than having their titles stripped.

        So not only do we need to address how T&R will help the sport, but what will unlock the truth. Amnesty from retribution is only a small part of that key.


        • Well, again look at the Netherlands. All active riders were offered a light penalty if they came forward. Nobody did. Then they were offered zero penalty by the Sorgdrager commission, and virtually all spoke out. Granted, it was anonymous so you could argue it was due to solving the shame factor, but regardless, they could have kept quiet with impunity and didn’t.

  2. Skater Says:

    If someone got to live the life or richness and fame off cheating, don’t offer them anythinng, just take them down HARD. And make the new generation very affraid of their fate should they vere off the straight path.
    You don’t get to ruin a sport, and others’ careers, profit greatly from it, and escape without being properly penalized.
    You sign the WADA code, you didn’t obey is, so SUFFER. The clean riders trying to keep up with your doped up legs, they suffered. No matter how few there were. Every clean amateur who wanted to be a pro but couldn’t, is a real victim. I never understood how I could be so dominant among amateurs, and so utterly useless against pros. There was no in-between. You were either off the back at the Elite level, or getting bored at amateur level. And I was not alone.
    Clean riders have thus far always been penalized harder than dopers. No wins, no career, forced to live the mortals’ life.
    Please people quit being understanding at those that sold their souls. They are the weaklings, and need to be ridden of their fame and wealth falsely accumulated.


    • One simple question: how do you “take them down”? I can guarantee you one thing; without a truth and reconciliation, the cheaters will keep their spoils AND their good name. The chance of any of the old pros getting found out is small and getting smaller. In fact, if Lance hadn’t “unretired”, he likely would have escaped trouble too. He might have been gearing up to become governor of Texas by now.

      • Skater Says:

        Lance was taken down due to someone made the effort to go out and tell stuff. And then a rare US agency actually doing their work well.
        You don’t need to ask the legends pretty please to fez up. Just pick up some leads and get the feds involved where applicable. Lance f’d over the USPS, and that was key in most of him being unheroed.
        Cheaters will only fez up when they get to keep their hero status. Look at holy Boogerd, wanted ALL other team mates to confess before he would. Himself above all others, his holyness and mr spokesmanperson. Makes me friggin’ sick. He’s one pro who was really slow in training and off-season. I was plain faster. Super responder I think. Look at him riding 60kph in the last km of a classic, solo. No way. Small engine Boogie. Folks like him stole SO much. And they want to reconcile after all the others. USPS riders somehow got away proclaiming clean cycling after 2007, stll wondering how that was possible.


        • You’re suggesting something that simply won’t happen. The “Feds” won’t investigate, there is no reason and no desire. Doping is not a crime in most countries, and wasn’t in even more a few years back. Since you mention the netherlands, the Dutch minister has already said there won’t be more powers to go after dopers.

  3. Evan Shaw Says:

    Well thought out Gerard. My thoughts are a mirror for what you have spoken. It is more than an insult to use this term. The reason for the need of this process in South Africa was that the government would NOT relinquish power unless they were guaranteed no accountability for their reign of terror, oppression, murder, and torture. That is the ugly truth underneath those terms. It was a horrid compromise the main gain for the oppressed was that if some part of the horrors came out it would be more difficult for it to happen again, and some small consolation to those who survived that the dead were honored and remembered.

    For cycling, a completely different framework is needed. Accountability and Deterrence is the term that should be used. Not punishment nor retribution.

    The real problem is that both the UCI/IOC and the corrupt forces in cycling want to keep the loot, have continued access to power, and future money.

    For example, Trek bicycles. They rode the gravy train of Armstrong, helped to ruin Lemond. Sponsored a team with Bruyneel. Now no accountability and they will be moving onto a new lucrative deal.

    The UCI itself want T&R, or rather a skate free card. They and Lance would love this. The UCI & Lance would as he says be first thru that door.

    Cookson says let us have a middle ground. Riders are adults. He says don’t throw under the bus, but there must be accountability.

    Leave T&R behind. We already know the truth about the teams and riders. What we really need is a criminal full power of testifying under oath investigation of the UCI.

  4. Evan Shaw Says:

    And on a lessor note, why must we be subjected to the gravy train accomplices of the likes of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin NBC announcers, and Graham Watson tour photographer. Just take the money cuddle the powers that be look the other way and skate on. The message is that cheating, graft, corruption are good.

    • smnb (@smnb) Says:

      as much as I dislike Phil Liggett ,Paul Sherwin ,Graham Watson and the many others that were on the “gravy train”. Until it is shown they were complicit and broke some rules or laws, they cant be punished for being dicks.
      If you think they helped Lance Armstrong and the doping era get away with what they did, you better start making a list of every person that watched cycling in the last 30 years, cheering the feats and buying the merchandise.

      • Skater Says:

        Us fans can impeach them. Write to their networks/commisioners on their dispicable disservice to truth and sports. And that their services will be boycotted until fresh cleaner blood is installed. They’d do better work too, especially with the true role models in the sport.

  5. smnb (@smnb) Says:

    at last someone has torn away the curtain and found the wizard out for what it is.
    People liked to throw around T&R without having any real concept as to the mechanics and logistics of this. No one even can agree as to who will run it.

    How about his for an idea, come up with something that allows the sport to move forward and people past transgressions to be addressed honestly and in context of moving the sport forward.

    We can come up with a name for it later

  6. PT Says:

    This is a tangent to your post Gerard but humor me….

    One element that I’d like to see is that a doping conviction of any type triggers the removal of the athletes or DS or coaches complete career results to that point. No excuses, a blank slate and they hand back any medals & titles ever won, even back to junior titles. This level of severe punishment is needed to really make racers think when they are sitting there with the needle in their hand – or a DS or coach who is putting pressure on their riders: is it worth it?

    Take a look at the TDF stats for instance and all the names with various convictions recorded who still have their name in the books. They should be removed forever.

    They could race again if they undertook some rehabilitation process and also disclose who assisted them. If not, they stay out and don’t race again. The whole “I acted alone” claim is horseshit.


    • I really like the concept of removing all the results of a rider when caught. You could also add a financial stick to this by forcing the return of prize money (or not paying out prize money until after X years). That’s much easier to do than getting salary back.

      Although I am not a fan of the focus on winning, ironically a sport more based on prize money than salary (if such a hold-back structure was applied) would be interesting.

      As for also addressing the support structure behind the doping rider, I am all for that. It’s just difficult to get behind that. As in all business, I support the concept that directors who are complicit or negligent face some form of personal liability, but we have to realize people running a team cannot prevent everything and cannot monitor their riders 24/7. So those trying their best (and up to some verifiable standard) should not be punished, but facilitators (active or passive) definitely should feel the consequences.

  7. Patrick Says:

    yeah there’s something in that PT. if it comes to losing all that you have won to date vs the chance of winning something more then that has to be a more compelling positive pressure than the choice of a chance of winning with the risk of being caught vs not much chance of winning.

    However you have to be very sure of the guilt before wiping someones life away. Take the recent contador and shleck cases – both were caught with prohibited substances in their systems so found guilty and banned with the loss of any results during the affected period. All good, they may have had some benefit from the substance so results are gone. However, not to defend either of them but in both cases there was some doubt as to whether they were actually dopers who intentionally consumed the substances to gain an unfair advantage or whether there was some form of accidental intake. It seems pretty harsh to wipe out someones career for something that might have been an accident due to contaminated meat or whatever.

    the return to racing being conditional on telling the whole truth is more workable, the only issue being how do you know when they have told the whole truth?

  8. Alex TC Says:

    It’s a dead end. There are as many reasons these guys cheated as there are riders who cheated, it’s virtually impossible to clean up this act of almost two decades of widespread doping and cheating, no T&R could ever come out with balanced and fair justice to every and all. Yeah some got rich and famous, some not as much, some just survived and some got destroyed. Some got clear, some got caught and punished. That’s how it is in every walk of life let’s look for ways of improving the system and work hard to make the sport better and fairer, that’s what we can expect.

  9. Touriste-Routier Says:

    The biggest barrier to T&R is not the UCI, nor WADA; these barriers can be negotiated, but lies with the legalities of taking performance enhancing drugs in sovereign nations.

    One might be able to handle embarrassment, losing respect, titles, and money, but going to prison is another matter all together. Until there is amnesty from the criminal courts, as well as from the sport, don’t hold your breath for wide scale admission of transgressions.


    • True, but for the period we’re talking about, doping was a criminal offense in very few countries. And even those rarely have serious convictions in their jurisprudence, at least for the athletes.

      • touriste-routier Says:

        But a T&R process needs to be mostly universal to be effective. Convictions are convictions, and can have ramifications going beyond any sentence or fine. The need to hire a lawyer may be deterrent enough to prevent someone from stepping forward.


        • It will be almost universal. And if everybody speaks out except for one or two countries, you’ll get a pretty good picture about those countries anyway via all the other statements.

  10. trounder Says:

    So what are your thoughts now regarding the other catch-phrase: “zero-tolerance”? My mind is still boggled that teams are not punished when their riders are caught doping. It was refreshing to see the entire Ag2r TEAM have to sit out the Dauphine this year thanks to the MPCC agreement the team signed. Not like they lost an arm or anything, but the MPCC rule is a good example of how to encourage a team culture of responsibility and openness instead of denial and silence.

    We know how the power of the omerta was cultivated over many years through ill-gotten gains. Perhaps the opposite would be true if silence brought the wrath down on more than just the doper. Spread the pain around and we’ll see if riders start calling the UCI’s doping hot-line.

    The UCI can also slap the race organizers around if they really wanted to. Doper X gets caught in Race Y, blammo! that’s now a $N00,000 fine to be paid by said race organizer to the UCI’s independent doping agency. The more people’s pockets are impacted by the punishment, the better I say. That’s my version of zero tolerance…share the hurt!

  11. Chris Little Says:

    Another problem with T&R is that there needs to be a definitive change of system. In South Africa there is a clear Apartheid and post-Apartheid divide.

    As I understand it, T&R was the legal construct of the new system concerning crimes under the former regime. In moving from entrenched inequality to legal equality, it was a sign of grace in the new system to provide real citizenship even to those who were guilty of awful crimes.

    I cannot envision how any sport could experience such a change in ‘constitution’ – the move from Olympic amateur to professional, perhaps? In cycling, who are the formerly excluded who now have a say in running the show? As much as people mock the UCI, the above comments are right: we’re all involved (UCI, national organisations, teams, riders, sponsors, supporters, …)

  12. Skater Says:

    If a pro rider is to link to his doping fate a DS, top soigneur, and doc, these would lot a lot when a rider is caught. The doc his licence.
    So, then the doc gets to go to court and show how he thinks the rider was working on his own. He’ll have to show good records, tests, etc, not to go down with the rider.
    So the docs/soigneurs would have a strong incentive in keeping the rider clean. If itt’s proven they were trying to keep the rider from testing positive while knowing (s)he was, OK, that’s end of your sports carreer right there.

    And without a doc or top soigneur, you’re not going to be allowed at a certain level. Well-trained DS (all diplomas), doc (sports physician) and soigneur (range or eds) will need to vouch for you. They cannot just let you get caught and say “it wasn’t me”. And just the rider saying “I did it all alone” is not going to fly as an admission. Proove it. Show proper records. Independant tests, etc.


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