Comment: The UCI and the phantom Independent Commission

So, the UCI disbanded the Independent Commission (IC) it set up barely two months after it was formed. The three member Commission – Chairman Sir Phillip Otton, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Australian IOC member and QC Malcolm Holmes – were selected (independently of the UCI) by the President of the Court of Arbitration for Sport John Coates.

This Independent Commission was set up by the UCI in the hope – one presumes – of clearing its name in the wake of the accusations made about it in the USADA Reasoned Decision into the Lance Armstrong – US Postal doping scandal. Instead, the UCI has been painted as running away from some as yet unrevealed facts. It’s a PR disaster for the UCI. Again.

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Crudely, you assume that the UCI set up the Independent Commission and told it to report by June in the hope of clearing its name. Rather than leave the USADA accusations unchallenged, the UCI wanted to act swiftly. Sadly, the IC witnesses and key stakeholders didn’t want to provide evidence unless a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was involved. That would take time to set up as well as a lot more money – as well as being outwith the remit of the Independent Commission. Net result? Stalemate.

But did the whole expensive process need to end in such a universally unsatisfactory manner? In its statements at the Procedural meeting held at the Law Society in London on January 25, the IC members appeared surprised that so few of the witnesses it approached were prepared to give evidence, though they learned this “very early on in that process”. At which point you would suppose a warning light would start flashing, with compromise and round-table discussions kicking in.

When the World anti-doping agency (Wada) and USADA refused to cooperate with them unless a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was included in the investigation’s original remit, the IC stalled. Or rather, it agreed that a TRC would be useful and effectively sided with Wada and USADA, precipitating an impasse between all parties, since the UCI made it clear it couldn’t afford this process without financial help from Wada. Somehow, the story that emerged was that the UCI was ‘opposed’ to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

You have to wonder if some kind of compromise couldn’t have been found to enable the IC to present a decision on the narrower matter of the USADA accusations of UCI complicity in the Armstrong US Postal affair. Why, if USADA had evidence of UCI malfeasance, couldn’t it couldn’t pass it on to the IC and nail the UCI – or at the very least add to the heat on President Pat McQuaid?

Or it’s also fair to wonder why, when it was clear that both Wada and USADA were refusing to participate with the IC and its narrower remit, that the members of the Independent Commission couldn’t find a way to negotiate a compromise between the three parties.

To wit: if Wada and USADA cooperated as much as was legally possible, enabling the IC to present a credible report (which of course may have damned the UCI), then, as quid pro quo, the IC could have extracted a firm legal commitment from the UCI to work with major stakeholders (Wada, USADA, national federations, national anti-doping authorities) to set up a much wider ranging Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

On Friday 25 January, the UCI counsel Ian Mill QC said the UCI was “proposing that the Truth and Reconciliation commission should include within its remit those issues of governance which have already been raised by USADA.”

The performance of the three Independent Commission members at the Law Society Procedural was  a disappointment. The chairman seemed to struggle with the idea that the UCI was simply not in a legal position to offer a sporting amnesty – it wasn’t that the UCI was ‘refusing’. At one point Chairman Otton repeatedly asked the UCI counsel how long it would take for Wada to change its rules to implement an amnesty; or ‘How many cyclists do you anticipate that that process (TRC) will embrace?”  That’s a question on par with ‘How long is a piece of string?’

The Independent Commission was also under the impression that the “UCI hasn’t tried to engage with Wada in a Truth and Reconciliation process…and as I understand it,” said Holmes, “it’s between 17 January and today, in the last seven days.”

It was, according to UCI counsel Mill, “on the 11 January.”

The fact that the IC gave equal weight to the Change Cycling Now pressure group and Wada was bewildering. In short, the IC never seemed to have a proper handle on the subject matter or, more importantly, see the possibility of a way ahead through brokering a deal. None of the panel were available for interview.

The bottom line? The UCI has wasted a small fortune and still looks like it’s scared of what’s in its Geneva closets. The irony? It probably doesn’t deserve all the opprobrium. Yet how is it that the two organisations which could perhaps have backed up USADA’s accusations against the UCI come out smelling of roses? And, finally, why didn’t the Independent Commission show more invention to ensure it could both report on USADA and engineer the setting up of a TRC?

Cycling loses. Lawyers win. Again.

Related links

WADA: UCI ‘being deceitful’ by disbanding Independent Commission

UCI disbands Independent Commission

UCI to set up Truth and Reconciliation framework

UCI independent commission hearing stalls

WADA turns back on UCI Independent Commission

WADA chief expresses concerns over UCI independent commission

Tanni Grey-Thompson named in UCI independent commission panel

UCI details independent review

USADA Armstrong doping report in brief

UCI responds to USADA Armstrong doping evidence

USADA publishes details of Armstrong doping case file

Twitter: @KenBobPryde