The winds of change pt2
In Part One of this article I covered the UCI’s mismanagement of the sport, and what the financial implications of that were. The sport’s spectacular failure to directly engage sponsors also has something else which contributes to it, and in this respect it also fails spectacularly in getting it’s own supporters onside.
Assuming the USADA case against Lance Armstrong is successful, it will mean that nine of the last fourteen tours to have been awarded will have had the victor stripped of his title, directly because of doping offences. That’s also ignoring riders convicted of doping who have kept other titles won, despite serving doping suspensions in their career.
It’s obviously a problem within the sport, and it directly contributes to corporate scepticism (who wants to have their product associated with a drugged sport?), as well as public scepticism.
The UCI needs to remove itself as both the organisation who runs the sport, makes it’s rules, markets the sport, and also punishes those for cheating within it. It’s a clear and enormous conflict of interest. When the sport has someone extremely marketable - who can increase revenues enormously for the sport simply with his presence - in a position where an investigation into their possible doping is required, the UCI is directly stuck between which of the two positions it takes. Does it risk corporate sponsors abandoning the sport? Does it punish the athlete and risk the sport’s growth? Clearly, given the accusations about covered-up tests, that dilemma has been encountered. And the UCI has been found wanting.
The sport needs an organisation which is prepared to separate itself from the management and promotion of the sport, and simply test athletes, and if required, instigate disciplinary procedures against them. This is clearly the mandate of WADA, and as a result they’re the perfect organisation to turn this responsibility to.
Cycling also obviously has a substantial image problem. It continually turns up positive drug tests at the one single event which has more viewing numbers than any other race in the calendar - it’s continually shooting itself in the foot.
Transparency is also an enormous issue. Not in terms of governance - in terms of simply making information available to the public. It’s improving at a snail’s pace, but this is not something that is sport - or UCI - driven. It’s individual riders. I’d normally be loath to say those within the sport keep the fans in contempt, but I struggle to come up with a more suitable term. Particularly when it comes to anti-doping. Think seriously about this - when was the last time you saw a male road cyclist express happiness about drug testing? Now, compare it with the amount of times you’ve seen them complain about it. Even riders found guilty of doping have complained about it, as Alberto Contador did this week on twitter. People whose reputations have been trashed, complaining about them being tested for the one thing they did that caused it? A little hypocritical.
But it’s not just that - the professional ranks have very few riders who speak out about it. When a positive test comes up, the sport closes ranks. It stays quiet, in the hope it goes away. This is entirely the wrong approach. The sport needs to condemn, in the strongest possible way, those who would even consider it. Not abuse those who suspect it may be happening, based on decades of it actually occurring.
But it’s clear those who are stakeholders in the sport don’t view the public as a stakeholder. It’s frustrating, even when an organisation as inept as FIFA manage to at least acknowledge the public in that respect. Even one of the sport’s most engaging people, Jonathan Vaughters, acknowledged this week that his riders were only expected to tell the truth - when asked - to the organisations which engage them with questions. His own response when asked on twitter was this:
my philosophy is simple and previously stated: tell truth to those who can make move things forward.
I’d like to think fans of the sport should be a part of that process, and it’s disappointing to see attitudes that confirm the view that the sport is a closed shop.
My position on what should happen is simple:
- The UCI needs a broom through it, and responsibilities taken away. Responsibility for drug testing needs to go to an external, independent body. Get this body to report weekly, on measures it’s undertaking, new testing procedures, backdated testing.
- Remove the statute of limitations. It’s an irrelevance. If a test shows up 10 years down the track that someone was cheating under the rules of the day, but wasn’t detectable then due to science, why should they get to keep their achievements due to an arbitrary time period?
- Mandate the use of power-meters. Teams must post data from each rider’s power meter within 2 hours of a stage on a dedicated website, publicly accessible. Small enough time-frame to prevent manipulation.
I realise that people would say “but it may give away competition secrets” - but the reality is, it’s one thing to be able to look at what your competitor did on one day, it’s another thing to be able to do anything about it. But in the interests of entertainment, and the sport - why would it be an issue anyway? So you notice that the guy ahead of you on GC used a lot of power one day, and had an elevated heart rate, indicating he might not recover well, and you use it to your advantage the next day by attacking him - why is this a problem?
Surely it’s just adding to the entertainment and excitement of the sport?
- Blood values and testing to be posted by relevant testing body on the same website as above (when available), aligned with performance data. I realise this may happen after the event due to time limitations.
- Significantly increase OOC testing. If the numbers we’ve seen with regards to Armstrong are even close to accurate, getting tested roughly once a month OOC is so infrequent as to make it completely unworthwhile, and entirely dependant on chance. The frequency must be far greater.
The goal is organisational transparency, anti-doping transparency, and rider transparency. Don’t like it as a rider? Find another career. We’re talking a few years worth of inconvenience for something the common man would never get to experience but love to be able to.
One other thing:
- Anyone caught doping, facilitating doping or with unexplainable blood markers automatically receives a lifetime ban. This is reducible to two years for a first offence providing the following condition is met: A rider must be able to prove from where he received the doping product(s), when he received them, and how he received them. He needs to show testing organisations how they were taken as well. That enables the sport to go after the problem at it’s very source, and forces people to put their own livelihood before protecting others. Nobody will destroy their own career/earnings ahead of reporting a doctor or team manager.
I realise these are broad strokes I’m painting with and that, as always, the devil is in the detail. But the sport needs to open itself up to fans, and prove the public that people are simply on the limit of human endurance, not give rise to suspicions of doping.
Thanks for reading!
The winds of change pt1
A change is coming.
The USADA case against Lance Armstrong could possibly be a watershed moment for the sport of cycling. Not necessarily for the opportunity to (finally) clear up a dubious period in the sport’s results - but for something even more serious. Something remotely acknowledged - but not necessarily focused on during the case - is the impact this will have upon cycling’s governing body, which could have enormous ramifications for the sport.
News broke in May 2010 that Lance Armstrong had made a large donation to the UCI in 2002. The money was used to purchase a Sysmex machine, a piece of equipment for analysing blood samples. Ignoring the irony of that machine possibly being partially responsible for Lance Armstrong’s downfall, a guilty verdict on Lance Armstrong will cause that donation to be revisited.
It’s one thing to get a donation from an active athlete to the governing body (although it’s rather unprecedented). It’s another thing entirely to have received a donation which, in hindsight, has come from an athlete engaged in the greatest sports doping conspiracy of all time. I suggest that no other governing body in another sport would have accepted such an offer from an active athlete, particularly one seemingly in the prime of their career.
If Armstrong is guilty (although the evidence in the public domain suggests it is far more likely to be when), then the issue of Armstrong’s donation must be revisited. More accurately, those who accepted the donation must walk from the governing body. It is entirely inappropriate that anyone with hopes of transparent governance would accept such a donation from a cheat. We can only hope that such pressure is brought to bear.
If it does, the sport can finally move on from the archaic leadership model it’s had for a long time. Pat McQuaid must be part of that departure. He’s spectacularly failed to bring the sport further than when he inherited it’s leadership. The sport needs a new model of leadership, something like this:
- An independent organisation to manage road races, and the teams competing within them.
- The UCI needs to act as a governing body and nothing else. It should be the organisation responsible for promoting cycling around the world, governing technical rules of the sport, and providing education on bike-riding.
- The chairperson of the board should rotate between one of each of the categories laid out below on a bi-annual basis.
- No person should serve on the board for a total of greater than six years at any time.
- The board of the organisation should consist of 13 seats:
- 4 seats for members nominated by teams competing in the elite men’s category of road racing
- 2 seats for members nominated by teams not represented in the elite men’s category, but from teams competing in the elite women’s category
- 1 seat each to experts responsible for the following categories: marketing, sponsorship, development (this should include development in underprivileged areas, as well as paralympic)
- 1 seat for a nominated member by a cyclist’s union.
- 1 seat from a recognised anti-doping authority (more on that later)
- 2 seats for affiliated cycling sports (MTB, Track, CX)
The UCI should have nothing to do with the marketing, the sponsorship or the management of any segment of the running of races/leagues or competitions at the elite level. Nor should it be involved in any anti-doping activity. Anti-doping should come under the mandate only of WADA, and a new, independent body should be responsible for both investigation and prosecution, answering only to WADA, with the UCI as a signatory.
A simple glimpse at the UCI reveals how spectacularly it has failed: Sponsors are largely small multinationals, and largely involved in bike-related manufacture. Nowhere is there a corporate giant on the scale as those as FIFA, for example. Bike riding is constantly underestimated in terms of public participation, and the viewing figures for the Tour de France make it the world’s most watched annual sporting event. This equates to a spectacular failure of the UCI to market it, and encapsulates why they need to have the responsibility for that side of the sport removed.
Tomorrow I’ll look at how the process of anti-doping in cycling needs to be revolutionised, and also stripped away from the UCI.