At last! Cycling has a leadership its squillions of followers deserve and the sport’s damaged reputation is going to be tackled with all the integrity and commitment we expected from its new President, Brian Cookson.
This week, Mr. Cookson has been explaining how the newly formed Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) is going to adopt an up front, realistic approach to an investigation into an historic doping culture in the sport. It will also consider allegations of the UCI’s own involvement in previous wrongdoing.
The creation of the CIRC and the clarity around how it will operate is a massive step forward for cycling after so much drivel and incompetence from the previous administration. Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results and there’s no doubt the UCI suffered from that in the past and to that end, the previous environment was definitely insane.
Unfortunately, Cycling has become a sport where winning means you’re immediately under suspicion. Brian Cookson was elected in September on the back of a campaign that promoted clarity, transparency, great governance and a determination to raise his sport’s woeful reputation. In delivering his first major public message, Mr. Cookson confirmed the wider intentions of the CIRC when he said: “I want parents to know that they can bring their children to our sport, safe in the knowledge that they can rise to the very top without cheating.”
The commission’s Swiss Chairman, Dick Marty, is a former Swiss state prosecutor. Alongside him he has men with specialised experience in anti-doping rules and criminal investigations. They have now begun the process of inviting and requesting testimony from anyone who can shed light on the practices that resulted in cycling’s doping culture running riot. In the past, such an objective has been riddled with political contrivance but now, there is a focus on the collection of factual information for the singular benefit of securing cycling’s future.
That said, it’s still going to take guts and courage for an individual to stand up and tell what they know and that’s where I’d hope the teams, the sponsors and every other stakeholder group accepts the principles and objectives of the new commission. They should not look to apply their own punishments or sanctions on anyone in their group who steps up because now is the time for unity in cycling. The new UCI and Brian Cookson have shown the way forward and the days of ‘zero tolerance policy’ and rule by fear must be committed to the past to allow information to be gathered without fear of politically or financially motivated reprisal.
For this critically important process, there has to be as much ‘carrot’ as there is ‘stick’ and in this case, the commission has adopted a policy of collaboration in order to shape the future. Crucially, it’s also been made clear that if you’ve got information and you keep quiet, don’t be surprised if you get a knock on the door when someone else rolls up and says you were involved. The opportunity is there, cycling and its protagonists now have the chance to use it for the sake of their sport. Let’s see who’s in and who’s out.
There is one element of all this that stands out beyond all others when you read between the lines. This is a commission which acknowledges a fundamental culture that didn’t revolve around one group, or even one individual.
I get the feeling there’ll be no hysteria from within and certainly no revelatory pantomime for the short-term benefit of the media. This will be an objective process that covers all areas and all people. Will Lance Armstrong be part of that process? You’d hope that yes, he would be. But will this be allowed to degenerate into a circus that shoves all the blame onto one, high profile sacrificial lamb? I don’t think so; I bloody well hope not. The UCI now appears to be run by people who want a top-to-bottom clean up operation, not a celebrity hanging and the words from Brian Cookson this week, confirm that this is not going to be a superstar witch hunt, but a balanced and committed appraisal of reality.
The commission has said it will focus on a period between 1998 and 2013 and for many (including me) it means they won’t be going back far enough to view the full extent of cycling’s dark period. To counteract this, Mr. Cookson has confirmed that the commission has the mandate to investigate further back if it chooses and I believe that in setting initial basic, manageable, clear parameters the Commission will have structure AND the independence they need to perform their work.
While I’m sure there has been much work going on in the background since Brian Cookson was elected, this is his first major public statement of intent and as a mad keen, cycling nut, I like what he’s doing and I hope others do too. As you may know, SKINS and the pressure group we formed, Change Cycling Now, were very active in campaigning for the replacement of Pat McQuaid and in achieving our aims, it appears that cycling has taken the opportunity to choose the right man to repair the damage. There seems to be an air of calm assurance and equitable management that wasn’t apparent before.
There is, of course, a long, long way to go. One announcement of a full and independent investigation does not guarantee the answer all in one go; but, it’s one heck of a start.
We are at a critical point in the road to success. The future of cycling starts now.