Coming clean: cycling’s watershed moment
Lance Armstrong's admission this week that he cheated during his cycling career will have profound repercussions through the sport that goes far beyond doping. Armstrong painted a picture of a sporting hierarchy that supported a culture of doping, a clear indication of a lack of good governance.
This is a watershed moment for cycling and creates an opportunity for real reform. Although the Armstrong confession does not answer many of the key questions about how cycling is run, it shows the need for a transparent and inclusive reform process to help world cycling build a reputation for honesty and accountability.
The fight against doping may have improved in the past few years as the technology for detecting doping has improved and out-of-competition testing has become more intelligent, but the governance issues at the International Cycling Union (UCI) and within the world of cycling that Armstrong referred to have not been openly addressed.
The UCI must acknowledge that as the lead organisation running cycling it has to take responsibility for the events that have damaged the image of the sport rather than claiming other sports have problems too. The scandals in cycling are by far the most pervasive in sport.
Preparing for change
When UCI established an independent commission to investigate the report by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) accusing Armstrong of doping, organising and bullying others to dope and of an improper relationship between him and the UCI, Transparency International welcomed the commission and proposed a series of actions to ensure it was both accountable and transparent. The remit of the independent commission, however, does not go far enough.
In addition to the current investigations it should find a way to allow all involved in the sport, past and present, to testify without fear of repercussions and anonymously if necessary. USADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency have so far not agreed to be part of the independent commission process because they have different views on its terms of reference.
These differences should be resolved so that an inclusive approach involving all the key players in cycling can agree on the scope of the investigations, including a truth and reconciliation process, which results in recommendations that apply to the sport as a whole. This is will not be easy within the current deadline for delivering a report in June and before the UCI congress elects the management committee in September. Nevertheless, the commission should take as much time as possible to conduct its business thoroughly and professionally.
Cycling is a popular sport with millions of amateurs and thousands of professionals participating every day. Those running the sport have an opportunity to repair the damage to its image and rebuild trust by operating transparently. Armstrong said he would be the first to participate in a truth and reconciliation commission. This can and should happen.