For years cycling has been a scandal-ridden sport. Athlete after athlete tested positive for doping and the International Federation of Cycling (UCI as it is known by its French acronym), appeared unable to stop the doping or build back trust in the public. This week it banned Lance Armstrong, the most famous cyclist in the world, and stripped him of his titles after a damning report from USADA – the US Anti-doping agency – described a decade of organised doping.
Poor governance and scandals damage not only the image of sport, its federations and representatives, but also compromise the positive influence sport has in spreading life values such as integrity and fair play. Doping is also a threat for the health of riders and especially young athletes who may try to copy their idols.
Winning back trust
Bold reforms are needed to win back trust and integrity in competitive cycling. Already in October one big sponsor that stated it was not convinced that the international professional cycling world can guarantee clean and honest competition abandoned the sport; others, including Nike and Anheuser-Busch, have walked away from Armstrong.
For the sake of a sport that has millions of amateur cyclists, thousands of professionals and a roster of new heroes, the UCI should take this opportunity to review how it operates.
Sports federations are not like companies, beholden to shareholders. Therefore, it is important to involve all people who have a stake in the sport – from the athletes and fans to the sponsors and the executives at the federation – in the reform process. In 2011 Transparency International recommended governance reforms at FIFA, football’s world governing body at a time it was beset by corruption scandals. Many of these same recommendations could apply to the UCI.
First, the UCI should accept and support an independent investigation into past scandals.
The investigation has to be entirely independent from both organisations, only then will people regain trust in cycling. The woes of Lance Armstrong may yet come to be a watershed for cycling’s governing body and most important event in a positive way.
Second, there should be a thorough review of the UCI governance structure by an independent panel of experts from sport, the anti-doping-movement, sponsors, politics, and civil society to develop a new approach to cleaning up the sport and instil an era of transparency.
Third, there needs to be better whistleblower protection, so that those who witness wrongdoing feel safe reporting it. It took the USADA two years to persuade witnesses to talk to them about the US Postal Team’s alleged doping.
How to reform a sport's governing body
- Step One: Instigate an independent investigation into past allegations of corruption and doping
- Step Two: Review the regulations on ethical behaviour (code of ethics) and adopt best practice
- Step Three: Instigate an independent review of the organisational structures
- Step Four: Produce a reform implementation strategy that includes a monitoring and reporting function and strong whistleblower protection
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