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Hoberman Q&A: Outlining corruption, doping collusion at the IOC, UCI

  • By Mark Johnson
  • Published Jan. 4, 2013
  • Updated Jan. 4, 2013 at 5:13 PM EDT
Dr. John Hoberman sees a long, sordid history limiting current efforts to clean up cycling and world sport. Photo: Gerry McManus | Change Cycling Now


To say that Dr. John Hoberman is skeptical of the independent commission set to review the UCI — and even more so the authorities in world sport — is an understatement.

Hoberman is a University of Texas, Austin professor who has been studying doping in sport for the bulk of his career. The 68-year old professor’s curriculum vitae overflows with publications on the role of performance enhancing drugs in both sports and our everyday lives. His 2005 book, “Testosterone Dreams,” explores cultural attitudes toward synthetic hormones and human performance and image enhancement.

Shortly after VeloNews profiled Hoberman in November of 2012, he attended the Change Cycling Now summit in London, England. After the conference, Hoberman responded in writing to VeloNews‘ questions about the conference and the independent commission the UCI appointed to investigate its own role in the Lance Armstrong affair. Hoberman’s responses are at once wide-ranging and incisive.

VeloNews: What was your role at the Change Cycling Now conference?
John Hoberman: I was the doping historian sitting around a table with 16 other people. As an historian I have two roles: one is to apply my knowledge of the 60-year doping epidemic to the challenge of creating the closest thing to drug-free cycling that can be achieved at this time; the other is to apply what I know about international sports federations and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to dealing with the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the controversial sports officials who are currently running that organization. Interestingly, both of them are IOC members, a fact we will come back to later in this conversation.

VN: Did you learn anything new at the conference about pro cycling, its future, its power players, and how it manages doping?
JH: I learned a great deal by listening to people who have devoted their adult lives to cycling, whether by riding, coaching, sponsoring, journalism, or doing applied science, like Michael Ashenden and Antoine Vayer. Much of what I heard and observed confirmed what I already knew from researching professional cycling’s long involvement with doping. You can’t be a doping historian without studying the history of cycling and its entanglement with performance enhancing drugs.

At this point, the future of cycling is unclear. If the federation apparatchiks are allowed to stay in power, progress against doping is doubtful. Look at the sequential reigns of Hein Verbruggen (1991-2005) and Pat McQuaid (2005-present) at the top of the UCI. Together, they have presided over all of the major doping scandals of the past 15 years. Under Verbruggen’s leadership, the principal result of the 1998 Festina scandal was the age of Lance Armstrong, which the UCI did nothing to bring to an end. On the contrary, even during the endgame, as Armstrong was going over the cliff, McQuaid and Verbruggen stuck with their man. They protested how (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) pursued Armstrong. They are still denying USADA access to documents. That is how closely they identify with the systematic doper who has done so much to enable their operation and their hold on power. And that is why Armstrong’s lawyers were desperate to wrest jurisdiction over his case from USADA and give it to the UCI — “a safe pair of hands,” as they say in cricket.

So, as usual, it was an outside agency like USADA that did the work. USADA exposed systemic corruption that had persisted for years under the UCI’s nose. No one is more powerful than sports officials in positions of responsibility who decide to keep their foot on the brake and do as little as they can get away with to catch dopers. This quiet sabotaging of anti-doping efforts was an unofficial, but very effective, policy during the IOC presidency of Juan Antonio Samaranch (1980-2001). About every thousandth athlete at the Summer Olympic Games was testing positive, and only a fraction of this tiny number involved anabolic steroids. Most of the positives were for stimulants, including over-the-counter products.

This pathetic “anti-doping program” served the IOC as a successful PR strategy for many years until the Festina Affair blew up in 1998. Then the IOC was forced to co-sponsor WADA with the governments, and the number of positives began to go up, but not by much. In fact, the latest word from the top of WADA is that the war against doping cannot be won. So what is to be done in these daunting circumstances? CCN is looking for a solution that can help all of sport by focusing on the sport of cycling. The opposition to organized doping needs some new ideas. Jaimie Fuller, the Australian businessman and cycling sponsor who founded CCN, has decided to provide one, and he is off to a successful start. CCN was awarded representation status by the UCI Independent Commission within hours after the CCN press conference in London on December 3. In addition, CCN has entered into an informal alliance with WADA and USADA for the purpose of making sure that the UCI Independent Commission has a properly broad remit to find out what has been going on at the UCI.

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Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

Writer-photographer Mark Johnson's work has been published in titles including VeloNews in the United States, Cycling Weekly in the UK, Vélo in France, and Ride Cycling Review in Australia as well as general-interest publications including The Wall Street Journal and the San Diego Union-Tribune. His book on the Garmin pro team, Argyle Armada, was published by VeloPress in 2012. A Cat. 2 road cyclist, Mark has bicycled across the United States twice and completed an Ironman triathlon. He graduated from UC San Diego and has a Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University. His other passion is surfing, which he does frequently from his home in Del Mar, California. Follow him on Twitter @ironstringmark.

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