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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


VN: What do you make of the commission the UCI assembled to investigate its own involvement with the Armstrong saga?
JH: The so-called Independent Commission (IC) created by the UCI to investigate itself raises all sorts of questions. There are three issues here. First, who are the three members of the IC and who appointed them? Second, what are the Terms of Reference that are meant to guide (and, perhaps, confine) their investigation; are these guidelines broad enough to find out what the UCI leadership has been up to in recent years? Third, and most important, do the members of the IC really understand the doping politics of the IOC and the international federations with which it is affiliated? How much do they know about the personalities that recruit themselves into the most powerful positions in world sport?

The members of the Independent Commission are Former British Court of Appeal judge Sir Philip Otton (chair), 11-time Paralympic gold medalist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, a member of the House of Lords, and the Australian lawyer Malcolm Holmes QC. On November 30, 2012, UCI president McQuaid thanked John Coates, president of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS), “for assembling such a high caliber and truly independent commission.” Travis Tygart, the head of USADA, has called them “esteemed and well respected.” But how did this procedure actually work, and why was Coates put in charge of staffing the IC?

It was the UCI that “invited” Coates to select the panelists. As CAS president, he might seem like a logical choice for the role; one would like to assume that anyone who has ascended to the top of CAS must be a person of integrity. But here is where we must begin the process of looking past respectable appearances and look directly at some of the unpleasant facts that call the purity of the UCI-IC process into question. Back in the 1990s, Coates was part of the hard-driving team that made very sure the 2000 Summer Olympic Games would go to Sydney. That is why, the night before the crucial vote in Monte Carlo in September 1993, Coates gave $35,000 to the Kenyan IOC representative, Charles Mukora, and another $35,000 to the IOC member from Uganda, Major-General General Francis Nyangweso. In 1999, Mukora was expelled from the IOC for taking another $34,650 from officials in Salt Lake City who were seeking IOC votes for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. While Coates’ name does not appear in The New York Times February 5, 1999 report of Mukora’s expulsion, it does appear in a January 28, 1999 editorial in The Economist, which reported that the payments to Mukora and Nyangweso were contingent on Sydney’s winning the bid — an arrangement that is normally referred to as bribery.

I have wondered for years how it was the white Australian party to this deal that emerged unscathed, and was eventually inducted into the IOC and appointed to the top of CAS, while his black African partner was expelled from the Olympic club. Similarly, Coates’ (honorary) IOC colleague Verbruggen has had his own troubles with the issue of corruption. In 2008, a BBC investigation turned up documentary evidence of $3,000,000 of payoffs to the UCI from Japanese race organizers that included subsidizing Verbruggen’s international air travel. Verbruggen denied any wrongdoing. What is more, as we shall see, Verbruggen has fought effective doping control every step of the way. One might ask how it is that these two compromised sports officials have been allowed to organize an investigation of the widely distrusted UCI in whose recent history Verbruggen has played such a central role.

One might also ask what Coates and the IOC knew about the past of Major-General General Francis Nyangweso, who accepted Coates’s money yet somehow avoided expulsion from the IOC in 1999. Nyangweso served the murderous dictator Idi Amin throughout the eight years of his regime (1971-79) as Army commander, minister of culture and ambassador. In early 1973, Nyangweso went on the radio to warn the people of the Bugisu district that any village found to be sheltering “guerrillas” would be “destroyed completely.” The barbarities of Amin’s rule included a body count estimated at 300,000 victims. IOC president Samaranch brought Nyangweso into the IOC in 1988.

Coincidentally, another IOC member, Judge Keba Mbaye of Senegal, had already investigated human rights violations in Uganda during the 1970s. Did he inform Samaranch about Nyangweso’s service to Idi Amin? And, if he did, would the old Spanish fascist have cared? In summary: Did the IOC knowingly induct a potential war criminal into its ranks? Or did they accept Nyangweso, unaware of his service to Idi Amin? Were they venal or stupid? Neither possibility speaks well for the ethics or deliberative competence of the world’s most influential sports functionaries. Finally, did the IOC spare the Ugandan Major-General in 1999 so that he would not make embarrassing comments about his welcome into the IOC? And did Coates know that he was making a deal with a man who might have blood on his hands?

The Terms of Reference imposed on the Independent Commission are too limited to allow for a thorough investigation of the UCI. Travis Tygart has called these guidelines “overly narrow and [they] seem to handcuff and blindfold. That’s an obvious concern. Even Interpol, with blinders on and handcuffs on and a straitjacket is not going to do anything,” he said on December 18. For example, the UCI can refuse to release documents on the grounds of confidentiality or legal privilege. Look at the IC’s press release of November 30, 2012. It says the IC will “request the UCI to disclose all relevant documents identified in the Terms of Reference…” It will “request” that the UCI “identify and provide statements from relevant UCI officers and employees or former officers and employees.” There is no mention of subpoena power.

In addition, and no matter which conclusions the IC comes to, the UCI does not have to release them to the public. Now look at the Terms of Reference, in which the IC claims that it is going to conduct a competent investigation of the UCI’s conduct between 1998 and 2012 and then commence its hearing on April 9, 2013 — less than four months from now. Paragraphs A.1, A.2, A.3, A.4 and A.5 of the Terms of Reference would tax the brains of an entire team of doping experts for a lot longer than four months. Yet a panel of three non-specialists are charged with coming up with a reasoned decision and submitting its report to the UCI By June 1, 2013.

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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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