PARIS (AFP) — British Cycling president Brian Cookson said he would expect honorary president of the UCI Hein Verbruggen to testify in any future inquiry to be held into cycling’s murky doping past.
“No one is above and beyond any involvement in that process,” said Cookson, who is bidding to replace Irishman Pat McQuaid as president of the sport’s world governing body.
Cookson set out his six-step manifesto in Paris on Monday. Its main tenets include rebuilding trust in the UCI in the wake of the highly-damaging Lance Armstrong doping affair, handing cycling’s anti-doping program to an independent body, and restructuring elite road cycling both for men and women.
The proposals are designed to restore faith in the sport following years of suspicion and the recent downfall of Armstrong, who was stripped of his record seven Tour de France crowns for doping throughout his career.
They are also designed to restore faith in the UCI, which has faced sustained criticism for its reaction to a damning report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that ultimately led to Armstrong’s downfall, last year. The report led to accusations that the UCI colluded with Armstrong and his former teams to cover up positive doping tests.
Cookson admitted there was a “perception” held by “many riders, the media and the public” that the UCI turned a blind eye to positive tests by the American during his 1999-2005 Tour reign. The 62-year-old said those allegations had to be settled if the sport was to move on successfully and pledged to do so “within my first six months” if elected.
“We haven’t yet got to the bottom of those allegations … and we need to have an independent, forensic examination of that era and need to conclude that very quickly,” he said.
Cookson added he would welcome an inquiry similar to the Mitchell Report, a 21-month investigation into widespread doping in the Major League Baseball.
“That’s the kind of in-depth independent inquiry that I would like to see,” said Cookson.
Any such inquiry could implicate Verbruggen, who held the UCI presidency until 2005 — when Armstrong won his seventh and last yellow jersey.
Both Verbruggen and McQuaid have already denied accusations of cover-ups.
“Not only would this never have been allowed, but there simply was nothing to cover up. Armstrong, nor his teammates, never tested positive,” Verbruggen said in February.
But Cookson said no one, including Verbruggen, should be beyond giving testimony.
“If we have an inquiry into what happened into the past, then those people who were involved at that time were involved, and will have to be involved in that,” he said. “I would imagine at some point we would have to hear what Hein has to say. Let’s take it in due course.”
Responding to a question referring to suspicions over the success of the British Sky team — which won the 2012 Tour de France through Bradley Wiggins and is the favorite to win this year with Chris Froome — Cookson refuted that his close links to the British team would cause controversy.
“No team is above scrutiny and if there are people who have questions to ask, then they need to keep asking them,” he said. “We need eternal vigilance to make sure everyone is obeying the rules in anti-doping and Team Sky have as much responsibility as any other team to obey the rules.”
McQuaid recently said he was surprised by Cookson’s intention to bid for the presidency and claimed Cookson was “a pawn in a larger game” influenced by Russian Igor Makarov, the main backer of the Russian Katusha team, which has clashed with UCI authorities.
Cookson denied that was the case: “Of course I’ve been speaking to people, in Russia and many other countries around the world. … But no, I’m not manipulated or controlled or funded by any sinister agency, body or country like that.
“My record speaks for itself and my integrity speaks for itself.”