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Cookson: CIRC is navigating complex and difficult waters

  • By Neal Rogers
  • Published Feb. 17, 2014
UCI president Brian Cookson acknowledged that the Cycling Independent Reform Commission is "navigating complex and difficult waters." Photo: Franck Fife | AFP

UCI president Brian Cookson released a statement Monday, acknowledging some of the limitations of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission [CIRC] while encouraging former riders and team staff with knowledge of doping in the sport to come forward.

Since CIRC announced its ground rules (Terms of Reference) on February 11, concerns have been raised about its effectiveness.

Dick Marty, the Swiss prosecutor in charge of the UCI-funded three-member panel, laid out the CIRC plan to offer reduced bans for collaborators, as well as potential future bans to those who do not come forward during the one-year investigation window.

Chief among incentives for those to come forward is a possible reduction of racing bans for confessions of past doping activities from two years to six months, with the added bonus of perhaps receiving no ban at all if confessions come with “additional valuable information,” as spelled out in a 17-page document outlining the inquiry’s scope and powers.

There is also a chance for riders currently serving bans to see reductions if they provide vital information to the inquiry. There is no guarantee of a ban reduction, however, as the panel would only be able to recommend sanction reductions to an athlete’s respective anti-doping authority and to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

To further encourage participation, authorities also promised that confessing riders would not be publicly revealed, and that prize money would not be required to be paid back, even if past results were disqualified.

Because the investigation has no legal authority or subpoena powers, Cookson called on members within the cycling community to step forward for “the good of the sport.” He added that if any criminal activity is uncovered, information will be passed along to the proper legal authorities.

VeloNews.com posted an op-ed last week that called into question the CIRC’s ability to truly reform the sport, citing four specific problems: the lack of power to compel participation; limited authority to grant leniency or enforce sanctions; a subordinate position relative to national laws; and an insufficient historical timeframe of review. Cookson addressed these issues in his statement Monday.

“There is no question that Mr. Marty and his colleagues have an enormous amount of work to do over the coming year, and their challenge is not an easy one,” Cookson wrote. “But I am confident that they have the skills, experience, integrity and budget to ensure their work is both thorough and forensic and that their recommendations will have a real impact on how our sport is regulated going forward.”

Cookson also made clear that the possibility of a reduced sanction is only on the table while the Commission is active; the UCI has stated that it wants to have CIRC wrapped up by the end of January 2015.

“While the CIRC does not have the power to compel anyone to testify — that is the privilege of governments and national and international courts of justice — I am confident that witnesses will come forward,” Cookson wrote. “This is partly because the CIRC has the authority to both offer and recommend reduced sanctions to any license holder who provides relevant evidence. What I am certain of is that if witnesses do not come forward, they run the very real risk of others giving evidence against them. And of course, an individual can only take advantage of the potential of reduced sanctions if they come forward. Also, let’s be clear, the CIRC’s ability to offer reduced sanctions will only last while the Commission is active.”

In addressing criticism of the CIRC’s insufficient historical timeframe of review, which was initially presented to be limited from 1998 to 2013, Cookson wrote, Cookson wrote, “the focus of the CIRC’s work is the period between 1998-2013… it can go back further if it wishes to. There is no backstop beyond which evidence would be inadmissible.”

While acknowledging that the CIRC is “navigating complex and difficult waters,” Cookson ended his statement by stressing that its “door is open.”

“I hope the cycling family and enlightened commentators encourage potential witnesses to come forward, and don’t give them excuses for staying silent,” Cookson wrote. “This important Commission can and will work if the cycling world wants it to. It is time for change, time to fully come to terms with the past and prepare for a very bright future, and the CIRC is a vital part of that process.”

Cookson’s full statement:

Last week Dick Marty, Chairman of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission [CIRC], and I briefed the media on the remit of the Commission and what it is seeking to achieve. We also appealed to anyone in the cycling family and beyond to come forward with information that can assist the CIRC in its inquiry.

There is no question that Mr. Marty and his colleagues have an enormous amount of work to do over the coming year, and their challenge is not an easy one. But I am confident that they have the skills, experience, integrity and budget to ensure their work is both thorough and forensic and that their recommendations will have a real impact on how our sport is regulated going forward.

It is vital to the future of cycling that relevant people do come forward — whether invited by the CIRC or not — to help us build for the years ahead. I want parents to know that they can bring their children to our sport safe in the knowledge that they can rise to the very top without cheating. I hope potential witnesses will see this bigger picture and that, collectively, understand we all have a moral duty to do the right thing.

The aim is not just to learn the full truth about cycling’s doping culture of the past but to help us frame a truly robust set of rules for the future.

While the CIRC does not have the power to compel anyone to testify — that is the privilege of governments and national and international courts of justice — I am confident that witnesses will come forward. This is partly because the CIRC has the authority to both offer and recommend reduced sanctions to any license holder who provides relevant evidence.

What I am certain of is that if witnesses do not come forward, they run the very real risk of others giving evidence against them. And of course, an individual can only take advantage of the potential of reduced sanctions if they come forward. Also, let’s be clear, the CIRC’s ability to offer reduced sanctions will only last while the Commission is active.

In the current media climate of serial “revelations” by riders and others, surely it is better to work with the Commission, give evidence on your own behalf and benefit from the reduced sanctions now. Why wait wondering what the next book or television interview will reveal about past activities?

The CIRC has a very powerful set of tools that have been given to it by the UCI and agreed in full with WADA. It’s not a Court of Law, it cannot subpoena — but nor could a truth and reconciliation commission. But within the powers available, it has everything that it could have, including the ability to strongly suggest to individuals that they should appear and to report if they don’t.

The reality is that anything else could take years to agree, more years to establish and carry out its work, and we don’t have that luxury. All at a cost of many millions, which no one would be prepared to pay for. Meanwhile the sport could go on lurching from crisis to crisis as more revelations are published usually in the interests of, and in ways that benefit, the people who have caused the damage in the first place.

Finally, while the focus of the CIRC’s work is the period between 1998-2013, it can go back further if it wishes to. There is no backstop beyond which evidence would be inadmissible.

The CIRC’s door is open. I hope the cycling family and enlightened commentators encourage potential witnesses to come forward, and don’t give them excuses for staying silent. The CIRC is navigating complex and difficult waters but this important Commission can and will work if the cycling world wants it to. It is time for change, time to fully come to terms with the past and prepare for a very bright future, and the CIRC is a vital part of that process.

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Neal Rogers

Neal Rogers

Neal Rogers is editor in chief of Velo magazine and VeloNews.com. An interest in all things rock 'n' roll led him into music journalism while attending UC Santa Cruz, on the central coast of California. After several post-grad years spent waiting tables, surfing, and mountain biking, he moved to San Francisco, working as a bike messenger, and at a software startup. He moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 2001, taking an editorial internship at VeloNews. He never left. When not traveling the world covering races, he can be found riding his bike, skiing, or attending a concert.

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