Thursday, October 25, 2012

MABRA's Role in Fighting Doping and Corruption in Cycling

Cycling is our sport, and it is in trouble.  At the highest level and at the lowest levels--that is, at the levels where it is a sport and not just freeriding freds--there is something wrong.

Locally, some are trying to start an anti-doping program.  I'm all for it, but it does raise the cost, and I'm not just talking cash of participation.  Racing should be therapeutic; it should be simple.  The more complex it gets, with $5,000 TT rigs and wind tunnel testing and now peeing in a cup the less therapeutic it becomes.  We lose both money and simplicity when we have to start testing each other.

I'm not saying we shouldn't implement a local testing program.  I'm just saying racing was better when we didn't have to.

At the upper levels of the sport, Pat McQuaid prefers to attack whistleblowers rather than working with them.  On Monday the UCI finally stripped Lance of his Tour titles, but they did so under compulsion, not by choice.  That's my take.  No, the real ire of McQuaid is directed at the men and women who spoke the truth about Lance and cycling long before USADA made its case, and before any of us wanted to hear about it.

Here's a brief list of how the UCI under McQuaid has attacked the whistleblowers:
  • 2006: UCI threatens to sue Greg LeMond for calling the body "corrupt" (source)
  • 2007:  The UCI attempted to sue WADA president Dick Pound for "continual injurious and biased comments against the UCI and Mr. Verbruggen, in the context of the efforts made by them to eradicate doping from the sport."  Said Pound recently, " So many of the people involved in cycling, including Verbruggen and Armstrong and so on have resorted to the institution of legal proceedings. Not so much to collect money, but to stifle any dissent or opposition."
  • 2010: UCI warns Landis not to go public with allegations of drug use (source)
  • 2011:  After Landis goes public with allegations, UCI sues him (source)
  • 2011:  The UCI brings an anti-defamation suit against journalist and former pro Paul Kimmage, author of Rough Ride.  You may recall from 2009 seeing Kimmage's bitter exchange with Lance:

Thankfully, donors have already raised more than $70,000 for Kimmage's defense fund, but while USADA's report brings down Lance and the riders who doped with him, the system that promoted Lance remains, and despite evidence of corruption within that system.

The Inner Ring has already examined how to get rid of Pat McQuaid and found it near-impossible.  It has also looked at today's news, Greg LeMond's open letter to McQuaid, and its incredible recommendation to you and I:

If people really want to clean the sport of cycling up all you have to do is put your money where your mouth is.
Don’t buy a USA Cycling license. Give up racing for a year, just long enough to put the UCI and USA Cycling out of business. We can then start from scratch and let the real lovers in cycling direct where and how the sport of cycling will go.

Wow.  Is this something we should consider?  Just not racing for a year?

Inner Ring recommends a prior step:
If you are concerned by all of this then the first thing is to speak to your local federation and ask them what they’re doing on your behalf. If they don’t listen then up to you.
Working through MABRA may be the best place to start, since there are good historical examples of local organizations successfully pushing back.

In the late 1990s, a regional association in the U.S. split from our national governing body.  The concern was purely about money; the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association asked, "What is OBRA getting back for the dollars that are sent to Colorado Springs?" The answer, they decided was, "Not enough."  They split from the US Cyling Federation (now USADA) and run their own insurance and licensing.  This allows them to charge riders less for racing.  They have a reciprocity agreement with USADA and the UCI that includes honoring of memberships and/or suspensions, cooperation and production of programs.(source)  

Did it work?  Well, seemingly.  Membership in OBRA doubled within the first six years (2000 - 2006).  On the other hand, what's right for Oregon, a notoriously and proudly weird part of the country, may not be right for MABRA. 

Since Oregon's split, three other regional cycling organizations have also split from USADA, but I'm unable to find much opinion on how riders in these organizations feel about the split.

Say what you will about the initiative to test riders in MABRA, at least the the initiative's organizers are trying to do something about what's wrong with our sport.  For those who oppose testing, you should voice your opinion and take action.

The same applies with the UCI.  If Pat McQuaid and the current UCI regime disgust you, contact the MABRA board.  Ask them what, if anything, they plan on doing to express our displeasure with the UCI.  (Please keep in mind that these folks are volunteers, and probably care more deeply about bike racing than you or I.)

Cycling is unique, I think, in that you and I are part of an international organization, in which we do have a voice (compare it with other sports such as basketball or running, and it's clear we enjoy a marvelous level of organization).  This means we are partly responsible when people now raise an eyebrow when we admit we're bike racers.

LeMond is right about the problems with our sport, but I'm not sure simply walking away is the best way to clean it up.  I prefer a more activist approach:  working through our local organization.

But, then, collective action is a pain.  It involves rounding up riders, asking for opinions, planning courses of action, voting, and so on.

Yes. collective action sucks, but the alternative--if we're fed up--may be simply walking away from the sport.


Kevin Cross said...

Also, consider adding your name to this letter: said...

McQuaid suing Kimmage reminds me of the schoolyard bully picking on the little kid who can't fight back. Except now the little kid's big brother has just turned up at the school gates in the guise of Greg Lemond.

McQuaid should be pooping his pants right now.

For too long him and his family members have had this thing sewn up. Remember how the Contador positive was going to be 'taken care of' until the German lab managed to leak the results?