The International Cycling Union wants to suspend an independent commission it set up three months ago to look into the Lance Armstrong doping case as the governing body seeks to combine the probe with those of other sports.
At the panel’s first procedural hearing in London today, the governing body, known by its French acronym UCI, said amnesty can’t be given to witnesses who come forward with evidence without changes to the code of the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA.
Instead, UCI lawyer Ian Mill said the group wants to establish a truth and reconciliation commission with WADA to cover other sports and “not be limited to cycling alone.” Funding two probes would be “too costly,” he added.
The commission met for 1 hour and 45 minutes today and after a break, chairman Philip Otton said the hearing was postponed until Jan. 31 to allow WADA, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the UCI to agree on an amnesty process.
“A truth and reconciliation process is the best way forward for cycling,” UCI president Pat McQuaid told reporters after the adjournment.
Otton said he was postponing the hearing “with considerable reluctance.” He added that the commission “recognizes the immense public interest in determining why and how Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service Team were able to engage, as recently publicly admitted, in systematic doping without detection or sanction.”
When asked about the cost of the independent probe, McQuaid said, “Very expensive. For the resources of the UCI, it is quite a lot,” without disclosing more details. The cost of a truth and reconciliation process would be shared by UCI and WADA, he added.
In August, USADA stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned the American for life for using prohibited substances after he opted not to contest doping charges in arbitration. USADA’s stand was upheld in October by the UCI.
Leadership of the UCI was criticized in the aftermath of the Armstrong affair for failing to act sooner. It set up the independent probe in October to investigate, among other things, the relationship between Armstrong and the UCI.
The independent commission, which has three panel members including 11-time Paralympic gold medalist Tanni Grey-Thompson of Britain, had initially aimed to hold hearings in April, and publish a report in June.
The UCI today said it didn’t expect a truth and reconciliation process to be ready until at least the middle of the year. That was met with an angry response from commission members.
“You are trying to knock us down,” commission member Malcolm Holmes told Mill.
“We are not the bad guys here,” Mill replied. “We have a finite amount of money available to us. We are not a football body.”
Mill later apologized to the commission for raising his voice.
Grey-Thompson, who is also a member of the U.K. House of Lords, said she was “amazed that we have had absolutely no documents” from the UCI, and that she had only agreed to join the commission on the premise the governing body would cooperate.
Mills, who repeatedly reminded the commission the UCI was funding the inquiry, later on said the UCI would provide the commission with the necessary documents today.
Following years of denial, Armstrong last week told American talk show host Oprah Winfrey he’d cheated by using drugs and probably forced other riders to follow his lead.
Last week, WADA, USADA and newly formed pressure group Change Cycling Now, whose members include three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond, withdrew from the commission over the UCI’s initial refusal to grant witnesses amnesty.
In a statement on Jan. 16, the UCI said that any amnesty “would have limited effect” as the International Olympic Committee, national anti-doping authorities, sponsors and criminal authorities could pursue actions against athletes admitting to doping.
Today, it said it agreed on a truth and reconciliation process in cooperation with WADA.
Mill also assured the commission that no disciplinary action would be taken against people who give evidence against the UCI.
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