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Former UCI president Hein Verbruggen, one of the key figures in the the UCI’s Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report, issued a statement Monday in response to the report’s findings.
The sweeping, well-documented 227-page report touches on many subjects, but more than half of its contents are directed at the inner workings of the UCI and allegations leveled against former presidents Hein Verbruggen (1991-2005) and Pat McQuaid (2005-13). The report stops short of calling out corruption and bribery charges in the most illicit cases, but it didn’t pull any punches, either. CIRC portrays Verbruggen’s world as a dark, confrontational, and deceptive world.
Verbruggen saw the potential to reshape the sport’s image in the 1990s following a string of doping scandals, and began a close relationship with Lance Armstrong, helping to sell the idea of a “Tour of Renewal” in the Texan’s 1999 comeback Tour.
“Hein Verbruggen aspired to transform UCI into an important IF [international federation] by giving cycling a solid and unified foundation,” CIRC wrote. “He did it as a business man, in a somewhat forceful manner, with a lack of transparency, and in breach of certain sporting requirements.”
In more telling details, CIRC also revealed that the source of the long-running spat between Verbruggen and World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound was the former’s support for Belgian Jacques Rogge to succeed Juan Antonio Samaranch in 2001 as head of the IOC. When Pound lost out to Rogge, he was designated head of WADA, and he and Verbruggen started a nasty, divisive spat over the doping issue.
The report also highlighted the long-running battle between Verbruggen and ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation), the owners of the Tour de France and other major cycling properties. In 2004, with the introduction of the ProTour, Verbruggen made his play for the lucrative TV rights that came with races, only to be rebuffed by ASO. “Above all, UCI wanted sole control over the television rights for major races and, of course, to benefit financially from this. This inevitably met with hostility from teams that were excluded and, above all, clashed with the interests of the organizers of major events, primarily ASO,” CIRC wrote.
CIRC also claimed that Verbruggen, then working with the IOC as a top official with the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, took credit for the failure of the Paris Olympic bid in 2012, as well as highlighted political influence to allow Armstrong to race the Tour Down Under in 2009 despite the fact that it broke anti-doping rules that required a six-month advance to be part of the testing pool.
The report also criticized the anti-doping efforts under Verbruggen, citing that Lon Schattenberg, who served as head of the UCI’s then-anti-doping agencies until 2007, as well as the UCI’s “de facto” legal head, Philippe Verbiest, would consult with Verbruggen on sensitive cases. “Furthermore, in the relatively rare cases in which the ADC [UCI anti-doping commission] met, it is reported that Hein Verbruggen would be present. It is also submitted that under the presidency of Hein Verbruggen ‘secret meetings’ were regularly held between Lon Schattenberg, Philippe Verbiest, and the president (referred to by interviewees as the ‘Flemish-‘ or ‘Dutch- connection’) to discuss and decide important anti-doping matters,” the CIRC report read.
Verbruggen’s full statement is below.
I have studied the CIRC report and I am satisfied that it confirms what I have always said: that there have never been any cover-ups, complicity or corruption in the Lance Armstrong case (or, indeed, in any other doping cases), nor did Armstrong make any payments relating to the Vrijman Report. The wild conspiracy theories and accusations have all been properly debunked once and for all. I am pleased that this report confirms my complete innocence concerning these accusations which have been levelled [sic] at me in the past.
Where the report becomes more subjective, however, it also becomes more contradictory. The CIRC’s main criticism in its analysis of the UCI’s anti-doping policy is that the “policies put in place to combat doping during my presidency were inadequate”. That is a rather cheap shot from people who today have the benefit of 25 years of hindsight.
The CIRC omits to mention that I took over the UCI presidency in November 1991, when the UCI was virtually non-existent and had no financial means whatsoever. This meant the whole federation had to be started from scratch, including its anti-doping activities. As a result, the necessary professionalization of the UCI’s anti-doping work could only be started as of 1992 – and we had to work with the technology that existed at the time. For the CIRC to pronounce judgment concerning the “adequacy” or otherwise of the start of our battle against doping, without taking these prevailing circumstances into account, is, I believe, unfair.
Looking back, I am still firmly of the conviction that, given the financial and staff constraints the UCI had at the time, we couldn’t have done anything much differently. Indeed the CIRC acknowledges that, at the time, the UCI was one of the best federations in terms of its anti-doping policy. Also the anti-doping policy was reported, discussed and approved regularly at the meetings of the UCI management committee and also at the UCI congress where also the current UCI president was a delegate for many years.
The CIRC, in saying that I was too close to Armstrong when there was strong reasons to suspect him of doping and that “UCI failed to target test him despite the suspicions”, is being rather blinkered and one-sided in its condemnation. It pointedly fails to mention that WADA only tested Armstrong three times in 10 years and that USADA performed far worse than the UCI in its testing of Armstrong. This was all information that the CIRC had in its possession.
In this respect, I am grateful that the CIRC report vindicates what I have said from the very beginning: “the CIRC is not suggesting that UCI leadership knowingly or deliberately allowed doping and high-profile dopers to continue within the sport knowing or suspecting them still to be doping.” This was one of the main allegations against me and the UCI.
The CIRC’s description of my presidency as “autocratic without appropriate checks and balances” is a caricature based on the opinions of five people who, for a variety of reasons, had personal grudges against me. I would gladly have provided the CIRC with a list of 50 to 100 people who have worked with me as President of their Boards, Commissions, etc. and who would definitely not recognize the extremely one-sided picture that has been painted of me.
Finally, I am happy to note that, at the end of the chapter about the Vrijman report, on pages 189-191, the Commission’s President Dick Marty expresses an ‘additional opinion’ concerning the breaches of medical confidentiality at the request of WADA; the targeting of Armstrong in a context of conflicts with WADA, the French NADO and ASO; targeted leaks to the media; etc. He concludes that “the affair gave rise to genuine feelings of unease especially when taking into account the serious conflicts that at that time existed between UCI and WADA (at least at executive level)”. My concern is why the two other members of the CIRC did not wish to join President Marty in signing off this part of the report concerning WADA in particular.