Chipping away at Omertà
A slow process but an achievable goal.
so casual and accepted that I personally lost perspective of the gravity of the situation.”
With the ‘98 Tour in the history books no one thought that team-wide organized doping could occur again. It was far too risky as France had criminalized doping. The attitude was that the 1999 Tour de France was a rebirth and that was exactly what the event needed. However, Bruyneel took institutionalized doping to a new level. The UCI couldn’t afford another huge doping scandal two years in a row so they relinquished control of the sport to Armstrong and his cronies.
This shift in power was done piece by piece: allowing a backdated therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for cortisone during the 1999 Tour to a $100,000 “donation” to the UCI in 2002 which Armstrong claimed to be for a better anti-doping machine. Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer claim that it was a payment to cover up a positive doping result at the 2001 Tour of Switzerland.
Piece by piece the legitimacy of professional cycling was stripped away. In an interview with the newspaper Scotland on Sunday Graeme Obree recalls how in a 1996 interview with L’Equipe he claimed that 99% of the riders were doping. Hein Verbruggen, the UCI president, called him a coward.
Current UCI president Pat McQuaid said that those who have recently stepped up to admit their doping past are “scumbags.” McQuaid and Verbruggen had even started legal proceedings against journalist Paul Kimmage, which are now suspended in what appears to be an effort to shut up the outspoken critique of the UCI.
“It was a Pandora’s box. If Verbruggen opened it, there would have been nothing left in the sport, so he kept it closed," is how Obree describes those times. And those times still exist today keeping a form of omertà alive.
What kind of leaders squashes down this type of information unless they are themselves trying to keep a lid on the whole dirty organization?
With King Armstrong’s power gone other riders have started to step up and talk about those dirty days. Some are sharing stories of how they made the choice to quit cycling or leave professional cycling rather than be a part of doping. Again, chipping away at the culture of omertà.
With Armstrong gone one part of the omertà equation has ended, but the other remains – McQuaid and Verbruggen. To fully embrace the change that must happen for professional cycling to regain its legitimacy as a sport these two must go. I am convinced they have at the minimum been complicit or at the worst been making money from covering up doping.
Just when I think of wrapping this column up, Velonews is reporting that the International Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP) voted to support a proposal for an independent review of cycling’s anti-doping program. This is another vital step in stripping away the traces of omertà. Too long has anti-doping been closely tied to the UCI – it needs to be independent with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) having ultimate power.