sport

UCI to offer amnesty for help

The UCI is willing to provide an amnesty for those who give evidence to its independent commission on drug use.

The World Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the body which investigated and disclosed the misdemeanours in which Lance Armstrong was a central protagonist, believe it is imperative witnesses give evidence "without fear of retribution or retaliation from the UCI".

WADA, USADA and Change Cycling Now, a body urging change in the governance of the sport, withdrew from the inquiry this week over the lack of a truth and reconciliation process, but now the UCI has said it is prepared to adopt that approach.

A statement from the UCI read: "The UCI confirms that it will be informing the commission at the hearing next week that it is willing to provide the necessary assurances to those coming forward with evidence relevant to the independent commission's terms of reference provided WADA confirms that such assurances would be consistent with the letter and spirit of the WADA code, or, if not, it makes the necessary changes to the code."

On Wednesday, the independent commission announced it would hold a public procedural hearing next week to determine whether an amnesty should be enforced, the timetable of the hearing and to consider the scope of the terms of reference, particularly those relating to the UCI and whether convicted dopers should have a future in the sport.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Britain's 11-time Paralympic champion wheelchair racer, sits on the three-person independent commission alongside chairman Sir Philip Otton and Malcolm Holmes QC.

The UCI expressed its belief that WADA should impose an amnesty across all sports and its hope that WADA and USADA can be persuaded to rejoin the inquiry.

Cycling's world governing body added in their statement: "The UCI has informed WADA that it would be willing to participate in a truth and reconciliation process covering all sports, or at least endurance sports, if appropriate changes were made to the WADA code.

"The scourge of doping affects all sport, not just cycling. WADA has itself recently announced a task force to address 'The ineffectiveness of the fight against doping in sport'.

"If WADA is serious about uncovering the full extent to which modern science and the limited methods of detection available to sporting bodies and anti-doping authorities (including itself) have prevented doping, it should establish a truth and reconciliation commission.

"The UCI, for one, would be happy to participate in such a process and contribute to its funding.

"That would clearly be a lengthy process. In the meantime, it is hoped that WADA and USADA will reconsider their positions and participate in the work of the independent commission, including participating in its hearing scheduled for next week."

The UCI reiterated the reason why it established an independent commission - to answer claims of complicity between it and Armstrong.

Armstrong was stripped of seven Tour de France titles and banned for life after USADA's investigation into his United States Postal Service team, which ran "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".

The UCI said: "The role of the commission is not to act as a doping confessional but rather to investigate the assertions made in USADA's reasoned decision of alleged complicity in the alleged doping of Lance Armstrong and the USPS team."

The UCI defended itself and pointed to its lack of powers, adding: "The turning point in USADA's investigation came only after it was able to collect evidence under penalty of perjury following the federal criminal investigation."

The UCI's response to WADA, USADA and its independent commission came on the day it launched a 24-hour confidential anti-doping helpline for riders in the professional peloton.

"An outside organisation has been mandated to handle the process to guarantee strict confidentiality," a UCI statement read.

"It guarantees that all calls can also be made anonymously at any time, and any day of the week, which is in line with the recommendation of the Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA)."

UCI president Pat McQuaid added: "The integrity of cycling is at stake. We have established this helpline to encourage the sport's professionals to come forward and reveal, in the strictest confidence, anything they know about doping practices within the peloton."

McQuaid insisted the sport has moved on since Armstrong's era of dominance. The Texan 'won' seven successive Tour de France titles from 1999 to 2005.

The Irishman added: "Today's sport is totally different from how it was before. So we are making good progress.

"Doping is a culture which existed in our sport for decades, so we can only truly banish doping from cycling - and indeed in all sports - by completely eradicating that culture and changing it into a culture of 'anti-doping'."

In announcing its withdrawal from the process, Change Cycling Now criticised the UCI.

"It is clear the commission is being systematically prevented from conducting a truly independent review by inappropriate interference from the UCI," a CCN statement read.

"CCN calls on the commission to unilaterally adopt principles that collective world agencies agree are vital for the successful conclusion of a comprehensive and unrestricted review."