23 June 2017

IOC drops Verbruggen’s Ethics Commission complaint

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed that it has dropped Hein Verbruggen’s Ethics Commission complaint, following the death of the former International Cycling Union (UCI) President last week. Verbruggen, who died following bone marrow cancer complications, originally filed the complaint in November 2015, after his allegations that the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) was biased were ignored.

‘The IOC was aware that the two parties were discussing a resolution of their conflicts and had therefore decided to wait upon a resolution of these discussions or procedure’, wrote an IOC spokesperson in an email. ‘The death of one of the parties means that the procedure is now null and void. The file is closed.’ The IOC was contacted by The Sports Integrity Initiative after a statement announcing Verbruggen’s death failed to mention the pending complaint.

Verbruggen’s complaint to the IOC Ethics Commission followed legal action launched in June 2015, which claimed that the current leadership of the UCI had used the CIRC Report to defame him. A day after Verbruggen publicised his IOC Ethics Commission complaint, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) asked him to retract it, labelling it ‘defamatory’. Verbruggen refused to withdraw the complaint.

The Sports Integrity Initiative had been in contact with Verbruggen on numerous occasions over the past year. In the weeks before his death, Verbruggen told The SII that he understood that the Ethics Commission complaint would go ahead, but said that as a condition of the mediation procedure, he had been asked not to comment on it. Now that IOC has confirmed that the procedure is null and void, we can reveal the details.

Alleged double standards

In essence, Verbruggen’s complaint alleges that WADA is guilty of double standards. The CIRC Report found that under Verbruggen’s leadership (1991-2005), the UCI had prioritised growing cycling as a a sport over tackling doping. He argues that the CIRC sought to put the blame on a corrupt and complicit UCI for failing to deal with the issue of doping in cycling, whilst ignoring WADA’s own failings in dealing with the situation, which had been developing for a number of years.

If this sounds familiar, this is because we have seen the same situation play out regarding systemic doping in Russia. Similar criticism has been levelled at WADA for its two Independent Commission (IC) and two Independent Person (IP) Reports, which cost upwards of US$2.5 million and yet didn’t examine WADA’s own failings in dealing with systemic doping in Russia.

Verbruggen alleges that the CIRC report sought to apportion blame for doping in cycling to the UCI’s management. Investigations into systemic doping in Russia blamed the management of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) for failing to deal with the situation.

Both investigations were followed by a change in personnel regarding the sport concerned. Brian Cookson replaced Pat McQuaid as President of the UCI; Sebastian Coe replaced Lamine Diack as President of the IAAF.

Allegations have dogged both replacements. It has been alleged that Coe knew about the situation regarding doping in athletics earlier than he claims; and the recent Cycling Independent Review published by British Cycling found that during Cookson’s tenure, British Cycling prioritised medals and securing continued funding over tackling cultural and behavioural issues.

The blame game

Verbruggen alleges that the CIRC was appointed by WADA with the specific intention of blaming the UCI and its management for endemic doping in cycling during the 1990s, deflecting attention away from its own failings in dealing with the situation. This is despite CIRC’s remit to examine the role of all governing bodies in the development of endemic doping in cycling.

As its Terms of Reference reveal, the CIRC Report was ‘established to conduct a wide ranging independent investigation into the causes of the pattern of doping that developed within cycling and allegations which implicate the UCI and other governing bodies and officials over ineffective investigation of such doping practices’.

Verbruggen alleges that the CIRC Report accomplished its aim of blaming the UCI whilst deflecting attention away from WADA failings by:

• Appointing people with WADA connections to the CIRC;
• Ignoring his requests for investigation into alleged WADA failings.

Verbruggen alleges that a 19-page report, which he gave to the CIRC in August 2014, was ignored, as was correspondence with the CIRC. ‘This selective editing of facts and contents of documents has resulted in a final report that is designed only to please Brian Cookson and WADA’, he wrote on a website launched to defend his reputation, which he saw as being discredited by sport’s ruling bodies. ‘It deliberately ignores any element that might disprove their accusations against me, or prove their own “wrongdoings”, or give any credit to the fight against doping by the UCI when it was under my Presidency.’

“The CIRC was set up in close cooperation with WADA”, argued Verbruggen, who argues that the CIRC Report specifically targets the UCI management. “Cookson has said this many times”. The CIRC Report was compiled by the following people:

• Dick Marty
• Peter Nicholson
• Prof. Ulrich Haas

Dick Marty, a Swiss politician, was appointed by the UCI as President of the CIRC. He is also the long-term President of Tourism Switzerland. Professor Ulrich Haas is an Arbitrator at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS); and Peter Nicholson is an Australian criminal investigations expert who has since been appointed by WADA to help rebuild confidence in the Russian anti-doping system.

Whilst it may be true that the CIRC was set up in cooperation with WADA, there is nothing that suggests that any connections between the CIRC members and WADA had any bearing on the findings of the CIRC Report. Yet the fact that the CIRC report cleared Verbruggen of any corruption is often forgotten.

‘One thing is extremely important to note – in fact the most important outcome of the CIRC’, reads Verbruggen’s Open Brief. ‘This totally subjective Commission, co-appointed by WADA, could find no evidence whatsoever of any complicity or corruption within the anti-doping policies of the UCI during my presidency (1991 – 2005), nor indeed during that of my successor, Pat McQuaid (2005-2013)’.

Reason for Ethics Commission complaint

Verbruggen’s Ethics Commission complaint and his website detailing his correspondence are an illustration of what can happen when a passionate, committed person feels ignored and unfairly victimised. Verbruggen had a long history in cycling dating back to 1984, and was also an IOC member, as well as President of SportAccord – the organisation that replaced the General Association of International Sporting Federations (GAISF) – from 1996.

He also had an impressive background in business marketing. He also cycled and continued to campaign for reforms to sports governance right up to the weeks before his death.

Verbruggen also fought Brian Cookson’s call for him to stand down as honorary President of the UCI. Cookson later promised to respect Verbruggen’s position and to make reference on its website to his rebuttal of the CIRC Report. The UCI has published such a reference, but it is hidden away.

Why would Verbruggen invite the IOC to further scrutinise his tenure at the UCI, especially whilst suffering from a serious illness? The purpose of the outline above is to show that Verbruggen was proud of his record in sport. He wanted to clear his name. In short, he doesn’t appear to fit the mould of a corrupt sports administrator.

Verbruggen argued that he was forced to launch the IOC Ethics Commission complaint due to the indifference of the UCI and WADA to his concerns about the CIRC. On 13 August 2014, he produced a Report (PDF below) detailing alleged failures by WADA, which he urged the CIRC to investigate. He alleges that not only did the CIRC ignore his requests, it also failed to contact him or his successor as President of the UCI, Pat McQuaid, during the entire term of its investigation.

Serious allegation 1: Martial Saugy

Some of the allegations made are very serious indeed, and appear to warrant further investigation. For example, Verbruggen alleges that in pursuit of Lance Armstrong, anti-doping authorities prepared an affidavit to be signed by Martial Saugy, Director of the Lausanne Laboratory, in relation to an alleged positive reported by Lance Armstrong at the 2001 Tour de Suisse.

Verbruggen alleges that Saugy refused to sign the affidavit. Armstrong never tested positive, but confessed to doping on the Oprah Winfrey show after he chose not to contest the US Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) lifetime sanction, issued in 2012. Verbruggen alleges that following Saugy’s refusal to sign, a letter was later sent to the Vaudois University Hospital (CHUV) – which contains the Lausanne Lab – suggesting that measures could be taken against him.

USADA’s Reasoned Decision (PDF below) relies on the affidavits of two Armstrong teammates, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis.  Hamilton claims to have been told by Armstrong that he had tested positive for erythropoietin (EPO) at the 2001 Tour de Suisse, but he had come to a 2002 agreement with the UCI to ‘make the EPO test go away’. Landis’s affidavit claims that ‘this was as a result of a financial agreement with Hein Verbruggen’.

A test for EPO was first introduced at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, based on blood and urine screening. Verbruggen details the UCI’s efforts to develop an EPO test on his website, culminating in the first UCI EPO test at the Tour of Flanders on 8 April 2001 – ahead of the Tour de Suisse in June, which Armstrong won. WADA did not verify a urine test for EPO until 2003, so it is difficult to see how or why it would request the falsification of a Lance Armstrong positive.

However, Verbruggen’s point was that CIRC’s refusal to include an examination of his evidence about this provides further proof that the CIRC was set up to solely find failures within the UCI. He alleges it did not complete its remit to examine the role of ‘other governing bodies and officials over ineffective investigation of such doping practices’. Allegations that WADA and/or USADA were seeking to use underhand methods to ensnare Armstrong are very serious indeed, and could have undermined what turned out to be one of the biggest falls from grace endured by any sporting star. Verbruggen argues that ignoring this allegation suggests complicity.

On the 2001 Tour de Suisse issue, the CIRC Report failed to find any proof of corruption at the UCI. ‘Despite allegations that Lance Armstrong tested positive during the June 2001 Tour de Suisse and paid UCI to cover up it up, reports from the laboratory show that he did not test positive during the Tour de Suisse (although three of his five samples came back as suspicious for EPO)’, it reads. ‘A donation of $25,000 was made by Lance Armstrong to UCI for the fight against doping, but it was not paid until May 2002 and there is no evidence that the two were linked’.

Serious allegation 2: Dick Marty

One section of the CIRC Report (pages 189-192) was only signed off by the CIRC President, Dick Marty. This involved an alternative interpretation of the Vrijman Affair. The UCI commissioned Emile Vrijman, a former Director of the Netherlands anti-doping agency, to produce a Report into a 2005 L’Equipe article which claimed that Lance Armstrong had tested positive for EPO at the 1999 Tour de France.

To cut a long story short, the CIRC Report concluded that the Verbruggen and Lance Armstrong’s lawyer, Mark Levenstein, colluded to limit the scope of the report to procedural issues in order to avoid the question of whether Armstrong had used EPO in the 1999 Tour de France. ‘UCI had no intention of pursuing an independent report’, the CIRC Report concludes. ‘UCI leadership failed to respect the independence of the investigator they commissioned by restricting the mandate of the investigator, allowing the primary subject of the investigation to participate in the drafting of the report and, by constantly influencing the content of the investigator’s work and the conclusions reached. This is again consistent with UCI leadership’s approach of prioritising the fight against WADA and the protection of its star athlete.’

The CIRC Report attacks the UCI and Verbruggen for attempting to influence the Vrijman Report. As previously mentioned, Verbruggen argues that the same thing occurred with the CIRC Report, although he argues it was WADA that was doing the influencing. The significance of the section signed off only by Marty is that it alleges a breach of medical confidentiality took place, allowing Armstrong’s sample to be identified.

During his 2016 libel case against journalist Paul Kimmage, Verbruggen asked Marty why this section of the CIRC Report was only signed off by him. “He said, well I think I have to admit that my two other members did not want to embarrass WADA”, alleged Verbruggen. “Literally in the judgement, under oath, he said this”.

‘The affair gave rise to genuine feelings of unease, especially when taking into account the serious conflicts that at that time existed between the UCI on the one hand and WADA (at least at executive level), the French Anti-Doping Agency and ASO (belonging to the same group as L’Équipe) on the other’, reads the relevant section of the CIRC Report. ‘Such indiscretions (not forgetting what happened in the Contador case) certainly do not contribute to the credibility and standing of the anti-doping structures. This is certainly not to defend riders who have doped, but an effective fight against doping cannot be conducted by endorsing targeted leaks in the press, in this way indirectly legitimising the existence of the underlying infringements, rather than strongly condemning such leaks from the outset. If this information had been dealt with while respecting the necessary discretion, it would also have been easier to put in place a more effective surveillance of Lance Armstrong.’

This section of the CIRC Report also mentions as ‘significant’ that the leaks to the press only targeted Armstrong, despite all the tests from the 1999 Prologue returning a positive for EPO using the methodology concerned. The CIRC agreed with the conclusions of the Vrijman Report that the results of Armstrong’s test did not constitute an adverse analytical finding (AAF).

WADA’s alleged ignorance of Verbruggen’s issues

Verbruggen also alleges that current WADA President, Sir Craig Reedie, evaded five serious questions he raised in a 26 February 2016 letter to the Foundation Board. Reedie’s response to his concerns, on 29 May 2016, states that the answers to his questions ‘were agreed unanimously by the Executive Committee and the process further acknowledged by the Foundation Board’. This suggests that the WADA Executive Committee agreed a response to his concerns, and this process was rubber-stamped by the WADA Foundation Board.

The agreed response to Verbruggen’s five questions is reproduced below.

A further letter from Verbruggen attacks the perceived vagueness of the response.

The issues raised in these letters have been examined in a previous article on The Sports Integrity Initiative. However, they are worth re-reading because they do appear to illustrate an unwillingness by WADA to examine its own failings in policing doping. As previously mentioned, this same unwillingness to examine its own failings is apparent regarding the doping situation in athletics and in Russia.

There is a long and detailed political history behind these complaints. It is not hard to see why Verbruggen would be frustrated by WADA, as he was faced with the expensive and all-consuming battle against doping in cycling prior to the formation of the Agency in 1999. Verbruggen saw WADA as the solution to cycling’s doping problem and was a member of the WADA Executive from its 1999 inception.

“I discovered that WADA didn’t have attention as a real anti-doping Interpol”, he said. “They didn’t want to take this role. They didn’t want to be that involved in the day to day work. They wanted to create a Code, make sure that everybody lived up to the Code, and then get involved in naming and shaming.”

Verbruggen therefore went to the IOC. “The only thing I ask is that they investigate”, he said.

Deckchairs on the Titanic, foxes and henhouses

At last year’s Tackling Doping in Sport conference, WADA’s Founding President Dick Pound said that he feared moves made by Russia to reform its anti-doping system were little more than “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”. Ironically, it appears that WADA has been conducting a similar exercise.

As Verbruggen’s detailed analysis of the CIRC Report alleges, WADA did not examine its own failings in dealing with doping in cycling, but shifted the blame to the management of the UCI. As previously mentioned, WADA’s two IC and two IP Reports did not examine its own failings in dealing with the doping situation in athletics and, specifically in Russia.

Verbruggen would have found an ally in Papa Massata Diack, son of former IAAF President Lamine, who argues that his father has been set up to take the blame for corruption at the organisation. He has yet to be criminally charged, despite being taken into police custody almost two years ago. Verbruggen argued that he had been set up to take the blame for endemic doping in cycling in a similar fashion.

Despite moves publicised as being designed to give greater independence to anti-doping, it would appear that the IOC and WADA are still seeking to exert control over anti-doping. The IOC and WADA are controlling the appointment and financing of the new Independent Testing Authority (ITA), which was intended as a tool for federations to avoid the issue of the ‘fox guarding the henhouse’. This metaphor was appropriated by Travis Tygart of USADA during a US hearing into doping to describe the inherent conflict of interest between sport’s role as the doping police, but also as the promoter and guardian of its TV and sponsorship revenues.

If sport’s governing bodies are financing and appointing its members, then can the ITA truly say it has no conflict of interest? If – for example – endemic doping were found in a major western country ahead of the Olympics, could athletes be truly confident that the ITA would not consider delaying any announcement until after the Olympics due to commercial considerations? Is this situation any better than the one which the IAAF found itself in 2013, when it was decided to delay the announcement of Russian doping positives until after the Moscow World Championships?

Verbruggen put a great deal of work into his attempts to clear his name. Yet the cycle that saw him become the fall guy for failures to deal with endemic doping in cycling appears to have been repeated in athletics. He consistently pointed out that WADA’s assertion that it is the ‘absolute authority’ in anti-doping is a dangerous thing. Yet recent events appear to indicate that far from granting further independence to anti-doping, it is consolidating its position as that absolute authority.

Verbruggen’s Ethics Commission complaint gave the IOC a change to properly investigate the role of WADA in policing anti-doping. But rather than take the bull by the horns, it has followed two years of inaction by dropping his complaint like a hot potato.

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