Monday 20 May 2019

Eamon Sweeney: McQuaid still blaming everyone else

Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

I can remember when Pat McQuaid was a hero. The Tour of Ireland was a pretty big deal back in the mid-'70s and the Dubliner's victories in 1975 and 1976 made him the first man to win it twice. For those two summers he was one of the big names of Irish sport.

Yet, even at the moment of his greatest triumphs, Pat McQuaid couldn't resist flirting with the dark side. So in October 1975 he travelled to South Africa to take part in the three-week-long Rapport Toer race. Because of the Apartheid system operating in the country, South Africa was banned from international cycling so McQuaid, and the two Irish cyclists he brought with him, raced under false names.

Their subterfuge was discovered. And the following May Pat McQuaid, and the two other Irish riders, were banned for life from the Olympics.

This was especially serious for one of them, a young man whose exceptional talent as a sprinter meant he was regarded as a medal prospect in the Montreal Games that year. Aged just 19, he was six years younger than McQuaid, whose idea the South African trip had been. Some people thought the worst thing about McQuaid's actions were that he'd dragged the younger cyclist down along with him. The young cyclist's name was Seán Kelly.

Given the revulsion with which the vast majority of sportsmen regarded the South African regime, you'd imagine Pat McQuaid might regret his boycott-busting jaunt below the equator. Not at all. Some years later, he told David Walsh, in an interview for the latter's biography of Kelly, "I would say it was the best month of my life. The weather was great, the countryside was beautiful, my form was at its best and the time we spent touring the countryside afterwards was superb. It was a great trip."

And as recently as last March, McQuaid was still insisting he'd done nothing wrong in South Africa. In an interview with Cycle Sport, which bills itself as 'the world's best cycling magazine', the UCI boss claimed he'd been banned because a rival had it in for him. "I didn't feel the Irish federation should have treated it so seriously but they did because of political reasons," he said.

Thirty-six years after he'd been caught red-handed in an act of wrongdoing, Pat McQuaid was refusing to take responsibility for it. It was all somebody else's fault. Pat McQuaid whingeing is not a pretty sight. The world at large knows that now because we've had to watch him whinge at great length since the lies of Lance Armstrong were revealed in all their horrible glory.

And I suspect few of us are any more convinced by his relentless self-justification than was Cycle Sport journalist Lionel Birnie, whose comment on Pat's Voortrek experience was: "McQuaid went to South Africa because he wanted to, because he thought he wouldn't get caught and because he thought that if he did the punishment would be light."

Perhaps McQuaid's Pseudonymous Safari seems like a minor matter. Or perhaps it shows that character really is destiny. Because the UCI president is still a man who can't admit that he's in the wrong. And when he's pulled up he still looks around for someone to blame. Back then it was one of his rivals, now it's David Walsh and Paul Kimmage. And whereas in 1976 the Tour of Ireland champion dragged Seán Kelly down with him, now he seems set to do the same to cycling as a whole. That Cycle Sport interview was headlined, 'Who is Pat McQuaid and why is he running our sport?' It's a question which more and more people within cycling are asking. And Pat McQuaid's insistence that he is the man to lead the sport into a new era is sufficiently delusional to make Comical Ali look sane and rational by comparison. Then again, any man who claims that his trip to South Africa was inspired by the anti-Apartheid activist Kader Asmal may well inhabit a universe whose logic is different to ours.

I don't really like using the language of moral outrage when talking about sport. But Pat McQuaid is a bloody disgrace. And every day he stays at the helm of the UCI brings that organisation and the sport it governs into disrepute. He has to go.

The man's reactions to the United States Anti-Doping Authority's investigation into Armstrong are enough on their own to make his resignation not merely desirable but absolutely essential. But don't take my word for it. USADA's head Travis Tygart said of the UCI: "We set forth our position on why they [UCI] were conflicted in this case on many different grounds. They accepted money from him [Armstrong], they accused us of a witch-hunt (without seeing any evidence), they sued the chief whistleblower, they discouraged witnesses from participating."

And speaking specificly about UCI's insinuation that some of the evidence gathered against Armstrong was given under duress, Tygart added: "[This is] another example of the UCI attempting to escape responsibility for their failures and it is quite sad they would continue to resort to such underhanded tactics at this time. This is absolutely fiction, made up by them to justify their ineptness at failing to prevent this 'great heist' in their sport."

Friday's announcement that the UCI is setting up an independent commission to look into the allegations made about UCI relating to the Armstrong affair doesn't change that.

From the beginning McQuaid has tried to imply that there was something dodgy about the investigation and on Wednesday last he was at it again. A document posted on the UCI's website and signed by McQuaid accused USADA of including "animated or overstated language," and "incorrect or incomplete statements". He also said that "it would have been better that the evidence collected by the USADA had been assessed by a neutral body or person who was not involved in collecting the evidence and prosecuting the defendant. This would have avoided both the criticism of a witch-hunt against Mr Armstrong and the criticism that the UCI have a conflict of interest". Mr Armstrong. Poor oul' Mr Armstrong.

At this stage of the game the only 'criticism of a witch-hunt against Mr Armstrong' is coming from Lance himself. Oh, and Pat McQuaid of course. Lance may have been stripped of his titles and disgraced in the eyes of the world but Pat still seems convinced that there's a percentage in muddying the waters.

Small wonder that Tygart also felt the need to point out that, "Instead of attempting to explain or justify their inadequacies, the UCI should acknowledge their responsibilities and failures and find ways to make it right."

Which is why there is something stomach-churning about McQuaid's insistence that he's part of the solution rather than part of the problem. As World Anti-Doping Agency chief John Fahey noted last week, "looking back, the doping was widespread. If the doping is widespread, then the question is legitimately put: who was stopping it? Who was working against it? Why wasn't it stopped?" His quest to both ask and answer those questions embroiled Paul Kimmage in a libel case which was roundly criticised inside and outside the sport. That case has now been suspended by McQuaid, though not abandoned.

The UCI boss has tried the old scoundrel's trick of blaming the media but that one's not going to fly. It wasn't a journalist who said last week that "I want to tell the world of cycling to please join with me in telling Pat McQuaid to fuck off and resign". It was Greg LeMond, one of the sport's all-time greats.

Last week Pat McQuaid, displaying a level of virulence he was unable to summon up for the chief culprit, described those who'd spilt the beans on Lance Armstrong as "scumbags". You know what Pat? That's a bit rich. On your bike son.

The website of the cycling holiday company run by one of Pat's brothers tells us that "cycling is in the McQuaids' blood." Pity there was something else in Lance Armstrong's.

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