International Cycling Union called to offer 'truth and reconciliation' process to riders with doping histories
THE independent commission set up to examine the Lance Armstrong scandal has called on the cycling authorities to establish a doping truth and reconciliation commission and offer an amnesty to riders and managers who confess to previous drug offences.
Pressure is mounting on the International Cycling Union (UCI) to finally heed calls for a full truth and reconciliation process to address the dark days of doping in the sport and provide the independent commission with a wider brief to investigate allegations.
The announcement this morning is an embarrassment for the UCI and follows decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) and the Change Cycling Now pressure group to pull out of the commission with concerns over its independence from the UCI.
The UCI, headed by Dubliner Pat McQuaid, established the commission in November to review cycling's doping past and allegations its officials were bribed by Armstrong. It will be chaired by Sir Philip Otton, a former appeal court judge, and is due to hold public hearings in April.
But the commission and the UCI are at loggerheads over the failure to provide witnesses with immunity from prosecution and it was announced this morning a public hearing will take place in London later this month to discuss the situation.
"The commission is of the view that a truth and reconciliation process is desirable for the purposes of this Inquiry, and that such a process would ensure that the most complete evidence is available to the commission at its hearing in April 2013," it said in a statement. "The commission is of the view that such a process would be in the interests not only of the Inquiry, but also of professional cycling as a whole.
"The commission, via the solicitors to the inquiry, has written to the UCI's solicitors, urging the UCI to reconsider its position.
"Various parties have said to the commission that the inquiry ought to include a truth and reconciliation process, with a full or partial amnesty being offered to riders, team management, or others involved in professional cycling, who confess to past involvement in doping.
Representations to that effect have been made by Change Cycling Now, USADA, and WADA.
A strongly worded statement from WADA on Tuesday evening criticised several aspects of the commission's terms of reference including its timetable and fact its final report will be sent first to the UCI.
"There is further concern that the UCI has had too much influence over the terms of reference, which calls into question the commission's independence," said John Fahey, the WADA chairman. "The terms of reference were signed off by the UCI and the commission without consultation with anti-doping authorities, while the requirement for the commission to deliver its report to the UCI before any other party is unacceptable.
"Finally, because the commission does not offer immunity there is no incentive for witnesses to come forward, or to even give witness statements. An approach that does not allow individuals to give evidence without the fear of retaliation will merely perpetuate the omertà that has been an obstacle to cycling investigations in the past."
A few hours later USADA, the agency which brought down Armstrong, joined WADA in pulling out.
"UCI's refusal to agree to allow a limited opportunity for riders to come forward and be truthful without fear of retribution or retaliation from the UCI obviously calls into question the UCI's commitment to a full and thorough investigation and creates grave concern that the UCI has blindfolded and handcuffed this independent commission to ensure a pre-determined outcome," said Travis Tygart, the USADA chief executive. "The current terms of reference are not good for clean athletes or moving this sport forward to a better future."
Lawyers from USADA have provided the independent commission with new terms of reference which will be discussed with the UCI. The independent commission is currently calling for witnesses to come forward.
By Nick Hoult, Telegraph.co.uk