Evening Standard

Dick Pound is the one sports official entitled to gloat about Lance Armstrong and boast: “I told you so.” The man who set up the World Anti-Doping Agency and headed it until 2007 never doubted that Armstrong was a cheat.

But, far from boasting, the unmasking of his old nemesis only shows Pound how far cycling still has to go. The QC says: “In Churchillian terms this is not the end, or even the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. There is a lot more to be done.”

Pound is also quick to warn that cycling is not the only sport that has work to do on drugs. “I don’t know that, if you went through the whole athletics world with a fine toothcomb, you would find everybody was lilywhite. Clearly, weightlifting has not solved its problem. I’m sure it exists in swimming and tennis — there’s no sport without risk.”

Pound’s remarks about tennis follow those made last month by former Tour player Christophe Rochus who, in the wake of the Armstrong revelations, reiterated his claims that the sport had a problem.

“It used to be fun during rain delays at Wimbledon to see matches of McEnroe and Borg of a few years ago,” says Pound. “They looked like little old men. Even Lendl, who was notoriously fit, would look like a little old man compared to these folks now, running, lunging, lashing for three hours at a stretch. Look at the difference in build and sustained level of activity. If the tennis authorities don’t believe there is EPO or HGA use now they are not paying attention.”

However, he reserves his sternest criticism for cycling and says it needs to prove there was no collusion between Armstrong and the UCI, the sports governing body. “I’ve always felt cycling could have detected Armstrong and didn’t do enough. How could this go on under the eyes of the people who presumably know most about the sport and who are present at every race and often in training sessions? How could they not know?”

That lack of awareness is all the more surprising to the 70-year-old, who is a prominent member of the International Olympic Committee. “The knowledgeable people in the IOC knew perfectly well that doping is embedded in cycling. But the problem is that the IOC get a chance to test these folks only two weeks every four years. All the rest of the time, the tests are being done by the UCI.”

The UCI defence, often articulated by Hein Verbruggen who is now honorary life president but was in charge between 1991 and 2005, was that Armstrong never tested positive. “Yeah and these were UCI tests,” Pound responds with a laugh. “There certainly have been allegations that Armstrong knew when tests were coming and what they would be testing for.”

Armstrong’s former team-mates have alleged that, in return for money from the American, UCI hushed up a positive test during the 2001 Tour of Switzerland. Armstrong donated a total of £80,000 with the first payment being made a year after the alleged cover up. In an interview with Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland, Verbruggen confirmed that Armstrong was warned of “suspicious” test results in 2001 and 2002. He accepts that, by giving money, Armstrong may have attempted to “bluff his way out”. But Verbruggen insists there was no cover up of failed tests.

So was the Armstrong donation a bribe? “I don’t know if it was a bribe but I cannot imagine a more inappropriate decision on the part of UCI,” says Pound. “When you’ve got somebody suspected of doping and you agree to take a significant monetary gift, I mean God in heaven, what possessed Verbruggen that that was a good idea?”

The UCI have consistently defended their position and said: “Lance Armstrong has confirmed there was no collusion or conspiracy between the UCI and Lance Armstrong. There were no positive tests which were covered up and he has confirmed that the donations made to the UCI were to assist in the fight against doping.”

There is no love lost between Pound and Verbruggen. In 2008, Verbruggen and UCI sued Pound for £7,000 claiming the Canadian had made “continual injurious and biased comments”. The case was settled out of court with both sides making conciliatory statements. Pound says: “It may just be that they thought the best way to shut me up would be to sue me. You’ve got to wonder what his [Verbruggen’s] dignity is now worth.”

For the dignity of cycling to be restored, Pound argues there is one course of action. “ We need a truth and reconciliation commission in which the riders and coaches come forward, tell it like it is, in circumstances where they’re not afraid that they will be punished by the UCI. It’s very much like dealing with an alcoholic. Until the alcoholic acknowledges there is a problem, there is no possibility of a cure. For cycling to go on and on saying that they don’t have a problem is living this dream and not facing the problem.”

In the last week, UCI president Pat McQuaid has proposed such a commission. However, it only came after the UCI suddenly disbanded an independent commission set up to examine their relationship with Armstrong, leading Pound’s successor John Fahey to call the UCI “arrogant and deceitful”.

For Pound, still involved with WADA, cycling’s malaise brings back painful memories of another independent commission the UCI set up in 2005 to examine whether Armstrong was a cheat. The Emile Vrijman commission was prompted by the revelation in French sporting newspaper L’Equipe that Armstrong — by then a seven-time Tour de France champion — had tested positive during the 1999 race.

“It was a farce,” says Pound. “Its purpose was simply to show the UCI had done nothing wrong. It produced a report dutifully saying the UCI were blameless and castigating WADA. It was completely controlled by the UCI.”

The only person who drew comfort from the commission was Armstrong who boasted the report had cleared him saying: “I am pleased they confirm what I have been saying since the witch hunt began; Dick Pound, WADA, the French laboratory, and Tour de France organisers have been out to discredit and target me without any basis and falsely accused me of taking performance-enhancing drugs in 1999.” For the proposed truth and reconciliation commission to work Pound feels the UCI must learn from the United States Anti-Doping Agency, who had no qualms about revealing the dark side of an American hero.

“[The UCI] should stop trying to blame all of the problems of cycling on somebody else. The fact Armstrong cheated is something we’ve known for a long time. The good surprise was that USADA didn’t flinch because he happened to be an American. An awful lot of the American public had an emotional investment in the Armstrong story because of the cancer. They now see the pedestal on which he was standing was not granite but manure. His plunge from the heights to where he is now makes Icarus look like a glider plane.”

But Pound says that for cycling to come to terms with its past requires Armstrong “to tell his whole story and to tell it truthfully.” Pound dismisses the 41-year-old’s performance on The Oprah Winfrey Show as: “An inappropriate way of coming clean, absolutely no contrition whatsoever.”

And should Armstrong confess that he never failed a test because he was warned by the UCI in advance about them, then Pound knows what should happen to the sport. “If I were the IOC president I’d say, ‘you’re becoming an embarrassment, tainting the whole Olympics. Why don’t you take four or eight years to clean yourself up.’”

Pound admits: “That’s pretty extreme but, every once in a while, you’ve got to step up and do something that demonstrates that zero tolerance is not just lip service”

But even if that happens, and cycling is cleaned up, what will not be washed away is the shadow Armstrong has cast on all sport. “It increases the question mark on superb performances. Every time you see something special, you’ll wonder if it is too good to be true.”


Share |



Latest Tweets

Follow me on twitter

Home | About | Books | History | BroadcastingJournalismPublic Speaking | Contact | Website development by Pedalo