Change Cycling Now: observations

In response to a call from @cyclingfansvox, a twitter account set up to develop and channel the views of cycling fans, I made some brief comments on twitter about the output of the recent Change Cycling Now meeting in London. The document in question is downloadable as a PDF at the bottom of this post.

Here I expand on these comments, and welcome some constructive discussion. The thoughts are a bit raw and immediate, but that seems to be the spirit of the times.

Zero tolerance

The charter strongly opposes a zero tolerance, punitive approach to doping, and advocates a truth and reconciliation approach. I have argued here that anti-doping is not served by punitive scapegoating of individual riders, and the proposals might fit with this position. However, no amount of truth-telling by past perpetrators will improve detection of doping infractions unless it improves detection, education or deterrence. I am surprised that the charter does not explicitly link a measured approach to sanctions with steps towards improved detection, although one might argue that outsourcing anti-doping might improve detection if one believes that the UCI actively or passively fails to meet its obligations in this regard.

I have also argued that although disproportionate penalties for doping, especially where they dissuade openness, should be avoided, that the threat of criminal prosecution for doping or trafficking acts as a necessary component in deterrence, and that a criminal law enforcement approach has proved much more successful in bringing doping to light than traditional sporting law. The charter does not touch on these issues.

Independent approach to anti-doping

The approach to improving anti-doping proposed is a separation of investigation and enforcement from governance and promotion. This seems eminently sensible, and is in line with many national anti-doping approaches. However, given such a separation, it is interesting to consider where educational approaches might sit, or more importantly how to develop a joined up strategy to control doping that takes into account structural issues of reward. Points systems, remuneration policies, volume of racing and other drivers for doping would not be controlled by such an external body and there is a danger of the two entities running at loggerheads. The separation of USADA from USOC and USA Cycling has brought many benefits, but also much divided and arguably negative conflict.

Representation

The charter will stand or fall not just on its content but on perceptions of how well it represents the views of many stakeholders. It was pleasing to see two familiar stakeholders from the parallel world of twitter, and a mix of commercial, scientific, academic and sporting interests represented. It was also good to see two ex-riders, with rather different experiences of doping involved. However, the lack of current rider representation, and the bias towards riders who have doped was really puzzling, and will provide a serious barrier to any positive ideas being accepted by a crucial group. In relation to spectators too, neither of @velocast or @festinagirl (despite the initial press release) purported to represent fans: I would argue that for any real representation to happen a properly constituted fan body would need to first be created.

Focus on doping

As mentioned above, one cannot really tackle doping simply through testing and enforcement. Similarly, a focus on doping as opposed to taking a holistic approach to a sport might be hugely counterproductive. Moreover, this focus seems to assume that anti-doping is the major ill that faces competitive cycling. Many would disagree with this, perhaps selecting gender inequality or the professional focus. I would contend that to build a better sport attention to the whole journey from junior to masters competitor needs attention, across the sexes, amateur and professional.

Interests

A charter like this needs a clear and transparent declaration of interests from its authors. Here are mine: I hold no racing license and gain no financial or other benefit from cycling. Other members of my family race on an amateur basis. If you wish to take issue with my anonymity, then do read this and this. One of the fan delegates posted a useful positioning statement (the open letter below), but it is all too easy to portray some of the delegates as having revenge, or some other selfish motive behind their actions. I cannot judge this as I was not there, and cannot read minds, but this will always be a tricky issue to address.

open-letter (Scott O’Raw)

Charter-of-the-Willing (Cycling Change Now)

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3 Responses to Change Cycling Now: observations

  1. Whilst I have some serious concerns with the actual Charter – or rather with what the Charter entirely fails to address – I would in all honesty have been willing to put my name to it and accept it as the start in the right direction, had it not been for: 1) the preposterous circus surrounding the ‘summit’ (give me a break, just how inflated can an ego get? It was a meeting, not a summit) b) Jamie Fuller’s staggeringly ignorant comments to the media, his complete failure to convincingly address accountability issues, his out-and-out reliance on unmistakable BS and unconvincing claims of authority from nameless anonymous “greatest experts” who are ostensibly too scared to speak out publicly, as well as the preposterously self-assertive manner in which he has subsequently sought to silence public debate and adopt tactics employed by those he criticises, and 3) the high-profile involvement of Vaughters, with his mischievous and deliberately provocative tweeting during the meeting.

    That third point brings me to what I feel was the Charter’s greatest weakness: its complete failure to address the issue of former dopers involved in the management of teams and riders. I make no bones about the fact that I belong firmly to the camp of opinion that is more than happy to treat riders with far more compassion than many deserve (the argument that riders are simply the innocent victims simply doesn’t wash, but if that is what it takes to bring the riders aboard, then so be it); BUT I have no truck with the argument that former dopers, such as indeed Vaughters himself, in team management can provide younger riders with a positive role-model that will steer them away from the temptation of doping. Whilst many will argue that Vaughters has been a positive influence on the sport (I personally question that and see no credible evidence to support that position), there are many managers with a past who clearly haven’t .. and I just don’t see how you can start making subjective judgements about individual managers that don’t then result in a process being reduced to the level of a hypocritical farce. For me, former dopers in management is a black and white issue where only absolute and immoveable zero-tolerance is credible.

    Further than that, as you correctly identify, this has all the appearance of a single-issue crusade that is missing the very crucial holistic element. They should at the very least be identifying the other areas in which the sport is in desperate need of attention, even if solutions to those problems aren’t actually offered.

    The press conference was a disgrace and poorly managed. Was media questioning partially to blame for that? Perhaps, but as much, if not more, of the blame for that rests with the woefully inept way in which easily foreseeable questions were answered in a manner that had all the appearance of a parade of angry people with an axe to grind. And in the aftermath, we now get the media being accused of being too sceptical .. after certain members of the panel had claimed that it was the media’s failure to be sceptical enough that landed us in this mess in the first place. Ergo: “you should have been more sceptical, but you aren’t allowed to question us and our motives”.

  2. spandelles says:

    It’s interesting how despite the very negative view of the UCI independent commission expressed by the delegates that there his now legal contact between the two entities. It was a smart move of the commission to proactively seek input from CCN, putting them somewhat on the back foot. I think this could actually be a fruitful joining together of the two, but it’s a curious marriage of convenience. I just hope that something positive for the whole sport emerges.

    On Vaughters, yes I suspect his motives here, but I am agnostic about his influence on the sport. I haven’t found his proposals for a breakaway league terribly convincing, especially as the model here seems to mirror some of the professional sports with much worse records on corruption and cheating than cycling. There is money to be made, though, and money drives a lot of evil in sport.

  3. It was a shame that the conversation on the Sunday – which was every bit as wide ranging as your post hopes it would be, covering all these topics and many more – did not translate to the press conference, where the headline was ‘Lemond for UCI president’ (the fact that he said he was happy to consider being an interim president seems to have been ignored).

    Not to seem all starry eyed, but the opportunity to talk to the great and the good of anti doping – a subject that, as you know, I’ve agitated about for years – and to have some input to those discussions was empowering and an experience that I passionately believe we should all, as fans, be able to have. To hear Kimmage talk about the bike being his whole life, or Boyer talk about how Moncoutie had a good career but not the great career he should have had because he was clean – those were powerful moments.

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