Monthly Archives: November 2012

More sports must copy cycling’s clean-up

Sport will never win the fight against drug cheats, says John Fahey, president of the World Anti Doping Agency (Wada).

In the post-Lance Armstrong era, trust in sport has never been in shorter supply. Cycling might have lived by its own lawless code for much of the past decade, but deception on that scale has caused us all to pause, reflect and ask ourselves: can we really believe what we are seeing?

We’re wasting our time. We are saying ‘you’ve got an immunity to cheat’ if they know there is a very remote likelihood that they’ll ever have to give a blood sample

John Fahey
Wada president

In that sense, Fahey’s apocalyptic assessment is designed to deliberately exaggerate the scale of the problem. He is, after all, the head of an organisation whose existence relies on the presence of athletes prepared to risk all by taking performance-enhancing drugs. Cops need bad guys.

But it also reflects the growing frustrations with the testing system, highlighted by the way

Armstrong and his team-mates flouted the rules.

By staying one step ahead of the doping control officers, who had no chance of detecting the sophisticated blood-spinning techniques, they were free to pursue their chemically enhanced careers.

As the outstanding investigation into Armstrong by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) has demonstrated, testing can only get you so far.

But even the most cursory glance at the statistics for blood testing – the only effective way of checking for blood doping and use of human growth hormone (HGH) and erythropoetin (EPO) – tells you that many sports are simply not operating the sort of system that will help restore trust.

Cycling has got the message. It had no choice. According to Wada statistics for 2011 (the most up to date available), 35% of all drugs tests conducted were blood tests, including the recently introduced blood passport samples, which monitor a cyclist’s levels to check for anything suspicious.

Athletics is also pretty good – 17.6% of tests in 2011 were blood tests – but many of the major sports are way behind.

Take tennis. According to Wada figures (which only record tests carried out at Wada-accredited labs) authorities conducted just 3% of their doping control tests on blood last year.

The International Tennis Federation say the real number is nearer 6% because of tests conducted at non-accredited labs. But that is still relatively small and

concerns were raised recently by Andy Murray and Roger Federer at the lack of testing.

A graphic visualisation of a bag of blood being intravenously injected into a man's arm

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How does blood doping work?

Neither went so far as to suggest tennis was rife with drugs cheats. Relative to cycling, success is perhaps less reliant on lung-busting endurance, with co-ordination, racquet control and skill a big part of the picture.

That said, Murray and Federer argue more blood tests would be welcome to encourage greater confidence in the sport’s top players. And, as anyone who watched the Australian Open final last January knows, this is a sport that is making increasing physical demands on its top players.

It’s a similar story in football, where just 3% of tests were blood tests, boxing (3.5%) and gymnastics (1%).

Here’s what Fahey, a former Australian politician who fronted Sydney’s successful bid for the 2000 Olympics, thinks of that: “We are wasting our time. We are letting people through the loop. We are saying ‘you’ve got an immunity to cheat’ if they know there is a very remote likelihood that they’ll ever have to give a blood sample.

“That doesn’t work for any programme. It doesn’t work as a deterrent and it doesn’t work to catch the cheats.”

During our interview in Paris this month, I asked him whether the low number of blood tests in some sports was a failure of leadership. He replied emphatically: “Yes, I can’t argue with that.”

So what do sports like tennis and football say?

They argue the cost of blood-testing is prohibitive, the window for collecting and analysing tests small, and the number of substances detected limited. They also say there is little point in using a test for EPO or HGH when all the intelligence and research suggests the problem is not with endurance drugs like those but with other more traditional strength boosters such as testosterone or, in the case of football in particular, recreational drugs.

But it’s not like tennis or football, to name just two, are short of a few bob. They could easily afford to use some of the billions of pounds they earn in TV and sponsorship income to increase blood testing.

With the development of more effective tests there is a trend towards more blood tests and the use of biological passports. During the Olympics and Paralympics, around 1,000 of the 6,250 tests conducted used blood samples and Fahey is pushing for all sports to hit a minimum of 10%.

So far there seems to be resistance.

Last week a move by the Wada executive board to get this minimum requirement included in the 2013 update of the Wada code was not adopted. There remains significant opposition to setting such a high threshold.

Carrying out more blood testing might not prevent another Armstrong-like conspiracy but it would at least send a message that sport and its ruling bodies are taking the threat more seriously.

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Grey-Thompson on Armstrong panel

British Paralympic great Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson has been appointed to the three-person commission that has been set up by the International Cycling Union (UCI) to investigate the Lance Armstrong affair.

The chairman of the panel will be former Court of Appeal judge Sir Philip Otton, with Australian lawyer Malcolm Holmes being the third member of the independent body.

The UCI set up the commission in response to

a damning report from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (Usada)

into a decade of cheating by Armstrong and his team-mates.

The commission’s report and recommendations are critical to restoring confidence in the sport of cycling and in the UCI as its governing body

Pat McQuaid
UCI president

That report, published in October, resulted in the American

being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles,

but it also seriously called into question the UCI’s actions over the period.

It is against this backdrop that John Coates, the president of the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the Australian Olympic Committee, was asked by UCI president Pat McQuaid to compile a shortlist of credible candidates for the commission.

McQuaid welcomed Friday’s announcement of the panel, and thanked Coates for “assembling such a high calibre and truly independent commission”.

“The commission’s report and recommendations are critical to restoring confidence in the sport of cycling and in the UCI as its governing body,” he added.

“We will co-operate fully with the commission and provide them with whatever they need to conduct their inquiry and we urge all other interested stakeholders to do the same.

“We will listen to and act on the commission’s recommendations.”

Otton retired from the Court of Appeal in 2001 but has since worked as an arbitrator in a number of high-profile sports cases in Formula 1, football and America’s Cup sailing.

Grey-Thompson won 16 Paralympic medals, including 11 golds, during her athletics career and is now a member of the House of Lords.

The commission will meet in London 9-26 April 2013, and aim to submit its report to cycling’s governing body by 1 June.

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Team Sky seek Euro training base

Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford is looking for a permanent European training base for his Tour de France-winning squad.

The British-registered team are officially based at Manchester’s National Cycling Centre, home to the GB Olympic and Paralympic set-ups.

Team Sky’s coaches, riders and support staff are spread across Europe, meeting only for training camps and races.

“Our next step at Team Sky is to find a proper training base,” said Brailsford.

“I’m a big fan of centralised [training] models. It’s the contact time that is invaluable, and those informal decisions in cafes that become great ideas.

“What you want to create is an environment where there is a quest for continuous improvement: a culture of excellence where everyone knows that in 12 months’ time ‘I’ve got to be better than I am now’. That’s easier to create under one roof.”

The centralised model has worked well for

British Olympic



track cycling, while there are hopes that the benefits of training together in Manchester will soon be reaped by the BMX squad.

Road cycling, however, is clearly a different proposition, and Brailsford acknowledges the “architecture” of his new base will have to reflect that.

There will be less need for actual bricks and mortar than in Manchester, and the template will be similar to the academy British Cycling once ran from Quarrata in Tuscany. That was a fairly Spartan affair – Bradley Wiggins and co will expect a little more comfort – but the base does not have to be a grand complex.

What Team Sky really need, the 48-year-old coach believes, is access to a variety of terrain, good roads, nice weather and a well-connected airport.

Team Sky, along with many other professional teams, currently use the Spanish islands of Mallorca and Tenerife for training camps, but Brailsford wants something more central and tangible.

A possible option would be to base the team around a well-situated city like Girona, in Spain, where many overseas cyclists spend their seasons there already.

The French city of Nice is perhaps a more likely choice for a Team Sky base, as it is close to Monaco, already home to the

team’s probable next Tour de France leader Chris Froome

and many other top cyclists.

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LeMond leads drugs pressure group

Three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond has joined a pressure group that is demanding a radical reform of the sport’s approach to anti-doping.

Change Cycling Now has been set up by a cycling sponsor, former riders, journalists and anti-doping experts.

The most recent, and damaging, doping case involved

seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong.

“The Lance Armstrong affair has to be a watershed moment for professional cycling,” said LeMond.

“There is still an opportunity to ensure cycling presents itself as a genuine world leader in the elimination of doping in sport.

“But to do that requires a determination to force change and I am delighted to be part of a group that is full of people who are committed for the cause.”

The involvement of LeMond, who voiced his suspicions about Armstrong long before he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the UCI, is a coup for CCN as he is one of a select group of recent Tour champions to be untarnished by allegations of drug use.

The 51-year-old Californian has been increasingly outspoken in recent years about the UCI’s failure to address the culture of doping that has so badly damaged cycling’s credibility, and last month he

called for UCI president Pat McQuaid to resign.

LeMond’s three Tour victories – 1986, 1989 and 1990 – arguably broke cycling outside its traditional European heartlands, and they certainly had a huge impact in North America.

Some experts have even suggested Armstrong’s rise to domination of the sport a decade later would not have been possible without LeMond’s trailblazing example.

With Armstrong now stripped of his titles, LeMond is once more the only American to win cycling’s greatest race.

CCN meets for the first time in London this weekend, when LeMond will be joined by the group’s co-ordinator Jaimie Fuller, who is chief executive of sports clothing firm SKINS, Australian blood-doping expert Dr Michael Ashenden, and Emma O’Reilly, Armstrong’s former masseuse at his US Postal team and early whistle-blower on his cheating.

Other leading names to have added their support to CCN include two-time world champion Gianni Bugno and the boss of the Garmin-Sharp team Jonathan Vaughters, another former colleague of Armstrong’s at US Postal.

“LeMond’s involvement should send the clearest message yet that we are a serious group with serious intentions and genuine motives,” said Fuller, whose firm is suing the UCI for damage to its brand caused by the Armstrong scandal.

“But the sheer fact all these people are prepared to give up their time reflects both their passion and desire to see cycling achieve the best outcome.”

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VIDEO: British trio soar to pursuit win

Laura Trott, Danielle King and Elinor Barker win Great Britain’s second gold in the team pursuit at the Track World Cup in Glasgow.

The Olympic and world champions were pushed all the way by Australia in the final, but the world record holders did enough to win in a time of three minutes 21.043 seconds.

The Belarussians claimed the bronze by beating Lithuania.

Available to UK users only.

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Johnny’s favourite stores