Richard Pound Interview: The Kimmage case, Armstrong, the governance of cycling and more
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Friday, October 5, 2012

Richard Pound Interview: The Kimmage case, Armstrong, the governance of cycling and more

by Shane Stokes at 6:55 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Doping
Former WADA president speaks on doping, Landis, USPS and a range of topics

Dick PoundIt’s been just over two weeks since it was established, but a fund to help the currently-unemployed journalist Paul Kimmage mount a legal defence against Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen has resulted in a staggering response. At the time of writing, $52,255 has been donated by 1677 contributors, and is likely to grow steadily in the remaining ten weeks until the trial is heard in Switzerland.

It’s a reaction that the UCI would never have envisaged, and is worrying for it in two respects. Firstly, it means that Kimmage will be able to mount a robust defence against the charges that he defamed McQuaid and Verbruggen, the current and past presidents of the UCI, in saying that the organisation acted corruptly. Kimmage has said he intends to call many witnesses, ramping the case up to far higher levels and potentially making it a trial of the UCI itself.

Secondly, the fact that so many people have pledged so much money shows that there is a frustration with how the sport has, or is, being run. Getting people to put their hands in their pockets is not an easy thing, particularly in times of an economic recession, but enough feel strongly enough to do so, making a clear point by their actions.

Considering the timing of the case, it is perhaps not surprising. The past two years have seen more and more details, claims and testimony emerge about past doping in the sport, particularly in relation to what was an apparent systematic doping regime on the US Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams.

Lance Armstrong sought to overturn the US Anti-Doping Agency’s case against him in a Texas federal court and when that failed, he walked away from contesting the charges. He was handed a lifetime ban and had his results stripped from 1998 onwards, including seven Tour de France titles.

In addition to that, the doctors Michele Ferrari and Luis Garcia del Moral have also been given lifetime bans, while former team manager Johan Bruyneel, the doctor Pedro Celaya and the coach Pepe Marti all face arbitration hearings before the end of the year.

Given all this plus the fact that the UCI will this month receive a file of evidence relating to the USPS case – which reportedly contains evidence that a positive test involving Armstrong may have been covered up – the timing of its case against Kimmage seems extraordinary.

The former pro has been one of the most outspoken against doping for many years, and while he has often been critical of the sport, much of what he wrote is being proven as having been true. Even if the UCI continues to insist it is blameless, putting an outspoken critic in the dock is being interpreted by many as an attempt to show others that they should back off.

This week the UCI printed details of another case, specifically a judgement against the disqualified 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis. His lawyer has said that papers were never served calling him to court, but a judgement was passed regardless, upholding the UCI’s claims of defamation. This too has been poorly received in some areas; Landis may be irreverent at times, but he’s also helped USADA build its case and was one of the main catalysts for others to come forward.

Long before the Landis and Kimmage cases, though, another individual was brought to court by the UCI. A year after his term as WADA President ended in 2007, Richard Pound was sued by the UCI and Verbruggen for what they claimed were “continual injurious and biased comments against the UCI and Mr. Verbruggen, in the context of the efforts made by them to eradicate doping from the sport.”

Pound had long been critical of the UCI, Lance Armstrong and others and was essentially regarded as a thorn in the side. The UCI sought to secure a range of penalties against him, but a legal settlement was reached in December 2009.

Pound and WADA issued a statement acknowledging that ‘some of his comments reported in the media might have seemed excessive if they were interpreted to mean that the UCI and Hein Verbruggen were doing nothing to combat doping,’ and that the UCI had introduced new measures to tackle the issue.

However the statement also made clear that he had previously felt that the UCI’s work had been insufficient, and that WADA reserved the right to ‘note any inadequacy on the part of any agency whatsoever with a view to making this fight more effective.’

Pound spoke to VeloNation recently about a range of issues, including the Kimmage case, the Armstrong sanctions, the UCI’s attempts to silence critics, its running of the sport, his impressions of Floyd Landis and why, despite his previous battles, that he believes a sporting body may in theory be the best placed to police itself, despite the potential conflict of interest.

VeloNation: Let’s start with the journalist Paul Kimmage, who is being sued by the UCI. The case has gained a considerable amount of coverage and he has been given very large donations to fight his case. What’s your interpretation of this?

Richard Pound: I have seen a little bit about that in the media. I think it is an interesting phenomenon. It is one that has been made possible by social media. It has happened on other causes where the public is either supportive of the person or cause, or is offended by somebody who is acting in a manner that is perceived as improper or unfortunate.

So many of the people involved in cycling, including Verbruggen and Armstrong and so on have resorted to the institution of legal proceedings. Not so much to collect money, but to stiffle any dissent or opposition.

VN: Is that how you see this: that it is primarily about keeping a journalist quiet who is outspoken about the UCI and doping?

RP: Yes, and that is exactly what led to Verbruggen and the UCI instituting proceedings against me. They use a small court very close to their headquarters in Switzerland which causes maximum inconvenience and expense to the person that they are suing.

VN: As it is Swiss, do you think there are any suggestions that court is more likely to find in their favour? Is that an issue?

RP: It is hard to say. I think in the western countries, by and large the courts are fairly independent and are not regarded as being in anybody’s pocket. Lance Armstrong tried in west Texas, where he lives, to try to get the courts to intervene and overturn an international process for dealing with doping. However the court was smart enough to see that and rejected the claim.

VN: How does this look to you? You have got a high profile journalist who is currently unemployed being sued for anti-doping statements against the UCI at a time when the Lance Armstrong situation is coming out and there is evidence about to land from USADA…

RP: I think that is probably why all these people are coming forward to support the journalist. How is it that these people can continue to act like this, in the face of what appears to have been practically a sport-wide conspiracy? The role of the UCI and the individuals involved is not yet clear; it is likely to become much clearer when USADA releases its findings in full.

VN: From your past work with WADA, do you envisage any way that a cover-up could have happened in 2001, given the way the labs were set up?

RP: I am not close enough to the relationships between particular international federations and particular labs to comment on it, but it may be something which becomes clearer as a result of the USADA report.

VN: Hein Verbruggen has said that all the results would also have gone to WADA, making cover-ups impossible. However is it not the case that the UCI had not yet signed up to the WADA Code in 2001?

RP: That is entirely correct. I don’t think the UCI became a signatory to the Code until the day before the final limit, which was the opening of the Athens Games [2004 – ed.]

VN: So there would have been no exchange of results…

RP: ….until 2004.

VN: You were sued by the UCI and had to release a statement backing off on some comments. Do you feel vindicated by what has come out since?

RP: I never had to rescind it. That is what they wanted – they wanted damages, they wanted me to print some kind of retraction, and they wanted me to forever keep my mouth shut. If you read the settlement at the time, it simply said that I was of the view that the UCI was not acting properly and I maintain that view. All my comments had been made as either president or a director of WADA, and so there was absolutely no way that a court was going to order either me or WADA to forever keep my mouth shut.

VN: You had a couple of tangles with Armstrong in the past. How do you feel about how things have happened since, plus the fact that he has been handed a lifetime ban and will lose all his results since 1998?

Richard PoundRP: Well, I’m certainly not surprised that an independent investigation into the facts has produced overwhelming evidence of his involvement in doping. It is disappointing to see him in the face of all that still maintain that everybody else is a liar, except for him. I think certainly that in the court of public opinion, he has already lost. And when all of the detail comes out, I think people are going to say that not only was he involved in all of this, but why is he continuing to deny it?

VN: Do you ever anticipate that he will admit it?

RP: Well, if you look at another case…at the time when Landis got into his difficulties, he said he loved the sport. I said then, ‘if he loves his sport, one of the best things he can do for it right now is not to persist with this foolish denial, but to say “look, this is what is going on in the sport. I got swept up into it and ended up doing this doping myself. I am not proud about it and I think it is time my sport cleaned itself up.”’

But he didn’t – he ended up wasting millions of dollars of other peoples’ money in defence of charges he later admitted were entirely correct.

VN: What is your position on Landis now – do you think he has in some way made up for what he has done by coming forward and giving the evidence he has given?

RP: I think all the ones who have come forward have done that [helped cycling - ed.] and there is not much that anybody can do against Landis or Armstrong within the sport since they have given it up. But another one was Jorg Jaksche – they just killed him. He came forward and they said, ‘no, you broke the code, and now no other team will have you.’ And everyone involved made sure that happened.

I hope that culture is going to change, but they are resisting any idea of having a Truth and Reconciliation Process, which I think frankly is the only way – get it all out on the table, let everybody see how bad it was, then say ‘okay, from this day forward, it is not going to happen, and if anybody does this, they are going to be dealt with severely.’

There is going to be no covering up, no Omerta, no conspiracy to keep people from talking. But instead they end up being far harder on the whistleblowers than they are on the people who are cheating.

VN: What do you think cycling needs to fully move on from the past? Does it needs a regime change, as some have argued?

RP: Well, I don’t know that the individuals involved need to change. There is no reason to say that Pat McQuaid has to go, provided that they can demonstrate that they really have turned this around. But I think now the way the public is looking at UCI officials past and present, there is a real onus upon them to demonstrate that one era has come to an end and it is going to be new going forward.

They have done this before…I remember after the Landis Tour de France, they announced ‘okay, now everybody is clean, the peloton is clean, there is no more doping in cycling.’ But it was simply that they had a new version of EPO, called CERA. And as soon as there was a test for CERA, it turned out that the peloton was full of people with CERA.

So they said, okay, now that we have got that [the detection of CERA – ed.], there is a new change. But nobody believes that any more. I think there has to be a real demonstration, not just by words but by conduct, that there has indeed been change.

VN: Some have suggested that because the governing body promotes the sport, and therefore has an interest in the sport being successful and being seen in a good light, that it shouldn’t be the one to police the sport. One suggestion is that body such as WADA should be given the funding necessary by said sport, and should oversee all the anti-doping.

Do you think that it is long-term goal to aim for, that policing anti-doping should be completely removed from the governing bodies in sport?

RP: Well, I actually think the ideal solution is a governing body that is more interested in the purity and the integrity of its sport than perhaps about money. To take cycling as the example, the people involved in cycling know the sport better than anybody else. They know who is likely to be doping, they know who the soigneurs are that are involved in this and have been for years, and they ought to know how to catch the people that are doping.

An outside agency would allow the federations who should be responsible for sport to throw up its hands and say, ‘look, it is not up to us any more, it is up to the WADA-like body - or whatever mechanism we are considering.’

I think that is, at least in principle, far less satisfactory than the people who know the sport making sure that it lives up to all its promises.

VN: But is there always a danger of a conflict of interest between wanting to promote the sport and needing to police it?

RP: There is certainly a danger. Human frailty is all too apparent in many respects, but in terms of dealing with the problem and managing it, there ought to be nobody better than the sport itself.

VN: So you haven’t lost hope that sport can do the right thing?

RP: Well, I prefer to say that sport – if it wants to be autonomous – that it has to be able to satisfy the public, and the legal system in which it operates, that it is in fact capable of self-governance. There are lots of professions like that. There is the legal profession and the medical profession and so on that are that are self governing, because it makes more sense for people in the field to be determining what the standards of practice should be, what standards of skill, what ethical limitations there should be in all of that, rather than a bunch of bureaucrats somewhere. Because that is the risk on the other side.

VN: Tension arose recently when WADA said that the UCI was acting in such a way as to set back the anti-doping progress it had made, in relation to USADA’s case against Lance Armstrong and letters from the UCI appearing to question its jurisdiction.

Some observers speculated that if things had escalated, that cycling’s place in the Olympic Games could be threatened. In serious cases, is that something that could be used to force the necessary change?

RP: It could be, if it there is no demonstrated change. The IOC has been strangely reluctant to use its leverage to support its own zero-tolerance position. It is all very well for the IOC to be zero-tolerant, but if everybody around it that is supplying the athletes and the sports to the Games are not similarly inclined, then the IOC statement to that effect doesn’t mean anything.

VN: But let's hope that things move to a good conclusion for cycling…

RP: Let’s hope so. Based on past conduct on the part of the UCI, it is a long shot, but I think the best possible thing is for the UCI to take this on board and say, ‘alright, we have pussyfooted around long enough. The problem is serious, it is now documented for the entire world to see. We may not have done as much as we wish we had, in retrospect, but as of today, here is the line, the Truth and Reconciliation.

‘This is what happened in the past – we are not proud of it and we shouldn’t be proud of it, but we are going to act in the interests of the sport and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.’

That is ambitious, but it is the ideal solution.

VN: Finally, the Paul Kimmage fund continues to grow. Do you think that for a governing body to see that, that it could also be a catalyst and make them realise they risk losing the public’s faith and support? There seems to be a lot of discontent over this action…

RP: Well, if somebody intelligent looks at that and says, ‘you realise what this means for our federation? It means that people don’t believe us and they believe that we are acting improperly on this issue. Maybe we’d better rethink what we are doing.’

Now, whether they are smart enough to pay attention and figure out what that means, I don’t know. I hope they are, but if they don’t, my guess is that they are in for a fairly severe bruising, both in front of the courts and also in front of the public...

Note: In order to present the various viewpoints on the matter, VeloNation requested an interview with UCI President Pat McQuaid ten days ago. There has been no response thus far.


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