Howman: ‘Zero tolerance just leads to Omerta all over again’
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Friday, November 2, 2012

Howman: ‘Zero tolerance just leads to Omerta all over again’

by Shane Stokes at 3:36 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Doping
WADA chief says blacklisting those who confess will simply result in more scandals

David HowmanWADA director general David Howman has spoken out against the current push for zero tolerance in cycling, saying that the practice is counterproductive, encourages silence and will do little to achieve the long-term goal of cleaning up of sport.

The New Zealander talked after today’s WADA announcement not to appeal the Lance Armstrong sanction applied last month by the US Anti Doping Agency, and recognised that the case drew heavily on the sworn testimony of individuals who spoken openly about what had gone on in the past.

“I think it was a very significant enquiry. It has led to very notable findings based on a lot of information that was given willingly,” he told VeloNation today. “However I would like to hope that the tap of willing information is not turned off by those who are now saying we should have zero tolerance…that just leads to Omerta all over again.

“Nobody is going to open their mouths to have their tongue cut out…that doesn’t make sense.”

While he didn’t go into specifics of those he felt were pushing the concept of zero tolerance, the subject is in the news recently due to the Sky and Orica GreenEdge teams adopting that stance. They have been demanding details of individuals’ pasts, and then sacking them if they admit to previously having had dealings with performance enhancing substances.

“I hear almost daily about people saying they will impose zero tolerance,” said Howman, when asked who he was referring to. “That means that so–and-so who did something in 1998 is no longer going to have a job. But if that person had been asked, ‘can you tell us more to help clean the sport up?,’ then accepted a sanction alongside those who helped USADA, then aren’t we better off with that approach?”

While revelations such as those connected to the USADA affair undoubtedly cast the sport in a bad light in the short term, Howman is of the philosophy that the truth is crucial, and can be a powerful facilitator for change if it is handled in the right way.

In contrast, being in denial about the past or shutting up those who have decided to speak out is something he feels could cause a festering in the sport; any short term gains because of silence would be more than negated by the damage caused by not getting the information into the open.

“This point in time is an opportunity for some openness to ensure that not only are wounds allowed to heal, but that all the pus is out of that wound before it is closed up,” he said, rather graphically. “If the opportunity is not taken, then that is an opportunity lost.

“The problem in that case is that I would think that in eighteen months time, we will have another saga…as sure as eggs, there is information out there which will come to the surface sooner or later. It would be better if it [openness] had been promoted by those in charge.”

UCI and the Armstrong case:

WADA’s statement about its decision not to appeal the original USADA sanction handed down last month appeared to find fault with the UCI. Although subtle, the quotes from WADA president John Fahey spoke of a ‘culture of doping that was allowed to develop in cycling.’ The use of the word ‘allowed’ seemed pointed, and so too the compliments paid to USADA when juxtaposed with a subtext of possible UCI heel-dragging.

“This is not a situation in which just because the athlete did not return a positive test there was nothing more the governing body of cycling could do,” said Fahey, hinting at a sense of inaction.

“It has taken a major effort and undertaking from a national anti-doping organization to gather the compelling evidence following allegations raised by Floyd Landis in 2010. This case has resulted in a right and proper sanction for the athlete in question and has served as a revelation to the world of sport. For this USADA must be applauded.”

Asked by VeloNation to elaborate, Howman was diplomatic. “I think what we are saying at the moment on this is what is contained in John’s comments in our statement,” he said.

“What we want to do is see how the UCI go forward with their suggestion [of an independent commission]. I think the ball is clearly in their court to take the opportunity that is obvious to do the best thing for their sport. That is their responsibility.”

In announcing the independent review last Friday, the UCI stated that it would work with an un-named independent sports body to ‘nominate the members of the Commission and, with the UCI Management Committee, agree appropriate terms of reference.’

WADA is an example of a sports body that could carry out the initial task of appointing the commission members. However Howman said that there has been no signs thus far that it is being considered for that early role.

“We haven’t been approached…it is one of those things that we will just sit back and wait to see what happens,” he said. “We would be happy to work and assist them if we are asked, provided the terms and other things are heading in that direction.”


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