Cookson: Cycling will 'emerge stronger' in the wake of Armstrong revelations

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British Cycling President Brian Cookson OBE believes that despite the damage caused by Lance Armstrong's recent admissions, cycling can 'emerge stronger'. Read Cookson's personal message to members:

Dear fellow members

It is with some relief that we start a new week after seeing the reputation of our great sport dragged through the mud once again.

I am not sure what purpose Lance Armstrong hoped would be served by agreeing to his interview with Oprah Winfrey. But I am pretty sure it has more to do with his concern for the future of Lance Armstrong than with his concern for the future of the sport of cycling. His ‘confession’ was partial and, to my mind, insincere. I share the view offered by others that the most significant parts of the shows (and I use the word “shows” deliberately) were the admissions of the first few moments. There was little we did not know already and nothing Armstrong said changed my opinion that he is not sorry he cheated, just sorry he got caught. His “apologies” to those he had intimidated and attempted to destroy over the years were particularly unsatisfactory.

Two elements caught my attention. Firstly, the clips shown of his statements under oath from a few years ago – his body language, facial expressions and general demeanour appeared no different from those he displayed during the Oprah interview. Yet there he was, admitting in those earlier statements he was lying, time after time, under oath. This begs the question: how do we know he is telling the truth now or at any given point in the future?

Secondly, when asked if he agreed with the USADA verdict that he had led the most sophisticated doping programme in the history of sport, his only answer was that it had not been as bad as that practised by East Germany in the seventies and eighties! Well, if the despicable and deplorable activities that went on there are the moral benchmark he sets for himself, that tells you a story all on its own.

Armstrong can still do the sport he professes to love a service by providing the appropriate authorities with real detail on the years he spent cheating. To properly deal with the legacy created by Armstrong and his peers, we need to know more about the support structure for their doping – the managers, the doctors, the coaches, the suppliers, the funders, all of whom facilitated their deception.

If there are flaws in the administration and procedures of cycling, or indeed of the anti-doping authorities, which enabled doping to flourish, these must be identified and corrected.

Much work still needs to be done, in particular cycling and the anti-doping authorities have to find a way to move forward together. I hope that a way can be found for all of those bodies to participate in the Independent Commission that the UCI has established.

Meanwhile, calls for the sport to be removed from the Olympics are, at best, unhelpful and have the potential to unfairly harm the careers of thousands of BMXers, mountain bikers, track and road cyclists around the world. However, I have been reassured that such calls are unlikely to be heeded – cycling is of course not the only sport to have been disfigured by doping.

The Armstrong story paints a bleak picture of men’s professional road cycling in those years, but it is worth remembering the advances we have made, both internationally and in this country. In cycling we have not in recent years allowed doping offenders to avoid sanction on the flimsiest of excuses, like in some other sports. Rather we have pursued offenders, even at the very highest level, all the way through the relevant processes until they have been brought to book.

There are very strong signs of encouragement. The biological passport, the ADAMS whereabouts system, improved testing procedures, the increased involvement of police and judicial authorities around the world, and various other initiatives, have all made life much harder for the cheats. Human nature may well mean that there will always be those who will break the rules in order to gain an unfair advantage, but I do believe that we have raised the bar significantly in this respect. And we can see the evidence of that now. Bradley Wiggins, for instance, has shown it is possible to win the biggest bike races clean.

At British Cycling we have always pursued a zero-tolerance anti-doping policy and have educated and informed all riders on our programmes at every level of the importance of this issue. And a big part of the motivation for establishing a British-based professional team, was to ensure that we could provide an environment where our ethos could be extended to the very highest levels of men’s professional road racing.

Looking more widely, in Britain, our work to improve cycling goes on. We are seeing growth at all levels be it elite success for British riders, domestic competition or grassroots participation. And after last week, I take renewed pride in the work British Cycling has done over many years in the fight against doping. I pledge that British Cycling as your organisation, and I personally in all of the roles in which I represent you, nationally and internationally, will continue those efforts on your behalf.

Cycling remains a great sport, in my view the greatest. Although the current troubles should not be underestimated, it will emerge stronger.