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THE LONG ROAD TO SPORTING INTEGRITY, MR REGAN

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BACK in the early part of October 2012, BRTH painted a hypothetical situation for us to consider….

Imagine that there is cheating going on within a certain sport. The kind of cheating that goes on behind the scenes and which makes the winning of competitions easier.

Imagine that cheating has happened for more than a decade and is widespread amongst a well-known team– a winning team. The kind of cheating I am talking about is not the kind of cheating that spectators or officials will see during competition and at the end of each event a result will be declared and a winner will be lauded.

No one will deny that after long and arduous competition the declared winner or winners came first on the field of play going by results. No one will argue that in comparison to the rest of the competition, the declared winner will have performed best and left that competition behind in terms of amassing a winning score and so on.

Alas, what is not immediately evident to the naked eye is that there was cheating. There was rule breaking– rule breaking of a sort which, going by the rules, means that the perpetrator has not won at all. In fact not only have they not won, but the penalty for breaching the rules concerned is disqualification. In other words– you not only didn’t win– you weren’t even entitled to compete in the first place.

Those are the rules.

Then imagine another scenario. Imagine someone from the sport’s governing body knew that the winner of many competitions, going back over a decade, was cheating and had been cheating– yet did nothing about it! Perhaps the reason for saying nothing was because the officials of the governing body were afraid.

Afraid because revealing this scale of cheating by those involved would severely damage the sport—financially and morally– possibly even wreck it altogether. Then again, maybe the motives behind such silence were altogether different. Maybe the official was threatened with the revelation of some embarrassing personal information– then again maybe the official concerned was financially enhanced in return for silence?

No matter what the motive, the official or officials concerned did nothing and covered up the scandal and the rule breaking.

Let’s take this hypothetical one stage further. Imagine that a member of the press attempted to reveal most– if not all — of the above, however was repeatedly met with ridicule and chants of  nonsense by all and sundry— even by other press members who covered the same sport.

Imagine that press member banged on about such cheating for years and years, suffering brickbats and little support from fellow hacks— at least initially. However, as time goes on, some of what the journalist concerned has been speaking about gets some support and publicity until eventually the damn bursts and much of the scandal he has been writing  about comes out in the open.

What he has said was the truth, is eventually widely accepted as such– although there are those who will never accept the truth because it is……… unpalatable… and implicates them in the wrongdoing or at least suggests they have been negligent in their governance.

However, one major part of this hypothetical situation remains in the ether with only a few willing to support it openly– and that is the suggestion that someone in the governing body knew all the secrets all along and that they helped to cover it up.

The Journalist doesn’t back down, he maintains his position although many are too afraid to repeat the allegation or take it further. What’s worse, he cannot absolutely prove his allegation, as his sources are tainted and there is no physical evidence, although there is an increasing body of evidence against others which suggests that something along the lines alleged could have happened, probably did happen  and maybe even must have happened.

Then, another body, relating to the same sport, makes a ruling. The cheaters are stripped of titles and their victories are quashed and consigned to the bin — only for the dreaded legal appeals to be considered and weighed up, with the whole sordid affair to be examined afresh including the potential uncovering of the “paper chase” to get underway before the legal boys.

A paper chase, which the Governing body just may view with horror as it, may just prove a few things they would rather keep hidden.

What is such a Governing body to do?

Well imagine what is truly unthinkable. The Heid blazer and the former heid blazer from the governing body go on the attack and take the journalist personally to court and “attempt to silence him” by suing for damages and demanding published retractions and apologies.

They do not sue his publishers, his witnesses, his  newspaper—just him! Such a course of action is meant to serve as a warning to all others– “do not this way come!”

Now—— stop imagining, because the above is in fact reality! This is sports administration in the 21st Century- for real!

If any of you have read a book called the secret life of Tony Cascarino (the former Celtic, Chelsea and Republic of Ireland International) you will be familiar with the name of the book’s author—– Paul Kimmage. Many however will have never heard of him or at least be unfamiliar with his writing on his “main” sport.

Kimmage is a Dublin born former sportsman turned award winning journalist– and he has been singing the same song for over two decades now, with the result that his sport’s governing  body has had enough and has taken him personally to court in Switzerland in an attempt to shut him up.

That sporting administration is beleaguered, lacking credibility for inaction and has had the finger of corruption pointed at it by Kimmage, some other journalists and now by a number of former sportsmen who have spilled their guts under pressure.

Yet the heid  blazers cling on and have now taken the unprecedented action of taking a troublesome member of the press to court in Switzerland.

Kimmage made his mark in the sporting world as a domestique— a support cyclist in the peloton for teams, which participated in major cycling events including the Tour de France.

After retiring as a professional cyclist in 1989, Kimmage published a book — Rough Ride– in which he claimed that “the tour” was bent and that there was widespread doping going on and that the officials knew about it but turned a blind eye.

Whilst the book won awards, Kimmage himself was widely ostracised and branded as a traitor. It was said that he had “spat in the soup” of cycling-a phrase implying betrayal and suggesting his actions would only damage himself. However bit-by-bit, over a long period of time, it has come to light that more and more that his allegations were in fact true.

One by one, major stars of the pro cycling tour have tested positive for drugs and blood doping, so much so that when the dam burst
what came through was not a trickle but a flood carrying big names in its swell.Fairly recent winners of the Tour de France- Pantani
(1998), Floyd Landis (2006), Alberto Contador (2007,2009,2010),-have all fallen foul of doping tests.

Meanwhile other huge names such as Jan Ulrich, Ivan Basso, Michael Rasmussen, Richard Virenque and others have all tested positive.

However, the big, big fish in this tale is of course Lance Armstrong and his all-conquering US Postal team. Armstrong has “won” the
Tour de France a record seven times, winning consecutive titles from 1999 to 2005 all with the US Postal team with the exception
of his last, which was won under the Discovery channel banner.

If it turned out that Lance was guilty of doping, then every winner of the Tour de France from Bjarne Riis in 1996 through to Alberto
Contador in 2010 would have fallen foul of the rules which meant that until Cadel Evans won the Tour in 2010 the last true champion who was first over the line so to speak was Miguel Indurain with the last of his 5 wins in 1995. Pretty damning  evidence that the sport is bent. Maybe too damning.

Whilst Kimmage had for years said that there was active doping in the heart of the peloton, 1998 saw his claims gain credence when
masses of performance enhancing drugs were discovered in the official team Festina car. By July 23rd nine Festina riders and three team officials were in police custody.

Subsequently all team members were blood tested in the middle of the night and former team members including the World Champion Laurent Brochard and Christophe Moreau were arrested. Seven admitted to taking EPO and were ejected from the race having admitted to systematic doping while riding for the team.

After a trial several Festina officials and riders were convicted, including Richard Virenque the former team leader and 6 times winner of the King of the mountains title in the tour. Following that incident Willy Voet of  the Festina team management wrote a book called Breaking the Chain where he lifted the lid on drugs and cycling explaining that many drugs – Cocaine, Heroin, Cortisone, EPO and various others were deemed necessary to compete in and win the Tour de France!

In short, The Tour was bent—just as Kimmage had said.

One member of the Festina team who was accepted as refusing to Dope was Christophe Bassons and his “exception to the rule”position brought him a public sporting celebrity far above what had been achieved by his cycling skills.

As a result, Bassons was asked to write a column whilst competing in the 1999 tour—the first that was “won” by Armstrong. While most of his articles were run of the mill or fun pieces, a couple of articles soon changed that.

First, he spoke out generally against doping and called any cyclist who objected to regular doping tests a hypocrite.

This lead to some on the tour shunning him, insulting him, threatening him and even teammates refused to share certain prize money with him.

However, Bassons went on to write that in particular the rides of Lance Armstrong during the 1999 tour had shocked the peloton and had bemused inside observers. Armstrong had performed at a level, which he had apparently never shown signs of before.

Following the publication of the article, within days of the ride concerned, Bassons wrote that in the midst of a later stage of the same Tour, Armstrong rode up alongside him and advised him that it was a mistake to speak out against or about Armstrong and advised him to leave the sport!

This of course was on the first Tour where Armstrong won. When these allegations became public Armstrong was asked for a reaction and amazingly confirmed that the conversation had in fact taken place exactly as Bassons described going on to say “”His accusations aren’t good for cycling, for his team, for me, for anybody. If he thinks cycling works like that, he’s wrong and he would be better off going home.”

Ultimately Bassons retired from the sport after a period where he was shunned by many riders who insulted him and often waved their fist at him. He is now a qualified teacher and employed by the department of youth and sport in the Bordeaux region of France— where he is in charge of the drug-testing regime!

The Festina affair and the articles by Bassons backed up what Kimmage had claimed for the previous decade. The allegations of “intimidation” by Armstrong were not to be the last. As Armstrong continued a career that began to take on legendary status, stories about Doping persisted. Stories began to emerge which supported the notion that Armstrong and his team were involved in regular, systematic and organised doping.

Two Riders from the US Postal team signed affidavits saying the team and Armstrong doped. An allegation was made that Armstrong had claimed that he had had a positive blood test swept under the carpet after the 2001 Tour ofSwitzerland. In 2006, L’Equipe would claim that Armstrong had been caught doping as a result of a test in 1999 but that it had been swept under the carpet by his claiming that the results had come about from a cream he had been using to treat saddle sores.

A US Postal Team Masseuse, Emma O’Reilly would then claim that shehad helped get rid of syringes and drugs, and rubbished reports that Armstrong’s odd blood results had come about as a result of creams and medicines taken for saddle sores. She was the masseuse at the time and had there been saddle sores she would have seen them—and there were none!

In 2001, three times Tour De France winner Greg LeMond made a public comment saying that he was disappointed in Armstrong for associating with and employing a trainer (Michele Ferrari) who was known to have been involved in systematic doping and the unlawful use of a substance called EPO. LeMond apologized for any offence caused by the comments shortly after and stated publicly that he did not believe that Armstrong was doping.

However in 2004 LeMond spoke out again as Armstrong continued to amass Tour De France titles. “If Armstrong’s clean, it’s the greatest comeback. And if he’s not, then it’s the greatest  fraud.” LeMond went on to explain that his 2001 apology had come about after he had been contacted by Armstrong who had threatened to defame him and harm his reputation.

He also claimed that Armstrong had threatened to ruin his business and he would later claim that he had been contacted by Trek cycles who manufactured and distributed bikes for Greg LeMond racing, and that the company had at the time threatened to end their relationship with LeMond racing at the behest of Lance Armstrong.

Was LeMond telling the truth? Some say he is bitter and has his own agenda- but what he said backed up what Kimmage had said many years earlier.

He also started to suggest that some of Armstrong’s results simply did not make sense. Throughout all this time, Kimmage continued to rail against doping in the sport generally but now had a particular focus on the US postal team and Lance Armstrong in particular. Armstrong retired with the record 7 Tour De France titles in 2005 and the 2006 tour was won by Floyd Landis. Landis had been recruited to the US Postal team in 2002 by Lance Armstrong and for the next three years he was seen as Armstrong’s lieutenant. He rode spectacularly in the mountain stages often breaking the pack  before leading Armstrong out for his final move to the front.

A fellow teammate of Landis and Armstrong who also rode spectacularly was Tyler Hamilton.

If anything, Hamilton was far too spectacular for comfort in the toughest stage of the 2003 tour when he won the stage to Bayonne in the Pyrenees. Hamilton rode that day with a double fracture of the collarbone and according to one journalist at least showed considerable pain and discomfort when interviewed the evening before. Instead of struggling to stay in the peloton and keep going in the race, Hamilton amazingly dropped the entire field on the steepest and toughest part of the climb and won the stage by an amazing 4 minutes!

Such a performance, such endurance and iron man quality was too good to be true—and so it proved when it came to light that Hamilton
had injected a bag of fresh blood the night before the Bayonne stage, giving him a boost of maybe 3-5% over the rest of the field.
Blood doping in the US Postal team was alive and well in 2003.

Following the 2004 tour, Landis chose to leave the team and moved to another team- Phonak- sparking claims of betrayal by
Armstrong and the US Postal team.

Landis claimed he was being paid far more by Phonak than by US Postal- even though the US team offered to match the Phonak offer at the death. Landis had become disillusioned with US Postal and took the view that he would not be allowed to challenge for the Tour title with the team and whilst Armstrong was at the US Postal helm.

Armstrong won the 2005 tour and retired thereafter making a speech on The Champs-Élysées, which is worth revisiting in light
of subsequent events. Landis was carrying an injury throughout the 2005 tour and was not at his peak but come the 2006 tour, he
promptly won as the Phonak team’s main man and then sat back and saw his entire world fall apart.

Following an epic performance on the 17th stage of the Tour, Landis tested positive for excessive testosterone and other substances in his blood. The results did not come through until after he had been crowned champion on The Champs-Élysées.

He denied doping but by as early as August of the same year he had been stripped of his Tour win by the International Cycling Union (UCI) although the same body’s rules required that the decision had to be ratified by the cyclist’s national body-USA Cycling- and in turn they turned the case over to the US Anti-Doping Agency otherwise known as USADA.

USADA held a hearing in May 2007 into the affair, where they would hear devastating evidence from amongst others Greg LeMond whose testimony went some way to revealing the huge amount of distortion and desperation within cycling at this level.

LeMond claimed that he had had a number of telephone conversations in August 2006 with Landis, and a further conversation with Landis’ business manager on the eve of the testimony.

LeMond claimed that he had discussed Landis  admitting his guilt in doping during August 2006, but that Landis had retorted if he admitted taking drugs and doping it would affect a lot of people—a lot of well-known people who he ( Landis) felt obliged to protect and cover up for at that time. LeMond claimed that he advised Landis that if he did reveal the truth he (Landis) would be doing a great service for the sport and that he would personally feels a great sense of relief. LeMond then went on to say that he knew this because he himself had a secret, which he  revealed to Landis by telephone.

Alas Landis at that time rejected the advice given and was a man who was clearly in trouble in a number of ways.

Floyd Landis made a public posting on a cycle website saying that he had personal information on Greg LeMond of a sensitive nature
which would damage his character severely. He went on “if he ever opens his mouth again and the word Floyd comes out, I will tell you all some things that you will wish you didn’t know and  unfortunately I will have entered the race to the bottom which is now in progress.”

In his testimony given on May 17th 2007, LeMond went on to claim that he had been called the night before by Landis’ business  manager who had threatened to reveal what LeMond had told Landis the previous August if LeMond’s testimony was not up to scratch. The secret concerned was that LeMond had been sexually abused as a child—something that LeMond had struggled with throughout his life, and a subject which he has since gone public with, received counseling for and has started to help others with.

Landis admitted to being in the room when this call was made and subsequently sacked his business manager and apologised to LeMond for the stress and impact of the call. The two men are now said to be reconciled after a long period.

Landis was subsequently convicted and banned from cycling for a two-year period. He appealed and spent millions of dollars on legal
fees (as did Hamilton when he was caught) and continued tomaintain his innocence, which he had done since 2006. Further,although he refused to admit doping, he became increasingly annoyed by the fact that he knew doping was widespread and that no one in the sport appeared to be willing to come to his aid despite his repeated refusal to name names.

He began to contrast this with the treatment of Armstrong, who seemed to have huge protection and influence within cycling and its governing bodies,and to an extent others who had fallen foul of the doping rules and who were welcomed backed without too much trouble.

In April 2009, a French Newspaper carried a story alleging that the French National agency which carried out drug testing on the Tour
had had their phones hacked and that information in that regard had been traced as having been sent to and through a computer belonging to Landis’ former coach Arnie Baker. Both Baker and Landis were eventually convicted of “benefiting” from the hacking of the computers and received suspended jail sentences. Landis also eventually plead guilty to Fraud charges in relation to the money he raised to help fight his numerous legal battles, being fined almost half a million dollars. In the interim he divorced from his wife and his life fell apart—totally.

Eventually Landis changed his stance and revealed that he had cheated and stopped protesting his innocence.

In November 2010, Floyd Landis gave a 7 hour interview to Paul Kimmage in which he admitted doping from 2002 onwards when he joined the US Postal team, and that throughout his time with the same team he and others regularly doped—including Hamilton and Armstrong.

He described certain processes in some detail—including Armstrong having blood transfusions on the floor of a bus between stages, and in hotels on rest days—and alleges that most of the peloton and the officials of the UCI knew of and covered up widespread doping including Armstrong’s. In short Landis became the latest in an ever growing list of people to back up what Kimmage had said in 1990 and what Bassons and Voet had repeated in 1999.

Further, Landis explained his take on Armstrong himself, and alleged the seven times winner presents a public façade that is far removed from the truth. He alleges that UCI officials helped cover up positive doping tests for Armstrong, and that unlike Landis, Armstrong has always had help and assistance from the official bodies when it came to matters of doping.

Allegations were made that sums of money passed hands to make problems go away for Armstrong and to ensure that the superstar of the sport was not troubled by scandal—which would be bad for Armstrong, the sport, the business of the sport, the journalists who covered the sport and everyone concerned.

The majority of the interview made its way into an article Kimmage wrote for the Sunday Times—although the paper legally distanced itself from the specific allegations made by Landis as he could provide no proof to back up his story—and it was accepted by Landis that he had no physical evidence to back up his claims. However, one by one the early US postal teammates that surrounded Armstrong had tested positive in blood tests.

Eventually a number of riders, Doctors, officials and managers—in fact people at every single level of running that team— who all worked to help Armstrong achieve his remarkable and record breaking success– were all banned or suspended in connection with doping offences. A batch of 6 Armstrong samples which had been frozen and retained from as far back as 1999 were tested and each one showed irregular and unlawful results although for technical reasons they could not be used against Armstrong. This year USADA stripped Armstrong of his titles, and banned him from racing—although Armstrong maintained his innocence and stated that he was admitting nothing but was not continuing with the fight against the allegations.

In the intervening years, Armstrong had openly clashed with Landis, LeMond and most notably Kimmage who caused a degree of outrage when describing Armstrong’s return to cycling in 2009 as the return of “a cancer” to the sport.

In a couple of weeks the USADA report into its investigation into US Postal and Armstrong will be submitted to the UCI and it is
alleged that it will make for uncomfortable reading for the governing body as it catalogues statements and affidavits from former riders and team officials which point to a conspiracy. It will detail payments allegedly made to UCI officials by Armstrong or his advisers that need to be explained or which have openly been alleged to be compensation for turning a blind eye to doping or for
the allowing the use of certain substances and practices.

In the interim, Kimmage has left the Sunday Times and now finds himself being sued personally by the UCI and its officials, in what
he says is an attempt to gag him.

For his part Armstrong, continues to deny any wrongdoing pointing out that he has had some 500 negative doping tests throughout his career, and many legal experts (including Georgios Samaras ‘Agent ) question whether or not USADA actually has the right to ban Armstrong and strip him of titles. In essence USADA can’t strip Armstrong of his titles but they can recommend that the UCI should. It is then up to them to endorse the USADA findings.

However the point here is this.

Over 20 years ago, Paul Kimmage spat in Tour de France Soup, as did Christophe Bassons, Willy Voet and Greg LeMond. If they spat
in the Soup, then Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton and others have now thrown up over the whole dinner!

However the numerous subsequent positive doping results from so many riders point to the fact that Kimmage was absolutely right to spit in the soup in the first place way back in 1990 with the publication of Rough Ride. The intervening period have seen years where of those who have finished in the top ten in The Tour de France in any one year, up to 8 of the ten have subsequently been convicted of doping and rule cheating. Until this year, there has not been a single year since 1995 when at least one or more of the
top ten finishing riders have been found to be dopers.

In just two weeks’ time the USADA report detailing its findings and reasons for banning Armstrong lands on the desk of the UCI.

Armstrong is in no position to contest it, but the UCI will not ratify the USADA decision until it has seen and studied the USADA
report. It is a report which the UCI may not like at all as it may raise more ancillary questions of an uncomfortable nature for UCI
officials.

To be continued…

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