Denies any wrongdoing … former UCI president Hein Verbruggen chatting with Lance Armstrong in 2002. Photo: AFP
The push for an amnesty for confessed drug users and anyone involved in doping who assists investigators is gaining momentum, with the world body of cycling back-pedalling on the issue in a bid to help the independent commission into its handling of the Lance Armstrong affair.
The International Cycling Union's (UCI) change of policy follows the World Anti-Doping Agency and the US Anti-Doping Agency both saying on Tuesday they would not assist the independent commission because the UCI would not support an amnesty.
On Wednesday, that same panel set up by the UCI voiced its opposition against the much-maligned world body's stance on an amnesty. The panel of retired British judge Philip Otton, Paralympic great Tanni-Grey Thompson and Australian lawyer Malcolm Holmes said: ''The commission is of the view that such a process would be in the interests not only of the inquiry, but also of professional cycling as a whole.''
Until its change of policy, the UCI risked being isolated on the amnesty issue. The concept is being increasingly seen by other stakeholders in cycling as essential to get to the bottom of the doping problem.
Without an amnesty, the chances of investigators gaining information from those caught for - or involved in - doping would be minimal.
As Nicki Vance, who is conducting an independent review of the anti-doping policies and procedures of the Australian Orica-GreenEDGE team, told Fairfax Media on Wednesday: ''It would have been crazy to run around talking to people if the moment that they say something they get sacked.''
The UCI saved some face by saying it would approve an amnesty for the commission - so long as the process was in line with the WADA code. But the heat is still on the world body - especially its Irish president Pat McQuaid and his Dutch predecessor, current honorary UCI president, Hein Verbruggen - who have been accused of complicity in the Armstrong affair. Both deny any wrongdoing.
There is speculation whether the UCI - if not McQuaid and Verbruggen - will be named by Armstrong, who has been banned for life by USADA and stripped of all results since August 1998, in his interview with Oprah Winfrey to be aired on the Discovery Channel at 1pm on Friday.
Whether the UCI supports an amnesty will not alter what Armstrong said in the interview, part two of which will be aired on Saturday.
The interview, in which Armstrong is understood to have confessed to doping, was recorded on Monday in a hotel in the American's home town of Austin, Texas, before the UCI's U-turn on an amnesty.
However the UCI or its bosses come out of it, the greater problem of doping still needs to be addressed. And how the UCI embraces that challenge and the amnesty issue will be crucial to helping the sport move forward. The UCI said on Wednesday it will inform the independent commission of its new position when it meets next week.
The UCI said that, at the meeting, it would be: ''Informing the commission … that it is willing to provide the necessary assurances [of an amnesty] to those coming forward with evidence relevant to the independent commission's terms of reference, provided WADA confirms that such assurances would be consistent with the letter and spirit of the WADA code or, if not, makes the necessary changes to the code.''
The UCI has also told the world agency it will participate in a truth and reconciliation process that will cover all endurance sports, not just cycling.
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