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The UCIís Hein Verbruggen on the World Anti-Doping Code
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 2/18/2003
The UCIís Hein Verbruggen on the World Anti-Doping Code

Origins of the Anti-Doping Code: A very short history

Doping Ė the use of performance enhancing substances by professional athletes. It is a subject that has been discussed often in professional cycling, going back to the early days of the sport. The UCI (Union Cicliste International - the international cycling federation) has been the most aggressive international sports federation in the fight against doping, testing its professional cyclists, and others, in and out of competition for many years, funding research and developing its own tests.

The UCI began testing its professional athletes at the World Championships in the mid-1960ís, as did FIFA, the international football (soccer) federation. Drug testing at the Olympics was introduced in the late 60ís.

The UCI was the first international federation to introduce an EPO (erythropoietin, a product that increases hemoglobin levels) detection method in April 2001, and in the next few months carried out 560 blood tests (176 at the Classics, 36 at the Tour de Romandie and 348 at the Giro) with six positive test results. In recent years the UCI has overseen approximately 5500 tests of professional cyclists annually.

But, back in 1998 at the Tour de France, what is now called "The Festina Affair" changed, maybe forever, the image of pro cycling.

For those who might not be aware, just before the 1998 Tour de France began, the Festina teamís director and doctor came under investigation for systematic doping within the team. This was after large quantities of performance-enhancing substances were discovered during a French border check of an official Tour de France team car driven by a Festina team staff member.

That yearís Tour was a maelstrom. Festina staff were arrested. Other teamsí riders and staff were detained by police. Hotels and team vehicles were searched. Some riders very publicly and acrimoniously accused others of doping. Others protested the local investigatory procedures, which they considered harassment - a stage was delayed by riders in protest, there was a "go-slow" protest in another, with riders removing their bib numbers and linking arms coming across the finish. Race officials cancelled one stage and invalidated the results of another.

The entire Festina team was ejected from the race, the Festina team manager himself stating that administration of performance-enhancing substances was carried out in the team: "The object was to optimize performances under strict medical control, in order to avoid cyclists personally and uncontrollably supplying themselves under conditions that could be bad for their health."

Six teams eventually withdrew from the Tour in protest of the conditions - on and on it went.


The judicial trials resulting from the Festina Affair of course continued into the next year and beyond. That next spring, even the French cycling federation president and vice president, and the Tour de France director, were detained by the police and charged, only to have charges dropped by mid-year. In fact, it was not until the spring of 2002 that an appeals court finally absolved the UCI of all charges alleging tolerance of doping, viewed as complicity in the Festina Affair. The repercussions of these events, in many, many respects, have never abated.

But something else happened as result of this scandal. In February 1999 a world anti-doping conference was held in Lausanne, Switzerland, by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). That in turn led to the establishment in November 1999 of an organization known as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which formulated in June 2002 an international anti-doping code for professional athletes. Which brings us to today.

The WADA Code

The WADA, instituted to promote fair play and a drug-free international sports environment, is charged by the IOC with being fully functional as an anti-doping agency by the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. The WADA anti-doping code is in its third working version, and the final version of the code will be released on the WADA website on 20 February 2003.

The code delineates the standards for testing, the sanctions and proceedings in the case of a positive doping control, as well as the requirements of member organizations. The most recent draft, as well as all previous drafts, can be found on the WADA website here (NB: Version 3 is 51 pages in length).

The first week of March the WADA will hold its World Conference on Doping in Sport in Copenhagen, Denmark, to allow all member organizations to consider and adopt the WADA Code. Government representatives will also be present; governments have the responsibility of implementing the code in their countries through appropriate legislation and policy.

The UCI and the Code

In the process of formulating its final anti-doping code, the WADA solicited comments from its member organizations and stakeholders (national and international sports federations, national anti-doping agencies, national Olympic committees and governments). Many international sports federations have weighed in, including the fencing, air sports, hockey, motorcycling, aquatics, skiing, rowing and archery federations, to name a few. But none have contributed to the code as the UCI has.

The UCI submitted a nearly 80 page annotated document to WADA, proposing code language and including 30 pages of practical and philosophic comments. Among these UCI comments are a few very significant disagreements with the wording and/or spirit of the Anti-Doping Code, specifically on ensuring that the code is evenly enforced across all sporting disciplines, redundancy of testing (harmonization), and the sanctions for athletes who test positive in a doping test (called a "control"). The Daily Peloton contacted UCI President Mr. Hein Verbruggen for his comments on these and other points.

Mr. Verbruggen: "The UCI, personally, through our legal department, has, very actively, contributed to this WADA code. I myself was a member of the WADA Council and the WADA Executive Board until the 31st of December. And the fact that I stopped doing that has to do just with too much work, and has nothing, but nothing, to do with the fact that I would not continue to support WADA.

"On the contrary, you know we as a sport have already been confronted for many, many years with the doping problem, and I think that we are the leading federation in the fight against doping; I think that is also recognized by neutral observers within WADA. As a matter of fact, they are even hiring people from us now, to move to WADA, and I think that has something to do with the fact that they know how knowledgeable, perhaps unfortunately, we are in this respect.

"I have always understood, as an international federation, that no international federation is able, not even the IOC, to solve the doping problem, or at least to find adequate solutions to minimize the doping problem, as long as you donít have an active cooperation with government.

"That is, international federations can control, they can sanction, but everything that is in the environment, like suppliers, and trafficking and so on, has to be tackled by government. And also the part of the sport that is not under our jurisdiction, for instance, health centers, body building clubs, and so on, well, that has to be done by government. In addition to that, you need governments, for instance, for restrictions imposed on the pharmaceutical industry, or if you consider that marking of certain pharmaceutical products would be a good solution, then you need governments to put that into law.

"So Iíve always been extremely in favor of the code, and I think the 1998 Festina scandal Ė if it was a big huge blow for cycling Ė at the same time something good came out of that, and that was the anti-doping conference in 1999, as well as the foundation of WADA. So there should be no question about the code Ė I fully support it because the advantages of the code outweigh what I consider to be a couple of disadvantages."

"We know what it means to controlÖ"

"There are two points of disagreement as far as we are concerned, and I think it has to do with our experience. We know what it means to control. There are a lot of people who donít know that, even national anti-doping agencies; a lot of federations have very limited experience in the practice of control. In my opinion, the complications you will encounter in controlling are far bigger than most people would expect.

"Every positive case is contested; it meets objections from the guy or girl who is positive. That means that your procedures have to be absolutely beyond any doubt, they have to be very strict, they have be done by experienced people. The smallest mistake will be used as a possibility to object.

"This code is written by mainly by USADA people [the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency], by Mr. Richard Young, and this code is made extremely detailed, extremely detailed Ė it is done as you do it in America. In America, if you arrest somebody, for instance, you have to say, ĎThese are your rights, youíre entitled to have your lawyer, this is the Constitution.í" [Mr. Young is a member of the WADA Anti-Doping Code Project Team]

"We donít have that in Europe, but now, that has been written in the code, all these very, very strict rules, and it means in fact that if a guy is controlled, and the controller has forgotten to give his name or to show his identification, it is already a reason to escape. And there are dozens of those kinds of things if you look at the detail; itís very, very detailed.

"So, the point is, there are two major problems that I see. The first one is harmonization - we wanted harmonization, and that means that if you look at the situation now in sports, the cyclists can only be controlled by the international federations and the national federations and we can delegate that to national Olympic committees in certain cases. That is very clear. All cyclists in the world are controlled with the same rules, but under the code, the out-of-competition testing can be done by four different entities with their own procedures.

"I am afraid we will not obtain the harmonization we were targeting for. Initially the code proposed eight different agencies that could do out of competition testing. And we brought it back, we insisted on that, we brought it back to four, but now, if an American athlete is next year in Athens, and itís one week before the Games, so itís an out of competition control, on one day he can be controlled by four different bodies. And they insisted on this Ė because, you have to understand that it was written by USADA, and USADA, now they see the possibility to go and control all over the world, and itís the same for other national anti-doping agencies Ė but they donít see the complications.

"And they have brought in WADA now as a clearinghouse Ė they say to avoid double controlling and triple controlling Ė which we in cycling have had regularly over the last years. For instance, the Tour de France starts in France and thereís UCI controls, the French government controls. We come into Belgium. The Belgian government controls, the Flemish and the Walloon, the WADA will control, and so that is what we wanted to avoid. That was one of the objections of the code.

"What you see practiced now is that they have institutionalized that, they have legalized that. So itís going to be difficult. Using the example of the American athlete in Athens, he can be controlled by his international federation, he can be controlled by WADA, he can be controlled probably by the IOC [International Olympic Committee] on that occasion, he can be controlled by his national anti-doping agency from America and the national anti-doping agency from Greece. You can go look at the code on the internet and you can see that."

The Ramifications of WADA Sanctions on Cyclists

In spite of persuasive arguments by the UCI, the final version of the WADA code will specify that the sanction for an athlete for a first positive doping offense is two years suspension. The sanction for a second offense is a lifetime ban.

Mr. Verbruggen: "Now, my second objection has always been the sanctions. I am not against sanctions. Iím surely not. But these sanctions are unfair for our athletes. It is because they made a mistake, but the WADA have put in two years minimum [as a sanction]. And the two years minimum Ė Iím not against a minimum, but if you take a minimum sanction of two years, that sanction, for certain sports, means not only a minimum, itís immediately a maximum because the athlete canít make it back to the sport.

"The rehabilitation idea is in all laws, all over the world. You make a mistake, a serious mistake Ė a doping offense is serious Ė but there is always something in there that a person has the right to repair his mistakes. Itís the same if youíre a thief; they donít give you a life sentence for that. You can make it back to society and improve yourself. The rehabilitation idea is very, very important. And therefore, in most laws, for most offenses, you have in the law a minimum and a maximum. And the judge will decide what is reasonable.

"Let me give you an example: if we say speeding is sanctioned with taking your driving license Ė and the law says, minimum one month, maximum a year Ė I give this as an example only. Well, this one month has a much greater consequence for a taxi driver than the one year for a billionaire who can take a chaffeur. So it is not the sanction, it is the consequences of the sanction that are important.

"And in the case of the minimum of two years, the UCI has been opposed because 80% of the cyclists, or more, will not make it back Ė they are out for life. We take away their job for life. And therefore Iím against the two years minimum.

"And at the same time, if there is a shooter, a shooter doesnít lose a job because itís not a professional sport. He can continue to practice. If heís been found positive, heís out for two years, he can continue to practice Ė he might even be a police agent who practices shooting anyhow Ė and after two years he can take up his sport again and become a world champion again. He hasnít lost any income. And he can continue because he has a sports career of thirty years, perhaps. Whereas a cyclist, he has a sports career of ten years. If you give him two years, if ever he can make it back, and thatís questionable, itís 20% of his sporting career."

Daily Peloton: Exactly, and we can see that, regardless of the facts in Pantaniís case, there is a great question as to whether he will be able to regain his form.

Mr. Verbruggen: "Yes. Pantani is a clear example Ė he has been very affected, he is depressed, and he has never made it back. And he has never been found positive, in addition to that."

Harmonization: "A very weak argumentÖ"

The WADA website states: "During its first years of existence WADA has reached agreements with 34 International Sports Federations governing Olympic summer and winter sports to conduct unannounced, out-of-competition tests. The Agency strives to develop a harmonized universal anti-doping code by the Olympic Games of 2004 in Athens. Sports outside the scope of the Olympic Movement are still a problem, however. Professional sports, notably major leagues in the United States, operate under their own anti-doping rules, which are often not as strict as those upheld by WADA."

Last week the internet news site The Australian published parts of a letter from Mr. Verbruggen to Mr. Richard Pound, Chairman of the WADA Executive Committee. The article is here. The Daily Peloton also asked Mr. Verbruggen about this letter.

Mr. Verbruggen: "My letter to Pound of two weeks ago was because that with the very weak argument that American professional leagues are not under the jurisdiction of an international federation, they do not control these players and they do not sanction them. Yes, they get two years, but the two years in practice means for them only the competitions or games that are under the jurisdiction of international federations, and they only do that once every four years Ė the Olympic games!

"So I say, hey, wait a moment Ė here we go, to Athens. In Athens we have two athletes that test positive, an American professional cyclist, and an American professional basketball player. The American cyclist is two years out of his job - in the same games Ė he is positive, two years out of his job. And the American basketball player just goes home and continues to play.

"And the argument is, ĎWell, we donít have any jurisdiction over him.í Then donít have him compete in the Olympic games! And secondly, I think the argument that we donít have any jurisdiction over them is ridiculous because the American government is in WADA, and the American government has always given hell Ė look at Mr. Barry McCaffrey [Director of the US Office of National Drug Control under the Clinton Administration.] Ė to the IOC and to the federation that we should put our house in order. Well, let the American government go after those athletes. If they are not in the international basketball federation, then the government can put them under their jurisdiction. The government can control them, the government can sanction them Ė thereís absolutely no problem.

"And then they should they should have the two years too, huh? This is an incredibly weak attitude and that was the point Ė Iíve only seen The Australian, but it was correct the way I was quoted there. I think The Australian must have gotten the letter, because I sent a number of copies to a number of people. He [the reporter] quoted the letter properly.

"I havenít received any answer from WADA. But Iím very curious, because Mr. Richard Young, who wrote the code Ė as a matter of fact I discussed it with him Ė this was no surprise [to him]. I discussed it with him. I said, ĎRichard, are you really, really proposing that kind of discrimination between an American cyclist and an American basketball player?í And he looked at me and he said, ĎAh well, yeah, thatís the consequences.í And I said, ĎThen youíre going to have a letter from me,í and he said, ĎI can understand.í This is what has happened."

Daily Peloton: The WADA website states that the final version of the code wonít be released until the 20th of February. However, on February 5th Mr. Pound stated that there wonít be any further material changes to the code from the most recent working draft. So, the code stands now. And thatís unfortunate, because that means the UCIís recommendations, which are quite extensive, basically are not going to amount to anything.

Mr. Verbruggen: "Well, we have been able to change some things but they want to push through the two years. What Iím very, very curious about now is what they are going to do with the professional athletes, because this is of course pretty hypocritical, whatís happening. And that is why I brought this point now. And Iím happy that in fact itís been picked up by the press. Itís amazing that WADA dares to do this. Itís absolutely amazing. But on the other hand, there will be government representatives at Copenhagen that will address this point."

Daily Peloton: Thereís also a timetable in terms of the WADA code because it needs to be implemented by 2004 for the Athens Games.

Mr. Verbruggen: "The Olympic movement and the president of the IOC have been pretty strong about this, that it should be implemented by governments at the same time as by the Olympic movement. And I think that is a very reasonable point. It doesnít make any sense to do it differently, in my opinion."

Daily Peloton: But is this timetable realistic?

Mr. Verbruggen: "I hope it is, because even if thereís a couple of points that bring us problems in the future, I think the code is something that is precious, it is valid, of high value for the world of sports."

Problem, What Problem?

Perhaps as a result of the Festina affair, the perception that pro cycling is "doping-ridden" is routinely carried through the national and international sports press. However, even with approximately 2000 UCI-registered elite male cyclists, 5500 tests per year by the UCI with less than two dozen positives per year (and this is not counting WADA, national anti-doping and other agency testing) belies this idea. It is much more likely that precisely because professional cyclists are tested so often, the sport has a "reputation." Mr. Verbruggen comments:

Mr. Verbruggen: "I am particularly interested in the code, because then also WADA will see what other sports do in these terms. Until now, it often is the case that when I talk with colleagues from other federations, I have had comments like, ĎJesus, Hein, you have serious problems with this doping,í and I would say to them, ĎWhat about you?í

"And they would say, ĎWell, fortunately we donít have the problem.í And then I would say, ĎDo you control?í And they would say, ĎWe donít control because we donít have the problem.í

"And that is something that WADA will start doing. They will see. Youíve seen that over the years. Other federations, theyíve never done any blood controls. They have never done any EPO controls Ė we have done EPO controls for three years now. We have validated a process ourselves. We do these controls. Now, the International Athletic Federation, Iím not supposed to say this, but they started to do EPO controlling just five months ago and they had immediately two world champions. With EPO."

Daily Peloton: Itís ironic that cycling is tested so thoroughly and cyclists are tested so often, and I was going to make the point that if you test, youíll get positives, if you donít test youíll never get positives.

Mr. Verbruggen: "Of course. If cycling has a doping problem, it also has an anti-doping policy. And this was set already, six, seven, eight years ago. And the thing is, if you test, you find. If you donít test, you donít find. And this is not something Iím just saying Ė many people have said, ĎAt least they test in cycling,í and also the riders want to test, you know; so this is positive.

"But you have seen comments from the Williams sisters recently; they say, ĎHey, wait a moment, doping control,í and so on, and you have seen recently that the United States Athletic Federation didnít reveal the names of people who were positive before SydneyÖ"

So it will indeed be interesting to see what throes other sports disciplines undergo in the next eighteen months as the WADA code is fully implemented in preparation for the Athens Games.

In spirit, while no one can dispute the value of a code that promotes fairness in sport by strenuously enforcing the ethics of professional athletes (the WADA code, as do many professional cycling teams, lays enormous responsibility at the feet of athletes to be responsible for the products they use), the points Mr. Verbruggen discusses are a potential sword of Damocles for professional cyclists.

However, the UCI made its first appeal to governments to face the challenge of doping in sport, not in the 90ís, not in the 80ís, but in 1967 in the Le Monde Cicliste cycling journal. And they have not stopped since. So regardless of your own opinion about doping in this sport, it is clear that pro cycling will continue to be at the forefront of the fight.

A comprehensive history of the UCIís forty years of anti-doping activities can be found in Acrobat format here.

Thanks to Mr. Hein Verbruggen and the following sources: UCI, WADA, USADA,, Cycling4All, Le Tour, International Herald Tribune, BBC, The Australian, Sports Illustrated.

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