Friday 30 October 2009

How can Pat McQuaid stand over Zabels appointment?

I grew up in Glasnevin, a stones throw from the home of the McQuaid clan. I was in class in school with one of the family. I raced alongside a few of the others and knew pretty much all of them. So when Pat McQuaid was elected to the Presidency of cyclings world governing body, the UCI,  it was natural to have a moment of pride that one of our own could rise to such an exalted position. It was also natural to feel that, at last, one of the good guys was in a position to finally do something about the scourge of doping in our sport.

As recently as a month ago, after a turbulent first term, McQuaid appeared to reinforce what remains of those hopes in his speech accepting a second term. "There is no place for cheats in our sport", he announced to the UCI Congress, later adding "the most important thing is that they recognize the UCI is the government of the sport of cycling worldwide, and its authority as such is indisputable".

A month later the UCI, and therefore McQuaid himself, seem to have gone out of their way to to undermine those words. How? By the unbelievable appointment of Eric Zabel to the UCI Pro-Tour Council is how.

For those who don't know, Eric Zabel is a German ex-rider, renowned as the best sprinter of his day. He won six consecutive Tour De France green points jerseys, collecting 12 stages along the way, in the late nineties and early noughties. He also won four Milan-San Remos, three Paris-Tours and numerous other races in a long career.

However, his achievements have been overshadowed by is own admission, in 2007, that he used EPO in preparation for the 1996 Tour while riding for Team Telekom. He has been applauded in some circles for his "courageous" tearful admission, while still riding professionally. Since his retirement, far from skulking off in disgrace, Zabel has been lauded at the highest level. First in his capacity as coach and "inspiration" to current sprinting ace, Mark Cavendish, and now by this appointment, where he joins ex-riders Vittorio Adorni, Roger Legeay, Charlie Mottet, Stephen Roche, Dario Cioni and Cedric Vasseur, not all of whom are squeaky clean either. 

Now I'm not necessarily one to say all dopers should be shown the door in disgrace. Each case is different and it is possible to make amends for past indiscretions. However, I don't believe Zabel fits that bill.

Firstly, lets look at his confession. Far from being motivated by a desire to come clean and contribute to the future health of the sport, Zabels hand was forced by the imminent publication of a book by Telekom masseur Jef d'Hont, and by the confessions of several of his teammates, all lifting the lid on organised doping within the team. The lies had run out of time.

Second, it wasn't his only brush with doping. In 1994 Zabel tested positive for Clostebol metabolites. Of course he denied it, claiming it was in an ointment innocently used on him. He was let off with a small fine and UCI points deduction.

Thirdly, let's look at what Zabel has said and done to contribute to the fight against doping since his confession. As far as I can find, nothing! David Millar has had his critics since his return from his doping ban but at least he's made some effort to contribute to the good fight. Herr Zabel, it appears, prefers not to dwell on such nasty matters.

In a month when McQuaid came very close to having to present the rainbow jersey to one of the embarrassment (thats the collective noun!) of dopers currently riding in the peleton (Basso, Vino, Valverde come to mind) it beggars belief that the appointment of Zabel to any official post sends anything but the wrong message. I guess there is a place for the cheats in our sport after all. Can the UCIs authority remain "indisputable" if they keep up like this?

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