POSTED: November 20th 2013

NEIL WILSON: IOC has a lesson to learn

The IOC did recall Lance Armstrong's bronze medal from the Sydney Games
The IOC did recall Lance Armstrong's bronze medal from the Sydney Games

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) To my eternal shame I once connected Mary Glen Haig, a Dame Commander of the British Empire, to Olympic corruption.

It happened on a day in 1999 that promoter Don King, a less fragrant individual, was fingered in a boxing scandal, and my newspaper headlined the two stories together “The King and Queen of Corruption”.

Dame Mary’s trivial misdemeanour exposed by a report by a former Australian attorney general was to have spent more days in a hotel at the expense of an organising committee than allowed by  IOC rules at a time when she was an member. 

There was a simple explanation and very soon, amidst the furore of the Salt Lake City scandal, she was exonerated. I was not. The charming Mary did not speak to me kindly for some years.

So lesson learned, I should be circumspect in commenting on the claim by Lance Armstrong that connected cycling’s former UCI president Hein Verbruggen with a doping cover-up that same year that Dame Mary was unfairly tarred.

Armstrong is hardly a credible witness. By his own admission on television and in recorded interviews since he came “clean” about his doping past, he told many untruths, not the least that he never doped. So his claim that Verbruggen asked him to cover up a doping positive for the sake of the sport has to be regarded with suspicion.

That was the instant knee-Jerk reaction of the IOC, of which Verbruggen is an honorary member. A day later its rush to his defence was a little under-mined when the Dutch former president admitted to speaking with Armstrong at the time.

So some room for questions to be asked before conclusions are drawn, as the present UCI leadership intends in an investigation into its own past. In any case, the IOC, like myself, should have learned its lesson by now about instant judgements.

Remember that this is the organisation that in the last 14 years has expelled eight of its own members for serious breaches of the rules and had another six resign when facing expulsion. Among those were a vice-president and its longest-serving member.

That is close to one in seven of its membership, which is a very high number for an organisation that trades on Olympian values. But as its last president Jacques Rogge once said in relation to an expulsion, no organisation is perfect.

He also said at the same time: “The IOC will always have zero tolerance for doping. We owe it to the athletes and we owe it to ourselves.”

If Armstrong is ultimately found to have told the truth for once, it will be beholden on the IOC to show cycling’s honorary member of its august body the proverbial door.

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Neil Wilson · IOC · Lance Armstrong · Hein Verbruggen

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