SINGAPORE (AFP) – The US anti-doping chief Wednesday dismissed accusations of a “witch hunt” against Lance Armstrong and said he was delighted with reforms aimed at cleaning up cycling.
Travis Tygart, chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), hit back at comments from former International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid.
“It is easy for Pat McQuaid or others to say soundbites like he said,” Tygart told reporters at the sidelines of an anti-doping intelligence seminar in Singapore.
But “the evidence is telling. There have been roughly 26 athletes, coaches, team doctors who have been held accountable. Several of them have gotten lifetime bans as well,” Tygart said.
Irishman McQuaid, UCI’s president from 2006 to 2013, said in a British radio interview last month that he had a “certain sympathy” with the seven-time Tour de France winner.
“He was very much made a scapegoat, there was a witch-hunt after Armstrong,” McQuaid told BBC Radio 5 Live, in comments which aired on January 27.
“USADA wanted a big name,” McQuaid said, adding that the Colorado-based agency was not “really interested in the smaller riders and also they made deals with the smaller riders in order to get the information they needed on the big guys”.
Armstrong, 43, was stripped of his Tour titles and given a life ban from cycling by USADA in 2012 for using a cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs, having denied for years he was a cheat.
The cancer-survivor eventually made a public confession in a TV interview with US chat show host Oprah Winfrey in 2013. But last month, he also told the BBC he would cheat again if faced with the same circumstances.
Tygart questioned why Armstrong and McQuaid chose not to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the main international sport appeal court, when the lifetime ban was imposed in 2012.
“Lance certainly had every opportunity to challenge that sanction,” Tygart said.
“And certainly Pat McQuaid could have appealed our decision to impose the lifetime ban. If he in any way felt that was unfair or was singling out Lance Armstrong, he certainly as the president of UCI had the appeal rights to go to CAS.”
Tygart said he was “thrilled” with reforms within the UCI, international cycling’s governing body, after the scandal lifted the lid on widespread cheating in the sport.
Current UCI president Brian Cookson won an ugly leadership contest against McQuaid in September 2013, vowing to correct past wrongs.
“We had recent meetings with them… and we were thrilled and walked out of there understanding the governance changes, the rule changes that they have implemented,” he said.
“And I think they appreciate that they had a bad culture where athletes had no choice other than the use of drugs if they wanted to compete and win.”
While the changes “doesn’t mean athletes aren’t going to cheat”, it ensures the sport’s leadership “continues to do the best that it can to ensure a clean and healthy culture for individual athletes,” Tygart said.