Monday, September 27, 2021
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Joe Papp – “The Governing body must be beyond personal vendettas”

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joe papp
Joe Papp.

Amidst the welter of Tweets, outraged forum posts, recriminations and blame culture which have followed in the wake of ‘LanceGate’ we decided that it may be educational to speak to a man who’s ridden the whirlwind of a dope test positive, Joe Papp.

Joe is someone who has been subjected to trial by media and forum discussions, despite cooperating fully with the authorities after his positive result, and who still has to live with the pain of his actions, even though half a decade has passed since the fateful day of his last ever drugs test.

If you read our piece from the other day, then you’ll be aware of the doping element of Joe’s ‘back story’.

Here’s what he had to say to us on the day Nike, Anheuser-Busch and Trek finally gave up on Lance Armstrong and the Texan stepped down from his Chairman position at Livestrong.

Do you think perhaps that many cycling fans are becoming morbidly fixated about doping?

“I think it’s a small percentage of cycling fans who are fanatical hard-liners, fixated on doping to an almost obsessive degree.

“But doping has been presented as an inescapable part of the mechanics and the mythology of the sport – and it seems quite alluring in that respect for some people.

“I’m not convinced though that nobility is behind the interest in current doping stories…”

Do you see any ultimate good coming from the ‘LanceGate’ revelations?

“A catharsis, perhaps?

“There may be a psychological cleansing of some sort, maybe – or maybe not?

“I think that it’s naïve though, to suggest “LanceGate” alone will affect structural change in pro cycling.”

What’s your opinion on the UCI pursuing Kimmage, Landis and Hamilton?

“It seems hubristic.

“The UCI might be better off just making simple statements to the press and leaving it at that, rather than pursuing people through the courts – particularly Kimmage, which is looking a lot like an unpleasant vendetta.

“Organisations should be above that sort of behaviour. A kind of Olympian detachment is a far more intelligent and politic position.

“If any of the allegations about the UCI are later shown to be even partially true, the UCI as an organisation is completely without credibility.

“Worse, cycling will become without credibility as a sport.

“Sponsors will scatter; other sports will ramp up the degree to which they already use cycling as a lightning rod to distract people from their own troubles.

“And, at a completely ordinary level, tens of thousands of ordinary cycling fans and cyclists will have to put up with even more cruel comments about their choice of hobby. The association with corruption is enough to turn people away from cycling as an activity.

“This is what the UCI is playing with; I’m afraid this has ‘pride before a fall’ written all over it.”

joe papp
Joe seems to have called that correctly – just today Rabobank have announced it’s withdrawal from ProTour team sponsorship.

When Hamilton and Landis ‘fessed up,’ how do you think the UCi should have handled it?

“UCI should have behaved authoritatively and unimpeachably rather than allow their leadership to take things personally.

“The governing body must be beyond personal vendettas and arguments with individuals.

“The organization – and the sport – is now exposed to ridicule, and their credibility and integrity are damaged.

“I’m not sure why a rider would approach the UCI now to ‘come clean’ if there’s the possibility of being dragged into a personal conflict played out in public.”

Do you still advocate an ‘amnesty?’

“Yes, if it’s supported by WADA and accounted for by the [WADA] Code so that the process is harmonized and those who testify can do so under a fair regime.”

joe papp

Whatever happened to the UCI ‘preventative education’ which you were meant to be involved in?

“It was strange.

“I talked with Anne Gripper for almost year before agreeing to participate in the development of the UCI’s “True Champion or Cheat” education program, but then I never heard from her again!”

Do you think that team organised doping programmes still exist?

“I think systematic, team-wide doping with the complicity of management is history and has been impractical for some time.”

What about the ‘contaminated supplement’ argument; how do we end that one?

“Short of banning supplements, maintain the strict liability policy in the upcoming WADA Code revision.

“Fairly or not, the principle of strict liability has made ‘contaminated supplement’ defence impractical for athletes – but what should a guy like Tom Zirbel say when his supplement really is contaminated?”

Why do you think that Hincapie and the others who gave evidence aren’t subject to the same vitriol as Lance?

“Maybe they’ve been lower key and less combative and divisive in public over the years.

“But, in comparison with Lance, they also haven’t transcended a sport, evolved, evangelized, mythologized, and inspired millions.

“They’ve also enjoyed the luxury of controlling the context and format of the release of their own confessions and admissions of guilt.

“And they’ve successfully portrayed themselves initially as talented, eager, and dedicated – but naïve – bike-crazy kids who would eventually come to be victimized by the evil, corrupt, dream-shattering system of pro cycling that Lance Armstrong now stands in for – even though Lance Armstrong didn’t invent doping.”

joe papp
No-one knew better than George Hincapie what was going on, but there’s relatively little bitterness being directed towards him. Photo©NYTimes.

When Riis first ‘fessed up’ there was outcry in Denmark, but as the facts became clear that the first ‘clean’ guy in the Tour was probably in 29th place, that died away and folks came to believe that Riis ‘did what he had to do,’ – is there a possibility of that happening with Lance in the US?

“I suspect that many of Lance’s mainstream fans here already think like that.

“It will be different with the serious cycling fans, however. In their eyes, Lance has taken ‘their’ precious sport and its hallowed history and atmospheric mythology and treated it with contempt by using it entirely for his own selfish ends. He hasn’t been respectful enough or humble enough for them, never mind the alleged doping!

“The UCi should not forget that without fans, there is no sport. I think it’s vitally important to understand the role that fans play in this sport, in any sport. Pro sport exists for the fans – that’s it. It doesn’t exist for the participants or the administrators or the sponsors – even if these people started it. It exists for the people because without them there is no pro sport.

“Fans have a greater claim to ownership of any pro sport than any of the other people and organisations involved; yet they have the least say in how the sport conducts itself. That’s the problem; when people feel powerless, they become desperate!

“The fans have been kind to me and cruel to me, but I feel their pain and understand their desperate frustration and desire for relevance, and their wish to have input into the future of pro cycling!”

Do you think there may be a political aspect to LanceGate?

“Sure.

“Lance was an inviting target for anyone looking to make a name for them self, or raise their profile, or any organization wanting to bolster its image and justify its existence.”

joe papp
Joe’s quite sure that there’s been a political aspect to the Armstrong investigations.

Do you ever wish you’d kept schtum?

“No.

“Once they’d caught me, lying or refusing to cooperate would’ve only made things even worse.”

What would you do, right now, if you were the UCI?

“Accept that the cat is out of the bag and Cycling has to address its past fully to protect the UCI from allegations of corruption/influence peddling and from claims that undiscovered/unpunished dopers are in positions of authority and from suggestion that everyone is cheating – instead they should give riders confidence in their peers.

“And I’d retain a global risk management firm like Freeh Group International Solutions (An international consultancy firm with a strong ethical stance) to conduct a comprehensive internal review going back 15-20 years, and then implement their recommendations, even if it requires the replacement of top leadership.”

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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