Brian Cookson slams Olympic sports for being ‘in denial’ over doping problems

Olympic sports remain “in denial … [and] not doing anywhere near enough” about their doping problems while cycling, in contrast, had at least confronted its drug-infested past, declared the head of world cycling.

Brian Cookson, president of the Union Cycliste Internationale, told Fairfax Media at the Rio Olympics that it is a ticking time bomb he thinks will inevitably explode.

Cycling, Cookson said, has emerged from that ground-zero position and is well down the road to redemption and recovery which places it ahead of deluded sports resisting that difficult route.

“I’ve often said that, for me, there are two groups of sports: sports that have a doping problem and are doing something about it – and I believe we’re in amongst the leaders in those – and sports that have a doping problem and are in denial and are not doing anywhere near enough about it,” Cookson said.

“And I think sooner or later those sports that are in denial and haven’t done enough are going to have – and perhaps are already having – the sorts of problems that we had.”

Cookson said: “I’m not pointing the finger at any particular sport here, I’m just making the general point.”

Having asked Cookson to nominate sports he considered to be “in denial” about their doping “problems” and policing, he replied: “I think people can make up their own minds about that.”

“I don’t want to be complacent or to criticise other sports. I think what we have done was necessary for our sport,” Cookson said. “And I’m not at all complacent, but I think we’re in a good position as a sport. I think our credibility is much higher than it was a few years ago, but we need to keep working at that. As do all other sports.”

Three Russian cyclists were set to be barred from competition in Rio for failing to meet criteria set by the International Olympic Committee that wanted to remove entrants with past doping violations.

Ilnur Zakarin, a stage winner at this year’s Tour de France, was one of them. Olga Zabelinskaya was another. Ultimately their exclusion was overturned due to a Court of Arbitration for Sport finding. While Zakarin did not end up racing in the Rio road race, Zabelinskaya won the silver medal in the women’s road time trial. After winning the medal she defended herself, saying she had never doped despite the fact she accepted a contentious retrospective ban for testing positive to a banned substance.

Three additional Russian cyclists were referred to in the explosive World Anti-Doping Agency “McLaren report” that tipped the IAAF to ban the Russian track and field team from Rio.

Cookson suggested cycling should feel more confident about the integrity of Russian riders competing at these Olympics than other sports might about their Russian entrants because “large numbers of Russian athletes are already in our system, in the biological passport, in the registered testing pool – whether ours, or their own, or the UKAD [United Kingdom Anti-Doping] one – and so they’re tested multiple times outside of Russia”.

“Whether or not a laboratory in Russia is tampered with doesn’t really have that big an impact on our sport when cyclists are competing all over the world and being tested all over the world,” Cookson said.

“Especially not those that are in the biological passport. The independent processes we’ve put in place, I believe, wouldn’t allow me – even if I wanted to, which I don’t – to sweep anything under the carpet.”