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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Special Cycling News for July 1, 2004

Australia's track cycling scandal

The high cost of controversy

Australia's leading cyclists snubbed, lose sponsors

By Gerard Knapp

The fallout continues from Mark French's testimony
Photo: © Mark Gunter
Click for larger image

Snubbed by the Prime Minister and dumped by sponsors - this is the reality for Australia's top cyclists as they await a report from the latest inquiry into the 'French affair'.

Although the report by a retired Supreme Court Justice, Robert Anderson, QC, is due to be delivered today or possibly tomorrow, the effects are being felt across all aspects of cycling in Australia, with one rider not connected to the affair losing a potential sponsorship deal.

Mr Anderson has been investigating allegations made by the suspended 19 year-old track sprinter Mark French, that another five cyclists used his room at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) track cycling facility in Adelaide for injecting a range of unknown substances.

Although the report has yet to released - and an earlier inquiry found that no other cyclist had a case to answer - potential sponsors and the organizers of the Prime Minister's Olympic Dinner have reacted to the negative publicity by distancing themselves from the sport and riders named by French, given during in-camera testimony to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in early June.

The PM's Olympic Dinner is due to be held this Saturday at Vodafone Arena in Melbourne, the location of the 2004 Track Cycling world Championships. It was planned that track cycling would be the chosen demonstration sport, with senior riders to compete for a AUS$10,000 prize in a special keirin series.

One of the riders invited to race was Shane Kelly, one of the country's greatest track cyclists. However, organizers have dropped the seniors' race and instead, will feature a group of junior riders who've been selected to represent Australia at the upcoming Junior Track Cycling World Championships, to be held next month in Los Angeles.

A report in the Herald Sun newspaper quoted Geoff Henke, a member of the Olympic dinner organizing committee and former vice-president of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), as saying, "Because of the cloud hanging over cycling, we decided it was inappropriate to have Shane (Kelly) ride. We wanted to avoid any potential embarrassment for the Prime Minister."

However, a source close to the dinner told Cyclingnews the pressure to dump Kelly came from the Prime Minister's Department, which is gearing up for a Federal election within the next few months. Apparently, his minders did not want any chance of negative publicity to come from his attendance at the AUS$2000-a-head fund-raising dinner.

Initially, there was pressure to move from Vodafone and dump track cycling altogether as the demonstration sport, but sponsors reacted negatively and a compromise was reached whereby a group of juniors will ride around the boards as guests dine in the infield.

Cyclingnews understands that organizers were unwilling to wait for the report from Mr Anderson before dumping Kelly and other senior riders.

For its part, both Cycling Australia and the Australian Sports Commission were not commenting on the snub to Kelly. It would appear that both are relieved that track cycling was still the demonstration sport, such is the damage that has been done to the sport.

A snub from the PM is further bad news for Kelly, who late last week was dropped by electronics giant NEC from a potential sponsorship deal worth $300,000. According to one report, the company ended negotiations due to the negative publicity the French affair had generated.

A company spokesman told the Herald Sun newspaper, "NEC is about community values and we would not want to compromise our position if there is any suggestion of drugs being involved in cycling."

Bradley McGee, one of the most forthright riders to speak out against doping
Photo: © Sirotti
Click for larger image

Even Australian cyclists with no involvement in the French affair are being affected by the negative publicity. Kerry Ruffels, manager of leading Australian cyclist Bradley McGee, told Cyclingnews one prospective sponsor had pulled out of a three-year deal worth AUS$180,000. "He told me, 'it's just not the right environment to proceed' with the proposed sponsorship," Ruffels said.

McGee has been in excellent form this year, with a eighth place overall in the Giro d'Italia and he is considered one of the favourites to win the opening prologue of the Tour de France, the world's biggest bike race that starts this Saturday.

The Sydney rider, the leader of his trade team in Europe, has been one of the most outspoken riders in the professional peloton against doping in cycling.

At the same time, his manager said the rider has decided to leave the Australian Olympic Committee's drug education program to launch his own anti-doping campaign, to be called "Living It Real".

Earlier this year, McGee used the term "Living It Real" to conclude a stern rejection of the mass media's assumption that all cyclists were implicated in, or supported, doping practices.

Ruffels said "already the sport has suffered at the hands of people who want to make all cyclists guilty". He said the French case was the first time doping in sport had been raised in the Australian Parliament. "Where did this come from?" Ruffels said it was unprecedented for unproven allegations of doping, given during in-camera testimony, to be raised in Federal Parliament.

Meanwhile, Mark French, the rider at the centre of the storm, was intercepted yesterday trying to smuggle a crew from the investigative TV program 60 Minutes into the AIS facility in Del Monte, Adelaide.

It was at the AIS that French alleges he and five other athletes used his room for the injections of a variety of substances.

The report by Mr Anderson will apparently use further DNA testing of the injecting paraphernalia found in French's room at the AIS to determine if any riders could be implicated in doping offences. The retired judge has been flying up, down and across the country in an effort to interview all parties connected with the investigation, taking saliva samples from the named riders. However, it's understood that the evidence found in French's room may not be of a standard necessary for conclusive proof.

Earlier, Graham Fredericks, the CEO of Cycling Australia, said, "the advice we received from the relevant police authority at the time was that nothing would be able to be gleaned that could be used in any legal sense."

Mr Anderson's report is expected later today, or tomorrow, the same day that CA is expected to announce its team for the Athens Olympics.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)