Cycling's governing body agreed Friday to introduce a "truth and reconciliation" commission with the World Anti-Doping Agency, effectively undermining the independent panel investigating the Lance Armstrong scandal.
The UCI established an independent commission to investigate accusations that its leaders covered up suspicious doping tests given by Armstrong during his 1999-2005 run of Tour de France victories and improperly accepted donations from him totalling $125,000.
The panel had demanded earlier Friday that it must be allowed to implement a form of amnesty program that allowed riders and officials to come forward with information on doping without fear of retribution, citing a struggle to persuade witnesses to speak openly.
UCI President Pat McQuaid said the federation would work with WADA to develop the amnesty commission. The UCI said it would update the independent panel on the talks before a second public hearing next Thursday.
"The truth and reconciliation process is the best way that we can examine the culture of doping in cycling in the past, and can clear the air so that cycling can move forward," McQuaid said after the panel's initial hearing.
The independent panel also wants to broaden its investigation into Armstrong's role as the ringleader of an elaborate doping scheme on the U.S. Postal Service team, as exposed in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report last year. Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life, admitted to doping in an interview last week with Oprah Winfrey.
But the UCI rebuffed attempts by the panel to widen the inquiry on Friday, insisting it would be too costly to fund wide-scale investigations.
McQuaid also said that, since the independent commission was established, "several of our stakeholders have said they won't take part in it. Not just USADA and WADA but others, national federations."
"We feel that because a lot of the allegations which are in the USADA report are made by riders, that those riders, if they come forward to the truth and reconciliation commission, can make those allegations again and the UCI can respond to those allegations within that process," McQuaid said.
McQuaid first revealed he was considering such an amnesty program to The Associated Press in September, but said Friday the plans were only finalized in recent days.
McQuaid said he will hold talks with WADA President John Fahey this weekend about how the truth and reconciliation process world operate.
"WADA have indicated that they would share costs with the UCI," McQuaid said. "The WADA code is being reviewed and an amnesty is under discussion within that review. But we're just bringing that aspect forward."
McQuaid said that delaying the hearing was not designed to help its own re-election prospects in September, insisting: "I have nothing to worry about."
"There has been a culture of doping in cycling," he said. "But we hope through this truth and reconciliation commission which we are going to put in place, once it has done its work, we have drawn a line in the sand finally — and for the last time drawn a line in the sand — and our sport can move on and be the great sport around the world it should be."
Effectively, the UCI is asking the panel it established to suspend itself. It had been due to hold full hearings in April and report by June.
British judge Philip Otton, who heads the panel, accused the UCI of trying to use the delay in the truth and reconciliation process as "an excuse to kick the USADA allegations into the long grass."
"We're not trying to kill this inquiry. We set you up," UCI lawyer Ian Mill responded later in a heated exchange that led to him being told by Otton: "Please do not raise your voice."
"We are not the bad guys here," Mill said. "We have a finite amount of money available to us ... we are not like a football body."
But the three-person panel fears that the process is being intentionally stalled, complaining about a lack of full disclosure by the UCI.
"It just amazes me that we have had absolutely no documents whatsoever," former British Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson said to the UCI's lawyer. "When are we going to get the … files?"
But Mil said the "entire process has been derailed" because the panel is demanding a truth and reconciliation process of its own and a widening of its role into the wider doping scandal.
"An amnesty is one thing, getting to the bottom and determining how the USPS team operated without detection or sanction in a reasonable timescale ... causes us considerable anxiety," Mill said.
"That truth and reconciliation process is not capable of being done with the timetable and it may or may not be done under the auspices of this inquiry," Mill added. "We can do something which we understand you don't want to do .… a limited inquiry taking place in April."