Truth and Reconciliation in … Sports?

Truth and reconciliation commissions are familiar institutions to many players in the international arena, including lawyers, policy makers, and academics. It seems, however, that these mechanisms of accountability, generally used to shed light on a country’s painful past and create an accurate and objective (at least in theory) historical record, are now being considered for non-traditional purposes, including secrecy in sports.

In a recent article on espn.com, one of Lance Armstrong’s former teammates mentioned having a TRC to clear the air regarding the doping scandal in international cycling. Jonathan Vaughters, in expressing his frustration with the slow leak of information about how many cyclists used prohibited substances to enhance their performance, said, “Let’s just move the sport forward, let’s get it out, let’s deal with it, let’s recognize it, let’s own it, let’s move on from it.”  This call for an investigation may be sports-related, but it could have come from any government official tasked with transitioning his country out of conflict.

The difference is, of course, that Vaughters is seeking the truth about how many cyclists have had an unfair advantage, whereas officials calling for a TRC in a post-conflict situation are usually seeking the truth about a prior regime’s massive human rights abuses (South Africa and Argentina, among other countries, come to mind). Does the suggestion of TRCs to address situations not involving large-scale atrocities dilute the importance they may have for the victims of widespread human rights abuses? If “let’s have a truth commission” becomes a common refrain any time the public has been duped, will TRC fatigue set in, precluding their creation and thereby preventing the truth from being discovered? Or might the idea of TRCs outside of the post-conflict context be a good thing, in the sense that it exposes people who might not have heard of them to their existence and utility?

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