Instigating change at the UCI
This post stems from a Tweet from @UCI_Overlord, writer/founder of Cyclismas.com. Well, this Tweet in fact. In it, he lists the email addresses of the UCI Management Committee (who are due to meet on Friday as you know) and urges the reader to call for the resignations of Pat and Hein, and outline the changes you would like to see.
While the plea will draw some response and some emails will be sent to these members (though how many Cuban or UAEan followers Mr Overlord has is up for speculation), it is hard to imagine that said emails are likely to instigate much change, or even change of thought in the recipients. Hey, I’d like to be proven wrong, and maybe I will, but my pessimistic side wins out here.
As the always excellent inrng points out, it seems depressingly hard for any fan to be able to change anything at the top at the UCI, particularly since a good number of the 40 delegates that vote on who becomes President come from cycling backwaters such as Angola, Ecuador, Jordan, Syria and Bangladesh.
A few hours ago, while I was reading about the final debate over in the USA, a thought came to me about how funny it would be to see two potential UCI Presidents having to go head to head in such a manner. This gave way to a more serious (probably naïve) thought that maybe the decision-making process in cycling could be run in such a way. Imagine if fans could pay to become members of the UCI – a small fee, maybe €20-50 or so, which could go straight to the anti-doping fund. Imagine if they could then vote on matters of importance every September, and that they could vote for the President every four years.
Such a system could be much more favourable to the one in place at the moment, no?
Anyway, as things stand that is not happening, and is never likely to – when has a sports federation ever been run like that? So as things stand, for fans, there is no way to influence decision-making at such a high-up level.
This brings me back to UCI_Overlord’s call to arms – email your local Committee member and see if you can inspire some revolutionary zeal in them. So, in the name of the cause and all that, I settled down to write my email to Mr Brian Cookson OBE, the 51-year old Head of British Cycling, a former landscape architect and bearer of three children.
Here it is for your viewing pleasure..
Dear Mr Cookson,
I have little faith that this email will be taken notice of, or even read, but I will feel better for having written it, for having attempted to be a part of a movement to make the situation in this sport better than it is.
Ahead of the UCI Management Committee Meeting this Friday, I have several issues that, as a fan, I would like to bring to your attention. I know that you are part of the aforementioned Committee and so would hope that you bear some of these things in mind in the lead-up to the meeting, and also during it. The comments below are related to UCI President Pat McQuaid, and his predecessor and current Honorary President of the UCI Hein Verbruggen – both of whom have, and are continuing to discredit the sport of cycling.
As one of our countrymen, longtime professional rider and British Cycling member David Millar said today (reiterating what he has said already this month) “I will be absolutely disgusted if he has a future (at the UCI).”1 Cycling superstar Tom Boonen has also made statements to this effect in recent days.2 With Mr Verbruggen having ‘overseen’ cycling during the time of rampant doping during the peloton, his continued friendship and defence of disgraced ex-cyclist Lance Armstrong should make his position, and any association with the federation that governs the sport and today’s young riders, untenable. It is ridiculous that someone like him can have any role or any say in the sport today, he should never, never, never be in the position he is in after having played a part in keeping cycling in the state is in.
The former President of WADA Richard Pound, has said in recent days that “it is not credible that they did not know this was going on”,3 referring to the particularly abysmal way testing was run during Mr Verbruggen’s presidency, during which time Mr McQuaid served as President of the UCI Road Commission. I am sure you do not need to be reminded of the importance of Mr Pound and the weight his words carry. Add that statement to the numerous allegations of UCI complicity from people who have nothing to gain by making such allegations, and the level of trust one feels for the people running the sport is not very high. In fact, with the revelations that have come with USADA’s report and the long overdue erasion of Lance Armstrong from the record books, I would say that the general level of confidence in the leaders of cycling is at a low. I have seen riders express their lack of confidence in Mr McQuaid and Mr Verbruggen, with one openly calling for Mr McQuaid to resign. It probably doesn’t need to be said that a large amount of fans also feel this way.
As for Mr McQuaid, how can somebody who allows, even encourages, donations from the riders he is employed to govern be fit to lead this sport? Surely you agree that such a blatant (and given today’s statements, public) conflict of interest at the highest level of governance is not the way things should be run. The donations from Lance Armstrong happened while he was in charge of road cycling at the UCI, so he does not escape responsibility despite his best efforts yesterday afternoon. In addition to the fact that donations from riders are extremely unethical, how can donations from riders who we now know had suspicious blood values at the time be condoned?
With every scandal, we hear the same soundbites from Mr McQuaid - “the culture of doping is changing”, “cycling has come a long way” and some spiel about looking to the future. We have heard these numerous times during his Presidency and will no doubt hear the same recycled statements when future cases such as those currently ongoing in Padova and Mantova draw to an end. I am sure that, looking further into the future than even the Italian legal system can take us, there will be more scandals, more rehashing of the same message from McQuaid if he is still around.
The startling lack of new ideas to battle doping that have come from the UCI has also been a major worry. I have seen news of a possible doping amnesty being mooted in the past weeks, something which was shot down by the UCI in late September. I say, why try running when you can’t yet walk? Who would think that the UCI would consider listening to riders coming forward to talk about doping when they have repeatedly ignored riders who have done the same after being caught doping?
Jörg Jaksche has said that the UCI pushed for a longer ban after he gave them details of his doping. Jesus Manzano was also dismissed in a similar way. Mr McQuaid today labelled Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis “scumbags” and said that “all they have done is damage the sport.”4 Yet without their testimony, without their willingness to be castigated, even hated by some, they have told the truth and aided the slow process that has seen the downfall of the largest doping programme and the biggest cheat in cycling history, probably in the history of sport. And yet to Pat McQuaid, they are “scumbags”.
We have recently seen a large and well-loved sponsor pull out of the sport citing their lack of confidence in the leadership of the sport to be able to change things for the better, and that “Doping is supported even within the highest institutions of the cycling world.”5 Is this really what the sport wants? Do you want sponsors withdrawing because the people that lead this sport are unable to instigate change or at least convince sponsors that they are capable of doing so? Can you imagine what kind of blow to cycling in this country it would be if Sky were to do the same?
Mr McQuaid today said of this loss, “We lost a very important sponsor, Rabobank, last week. That’s true. But I am quite confident that sponsor will be replaced”6 When considering that, in the same press conference, Mr McQuaid also complained that his federation compares unfavourably financially to FIFA, to the extent where he is happy to accept donations from the sport’s participants, I would think that the loss of an important and long-running title sponsor would have been mentioned with a less throw-away attitude. The statement he made was remarkably cavalier for a man whose sport has increasingly relied on the backing of billionaires or political patronage in place of actual sponsors in recent years. This lack of sponsorship and frequency of desperate sponsor-searching has become the norm under Mr McQuaid’s reign, and is presumably not in line with the UCI’s vision of how the sport should be run.
I don’t doubt that cycling is cleaner now than it has been for years, but how can any fans be sure about this when the sport we love is led in this manner? Even if new anti-doping measures are brought in, how can any of us know for sure that the people in charge aren’t assisting riders in getting around them? The truth is, we can’t and nothing Pat McQuaid or Hein Verbruggen do or say can change that. Credit to them, it doesn’t look like they’re even trying.
With the election coming up next year, now is surely as good a time as any to talk to other delegates about where the UCI is heading under its current leadership, and whether another four years of this is good for the sport.
While I’m still on the subject of revolution/the Cyclismas guys, I should take a moment to note the French Revolution-inspired Twitter avatar changes of the past few days. Even Jonathan Vaughters, Slipstream Chairman Doug Ellis and Cervelo co-founder Gerard Vroomen have gotten in on the act!