What you need to know about the UCI election (part two)

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It’s only a few weeks until the UCI presidential election in Tuscany and the story around the vote has been morphing and evolving almost every day in recent months.

We’ve put together a short series of articles to help you make sense of the election and in this second instalment we look at the two candidates, Pat McQuaid and Brian Cookson, and consider what each of them is promising and what sort of reputation they have.

In the first instalment in this series we spoke about how the UCI presidential elections are run and explained that, at this point, it seems unlikely Pat McQuaid will be eligible to stand for re-election. Just last night a coalition of five national federations urged the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to rule on whether McQuaid’s is eligible or not.

In this piece we’ve assumed that McQuaid will somehow find a way to be eligible for the vote and that it will be a contest between he and Brian Cookson come September 27.

Both men have released manifestos in recent months, detailing their plans and promises should they be elected to cycling’s top job. Given Cookson released his first — June 24 vs July 8 — it only seems fair that we should consider his first.

Cookson and what he’s promising

Brian Cookson describes himself as a club-level cyclist that has dabbled in road, track, cyclo-cross and MTB riding and his biography lists him as a 1971 regional road champion. He reportedly still cycles daily.

Cookson is the current president of the British Cycling Federation, a position he’s held since 1996. He’s also been a member of the UCI Management Committee since 2009 and president of the UCI Road Commission since 2011.

On June 6 this year Cookson announced his intention to run for the UCI presidency and released his manifesto, entitled “Restoring Trust, Leading Change” later that month.

Cookson’s manifesto lacks detail in some places and sometimes relies on general statements rather than specific promises. Here are the six core promises that make up Cookson’s manifesto:

1. “Revolutionise our approach to anti-doping”

Cookson opens his manifesto with a promise to establish, within the first year of his presidency, a “completely independent anti-doping unit” run outside the UCI, and in cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Cookson also supports the introduction of longer bans for riders found guilty of doping (four years vs the current two) and argues that the UCI needs to focus on all “doping enablers” — team staff, doctors and so on — not just riders.

2. “Embrace openness and transparency”

Should he become president, Cookson has promised to publish all details of his remuneration package, financial interests and any conflicts of interest he might have, all in the name of greater transparency. Not even the UCI Management committee (of which Cookson is a member) knows what Pat McQuaid is paid.

He welcomes a “truth and reconciliation” process in the context of past doping offences, assuming “a number of practical legal issues” can be overcome. He is “absolutely committed” to the independent investigation of alleged UCI cover-ups in relation to the Armstrong era and will launch such an investigation in the first six months of his presidency.

3. “Grow cycling worldwide”

Brian Cookson is committed to making cycling the number one sport in five continents: Europe, Africa, America, Asia and Oceania. To this end he’s promised to establish an International Development Department which will “focus on providing support where it is needed most.”

Among other promises, Cookson has also said he’ll push for Freestyle BMX and further endurance track events to be introduced at an Olympic level and for the creation of more international para-cycling events.

4. “Develop women’s cycling”

Brian Cookson has said he’ll make it a priority to “create new opportunities for women’s cycling in all disciplines” and particularly in the road scene. He has promised to set up a Women’s Cycling Commission to oversee the development of the sport and to work closely with organisers, teams and broadcasters to build the elite women’s calendar.

Cookson has also committed to developing, in his first year of presidency, rules that ensure teams guarantee a minimum wage for female pro riders.

5. “Overhaul the structure of elite road cycling”

Cookson promises to develop a “simpler, more cohesive events calendar” that creates a “clear and compelling narrative that is easy for spectators, sponsors and broadcasters to follow.”

He promises to eliminate the perceived conflicts of interest that have damaged the reputation of the UCI’s Global Cycling Promotion unit, a unit whose operations “are unclear even to those within the UCI.” He’s also flagged a commitment to work with teams, employees and riders to ensure that long-term financial stability in the sport can be maintained.

6. “Embrace the future together”

The final section of Cookson’s manifesto doesn’t contain any specific policy promises and is instead defined by a general statement about the future of the UCI:

“I believe we need a new UCI defined by genuine collaboration and a strategy to deal with the issues we face rather than reacting to situations as they arise.”

Click here to read more about each of Cookson’s promises in his manifesto.

McQuaid and what he’s promising

As discussed in the first instalment in this series, there are real questions about whether Pat McQuaid will even be eligible for another tilt at the UCI presidency but in the meantime it’s worth considering just who Pat McQuaid is and what he’s promising should he manage to get elected.

Where Brian Cookson is a club-level cyclist, Pat McQuaid rode as a professional in the late 1970s, he was the Irish national road champion in 1974 and he won the Tour of Ireland in 1975 and 1976.

Having spent eight years as UCI president already, much of McQuaid’s bid for a third term is built on his past achievements and how they show he’s a logical choice for the job.

In the four sections of McQuaid’s manifesto, entitled “A Bright Future for a Changed Sport”, McQuaid lists his promises and reminds the reader of his past achievements:

1. “To preserve the new era and culture of clean cycling”

Like Cookson, McQuaid opens his manifesto with a pledge about anti-doping. He promises greater funding and independence to the UCI’s Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF), moving the Foundation off the UCI premises and ensuring that it has its own communications structure independent from the UCI.

McQuaid also says he remains committed “to conducting an independent audit into the UCI’s actions during the years when Lance Armstrong was winning the Tour de France.”

In terms of past achievements in this field, McQuaid points to his introduction of the Biological Passport, the launch of the CADF, the “no-needle” policy and others.

2. “Ensuring equality in cycling”

Like Cookson, McQuaid promises to establish an independent Women’s Commission to take responsibility for the development of women’s cycling.

He has also promised to develop a new elite women’s race calendar that is “easy to understand” and, like Cookson, he’s pledged to work with event organisers, teams, broadcasters and sponsors to help promote women’s cycling.

McQuaid points to his involvement in the introduction of equal prize money for men’s and women’s UCI world championships as a past example of his commitment to the development of women’s cycling.

3. “Modernise the way that cycling is represented as a global sport”

In section three of his manifesto Pat McQuaid talks about the need to modernise the sport, including from a technological point of view. He highlights the need to “embrace new innovations, including cameras on bikes and helmets”, to communicate real-time data for race fans and to engage more effectively through social media.

Like Cookson, McQuaid intends to use the influence of the UCI presidency to push for the introduction of BMX Freestyle and another track endurance event at future Olympic Games.

In discussing his previous achievements in this area, McQuaid points to the reform of the elite men’s road cycling calendar and the creation of the Europe Tour, Africa Tour and other continental tours.

4. “Fostering the global development of cycling”

McQuaid’s achievements in the globalisation of cycling are arguably among his strongest and those most likely to attract the support from Asian and African members. In his manifesto McQuaid claims an “enormous growth” in the number of races and pro teams during his presidency and points to the “emergence of African, Asian and American cycling as new forces in world cycling.”

McQuaid’s strategy in this area seems to be “more of the same”, including the
expansion of the World Cycling Centre, a so-called “University of Cycling”, to “train even more athletes, coaches, mechanics, commissaries and soigneurs” from around the world.

Click here to read more about each of McQuaid’s promises in his manifesto.

Cookson’s reputation

While each candidate has released a manifesto, much of the public opinion about the suitability of the candidates is dictated by existing reputations, rather than promises of what they’ll achieve in the future.

Cookson comes to the presidential election as one of the key players in a revival of the British Cycling Federation. He took over the role in 1996 and since then British Cycling has reportedly gone from being “almost bankrupt” with “modest” sporting success to one of the strongest cycling nations in the world.

In his manifesto Cookson cites the following achievements as among those he’s contributed to while at the helm of British Cycling: 19 Olympic gold medals, 28 Paralympic gold medals, a Tour de France victory (the manifesto was published before Chris Froome’s win this year) and a host of world titles in a range of disciplines.

In a recent press release announcing Cycling Australia’s support of Cookson’s candidacy, outgoing president Klaus Mueller identified Cookson’s time as president at British Cycling as one of the key indicators that Cookson would be a good UCI president.

“We believe that the leadership skills that he has demonstrated so effectively at British Cycling will be transferred to the UCI for the good of cycling on a global level.”

CyclingTips understands that Cookson has a reputation for keeping people at arms length and that he is determined to run his campaign fairly, to his potential detriment.

Cookson has received some criticism from the likes of Cervelo co-founder Gerard Vroomen for changing his position on a number of key issues, such as women’s racing and a truth and reconciliation period for past doping offences.

That aside, one of the best things Brian Cookson has going for him is the fact he’s not Pat McQuaid. He doesn’t have the experience of eight years in the role like McQuaid does but he also doesn’t have the increasingly negative reputation that McQuaid has.

If nothing else, a vote for Cookson is a vote for something other than the established regime — a regime that’s seen by many as detrimental to the health of global cycling.

McQuaid’s reputation

It’s no secret that Pat McQuaid isn’t the most popular individual in world cycling at the moment, as this video from the Cyclocross world championships in Louisville, USA from this February shows:

Much of McQuaid’s negative reputation stems from his handling of the Lance Armstrong doping affair. McQuaid was unhelpful when it came to USADA’s investigation of Armstrong and reportedly tried to block USADA’s charges against the Texan.

According to some, McQuaid’s eventual damnation of Armstrong only came when he and the UCI had no choice and could no longer defend Armstrong.

Other criticisms of McQuaid include, but aren’t limited to:

“bending the rules” to allow Lance Armstrong to begin his 2009 comeback at the Tour Down Under, when he hadn’t completed the full six-month drug testing period beforehand

– overseeing the creation of races like the Tour of Beijing by Global Cycling Promotions, a commercial division of the UCI. As The Inner Ring wrote back in 2011, mixing business with the UCI’s role as the sport’s governing body can be seen as a conflict of interest: “Given the UCI and its staff now have a direct financial interest in the race in Beijing it sets up a fraught scenario where decisions on business aren’t taken by third parties or kept at arm’s length.”

– attempting to run a “dictatorship”, following efforts to change the UCI constitution to allow McQuaid to run for the presidency — despite not being nominated by his home federation, as required by the UCI constitution (see the first part of this series for more information).

Some of McQuaid’s critics have also asked the question: why is McQuaid fighting so hard when it is clear he is not wanted? There is a suggestion that McQuaid is concerned about what Cookson might find if he wins the election and starts investigating the behaviour of the UCI around the time of Lance Armstrong’s domination of the sport.

Calls for McQuaid’s resignation have been long and sustained with many former riders lending their voice. Three-time Tour de France winner Greg Le Mond has been one of the most vocal in such calls, saying in 2012 “I have never seen such an abuse of power in cycling’s history”.

But despite the many criticisms of McQuaid, there’s little doubt that world cycling is in better shape than when McQuaid took the reins back in 2005, not least because of the introduction of the Biological Passport and the UCI’s no-needle policy. Furthermore, with the Armstrong Era now behind us there does seem to have been a change of culture when it comes to doping and McQuaid seems to be right when he says “it’s now possible to race and win clean”.

McQuaid might have a poor reputation at a grassroots level but it’s clear that he enjoys great support from many of the UCI national federations. Whether McQuaid will be able to test that support and contest the presidency on September 27 remains to be seen.

As a cyclist, a fan of the sport and possibly someone racing under the UCI’s governance, what do you see as the biggest issues facing the next UCI president? How do you see the outcome affecting you?

Stay posted for further instalments in this series as the UCI presidency story continues to unfold.

CyclingTips would like to thank @raceradio for his assistance in preparing this article.

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