Igor Makarov and David Lappartient shake hands at the 2017 Team Katusha launch. (Photo: Tim De Waele/Getty Images)

Pressure mounts on UCI over Russian ties

A rift has formed around the continued presence of certain management committee members, including Igor Makarov.

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It has been four weeks since the UCI announced a swathe of measures in response to Russia’s unprovoked, increasingly horrific invasion of Ukraine. Those measures – which blocked Russian and Belarusian national teams, stripped events from those countries, and removed registrations for a handful of teams – were, as we have written, simultaneously strong and incoherent. 

Perhaps the most obvious dissonance is in the UCI’s decision not to ban Russians or Belarusians from service within the organisation – a narrow path that has been etched out, clearing the way for the influential Russian oligarch, Igor Makarov, to continue to sit on the UCI management committee. 

Makarov – who is widely understood to have helped orchestrate the rise or fall of the last three UCI Presidents – has an estimated wealth of over US$2 billion, is the honorary president of the Russian Cycling Federation, and has extensive business interests globally – including in the US, Canada, and Turkmenistan – along with quite a nice yacht moored in a Florida harbour. In a feature published early this month, CyclingTips revealed apparent attempts by Makarov and his business to downplay his connection to Russia.

CyclingTips has learnt that Makarov’s continued presence – along with that of the European Cycling Union (UEC) vice-president Alexander Gusyatnikov of Russia, and UEC management committee member Natallia Tsylinskaya of Belarus – has led to a growing rift among the cycling Federations of the world. 

Of boycotts and boardrooms

Prior to the UEC Congress in early March, British Cycling announced that it would be boycotting the event unless firm action was taken to remove Makarov, Gusyatnikov, and Tsylinskaya from their positions. 

“In our view, it is simply wrong that Russian and Belarusian officials will be permitted places of honour and influence at the highest level of our sport while our colleagues in Ukraine live in fear for their homes and their families,” British Cycling chair Frank Slevin wrote in a public letter. 

“I have written to the UCI and UEC to repeat our request that the Russian and Belarusian federations are suspended and that Russian and Belarusian officials will not be permitted to hold positions on the UCI or UEC Management Committees, or their commissions.”

Gusyatnikov and Tsylinskaya “self-excluded” themselves from the UEC Congress; British Cycling followed through on its threat to boycott. In total, just 39 out of 51 Federations were in attendance. 

A factional split

The UEC’s official account of its 2022 Congress painted a picture of “unity” that was “characteristic of the solidarity of our Confederation”, but CyclingTips understands that it was a bit more tempestuous than that. UEC President, Enrico Della Casa, has diplomatically noted that “some presidents and Federations spoke and expressed important opinions about the sanctions approved by the IOC and UCI regarding the conflict in Ukraine.”

Those “important opinions”, CyclingTips has learnt, largely pivoted around a continued point of contention: the continued presence of Makarov, Gusyatnikov, and Tsylinskaya. 

A letter leaked to CyclingTips reveals that an influential faction of European Federations is exerting pressure on the UEC and UCI to remove Russian and Belarusian representatives on boards and commissions. 

The strongly worded letter – addressed to the UEC management committee, and signed by the Board of Nordic Cycling (a bloc representing Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), along with the Federations of Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Poland – called for the immediate suspension of such individuals: 

“Even though cycling’s international organizations have made strong action towards Russia and Belorussia [sic] by banning national and trade teams from the sport, they have fallen short of suspending Russian and Belorussian citizens official’s [sic] from attending meetings within international cycling.

We appreciate the self-exclusion of the Russian and Belorussian representatives from this weekend’s Annual Meeting, but it cannot be a long-term solution for a governance problem that most likely will be with UEC for several months, if not years. We also believe it to be fundamentally wrong to punish Russian and Belarussian citizens as athletes who represent their countries, while leaving board members and executive committee members who represent the same countries, in their positions. We believe this is unacceptable and unfair and can only be set straight by suspending Russian and Belarussian citizens across the board, athletes and non-athletes, alike.

In this we urge the European Cycling Federation (UEC) to immediately suspend all Russian and Belorussian official representatives from its board and commissions until further notice. We also urge the UEC to work for the same decision at the UCI.”

Certain Dutch media outlets claim – perhaps hyperbolically, citing “various stakeholders” – that “the call is now supported by a large majority of UCI and UEC member states.”

Where are we now?

With 12 Federations having put pen to paper, the UEC has appeared to partially acquiesce. In a statement issued last week, the UEC wrote that “in order to maintain serenity and security at all UEC events,” Russia and Belarus would not be able to officiate at any UEC event, “nor attend or take part in any meeting, committee, or forum of the UEC until further notice.”

However, that appears only to be a partial appeasement of the demands of the signatories of the open letter – it is, for instance, unclear whether the relevant UEC officials – Gusyatnikov and Tsylinskaya – have been suspended, or whether they are “self-excluding” indefinitely. Makarov, sitting in the UCI management committee, appears to be neither suspended or self-excluding.

It is also unclear whether the UEC is applying any pressure up the chain to the UCI – who would be well aware of the rift, seeing as UCI President David Lappartient was in attendance at the UEC Congress.

Since announcing its measures on March 1, the UCI has been diligent in the enforcement of them, leading to sometimes farcical situations like a Ukrainian cyclist riding for a Belarusian team being banned from competition.

Meanwhile, the squad formerly known as Gazprom-RusVelo – which has foregone its Russian sponsorship, wants to register in a different country, has promised to ride with a message of peace, and has 12 out of 21 riders that are not Russian – will by this weekend be forced to close its operations permanently.

Repeated requests for comment from the UCI, asking about the viability and optics of Makarov’s continuing presence, have gone unanswered.

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