Igor Makarov.

Cycling powerbroker, Igor Makarov, hit with sanctions

Makarov is persona non grata in Canada and Australia, having been identified as a "close associate of the Russian regime".

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Igor Makarov – one of cycling’s most powerful figures – has been named on a list of individuals sanctioned by the Canadian Government in the wake of Russia’s “illegal and unjustifiable invasion” of Ukraine.

This latest round of sanctions, imposed under Canada’s Special Economic Measures (Russia) Regulations, targets 14 “close associates of the Russian regime, including Russian oligarchs and their family members”. Alongside two of Putin’s daughters is the enigmatic figure of Igor Viktorovich Makarov, who has been the subject of considerable media attention – both inside and outside of cycling – since Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine began.

Makarov was also listed as a sanctioned individual in Australia under the Autonomous Sanctions (Designated Persons and Entities and Declared Persons – Ukraine) Amendment in early April, although this has not previously come to light. This would appear to make it impossible for Makarov to travel to the 2022 UCI Road World Championships and management committee meeting, to be held in Wollongong in September.

The sanctions on Makarov seem likely to ratchet up pressure within the UCI, cycling’s governing body, to remove Makarov from its management committee. The UCI’s Ukraine-related measures have previously banned Russian and Belarusian cycling teams and events, but etched out a narrow path for Russian officials to continue serving in their roles. That in turn led to boycotts and disillusionment from numerous national cycling federations, with at least 12 influential European nations directly pushing for the expulsion of figures including Makarov.

The IOC – under which the UCI sits – has likewise come under increasing pressure to oust Russian officials from its ranks. Earlier this week, the Swiss Sports Minister Viola Amherd called on the IOC to take this “further step”, joining the sports ministers of 30 other countries in calling for this action.

Thus far, the UCI has moved in lockstep with the IOC, which, in an impressive display of mental gymnastics, has responded with the claim that Russian members – who represent Russia – are “not representatives of their country.” UCI President David Lappartient was recently elected to the IOC for an eight year term, so is unlikely to rock the boat too much by pushing out a personal ally in Makarov.

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

Makarov has an estimated wealth of over US$2 billion, and is the honorary president of the Russian Cycling Federation. A former track cyclist who has erroneously claimed to be an Olympian, Makarov has been a member of the UCI’s management committee since 2013, and is widely understood to have helped orchestrate the rise or fall of the last three UCI Presidents. Since becoming UCI President in 2017, David Lappartient has been described as being “in the palm of Makarov” – whose business group, Areti, has at various points also been a major financial backer of the European Cycling Federation, a powerful UCI voting bloc.

In 2020, Makarov and Lappartient were both parties on a reputationally-damaging call to then-Turkmen President, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, awarding the vicious dictator the UCI’s highest honour in “recognition of [his] commitment to our sport.” That “commitment” may or may not have included the payment of quite a lot of money to the UCI for the rights to host the 2021 World Track Championships, which were to be held in a bizarre ‘Olympic Village’ that Makarov’s business had previously won construction contracts for.

After substantial public outcry following CyclingTips’ breaking and follow-up reporting on that story, the Track Championships were removed from Turkmenistan – apparently due to COVID, a pandemic that the Turkmen government does not recognise as existing.

Lappartient and Makarov sporting some snazzy Turkmenistan-issued tracksuits on a visit to Ashgabat.

Outside of cycling, Makarov has appeared on a list of Russian Oligarchs with ties to the Kremlin; from past experience, a PR firm acting for Makarov would like it to be known that they strongly dispute and discredit the legitimacy of this characterisation.

Makarov has extensive business interests globally – including in the US, Canada, and Turkmenistan, and has ties to north east Florida, where a rather nice, Cayman Islands-registered yacht called Areti is moored, an 11-bedroom/15-bathroom/US$17 million mansion is up for sale, and a four-storey office building houses a web of companies linked to Areti (the business group, not the yacht). In 2006, that office building was raided by the FBI over allegations that a predecessor of Areti, ITERA, had possibly tried to bribe a congressman. [Representatives for Makarov have previously noted that “​​Neither Mr. Makarov, Itera or anyone associated with the company were charged, prosecuted or publicly accused by authorities of bribery or any similar crime.”] Makarov was also identified in the Pandora Papers as having set up a trust in the US tax haven state Wyoming, nesting other companies based in the British Virgin Islands inside it.

Makarov’s interests in Canada, meanwhile, include a substantial stake in the Calgary-based energy corporation, Spartan Delta Corp. Since the Canadian government imposed sanctions on Makarov – among a swathe of other measures – his assets in the country will be frozen, and he is prohibited from entering Canada.

In a feature published last month, CyclingTips revealed apparent attempts by Makarov and his business to downplay his connection to Russia, with the Areti website shown to have been edited to remove multiple references to Makarov’s country of nationality, Russia.

For that feature, PR representatives for Makarov forcefully responded to request for comment from CyclingTips – variously denying that he was an oligarch, refuting claims that he had ties to Putin, declining to provide any comment from Makarov on the war in Ukraine, and stressing that “neither ARETI nor Mr. Makarov are or have ever been the subject of any governmental sanctions.”

Some of those talking points now appear to be redundant. It remains to be seen whether other NATO countries follow Canada’s lead, and what implications that may have on the mysterious Mr Makarov’s involvement in cycling.

The UCI and representatives of Mr Makarov have been contacted for comment. This story will be updated with any responses.

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