UCI continues to back Igor Makarov despite growing list of sanctions

Igor Makarov is now sanctioned by the UK, with calls for the European Union to follow suit. The UCI says it's just following the IOC's lead.

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Russian oligarch Igor Makarov’s role as a member of the UCI’s management committee has come under renewed scrutiny, with David Lappartient facing tough questions from media at the weekend’s Gravel World Championships. 

Makarov is a longtime member of the UCI management committee, with a personal wealth estimated at US$1.6 billion and hefty influence within both the sporting and political spheres, as extensively reported on CyclingTips. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, his presence at the top table has 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.

When queried by reporters from Cyclingnews and CyclingTips on the weekend, Lappartient again defended Makarov’s position on the management committee, saying that the UCI is “aligned with the IOC position … [Makarov]’s still a management committee member.” The IOC has specified that Russian teams and riders are not allowed to participate in competition, but stopped short of sanctioning officials and national committee members by bewilderingly claiming that Russian members – who represent Russia – are “not representatives of their country.” 

That’s put the onus on sporting governing bodies to navigate the issue, leading to differing approaches across different sports. Certain prominent officials – such as the President of the European Table Tennis Union, Igor Levitin (who is also an aide to Vladimir Putin) – have offered to self-suspend. Other sporting governing bodies, such as World Sailing and the International Biathlon Union, have either suspended individuals or the entire Russian federation. Alisher Usmanov, president of the International Fencing Federation, also stood himself down after being hit by sanctions. 

All of those are courses of options for Igor Makarov and the UCI which have not been taken, despite Makarov’s role having been conspicuously hampered by an increasing number of government sanctions against him.

Lappartient and Makarov shake hands at the 2017 Team Katusha Alpecin launch. Makarov was the team owner. ©Tim De Waele

Makarov was not in Australia for the recent UCI Congress at the Road World Championships – he is subject to a travel ban and financial sanctions due to “engaging in an activity or performing a function that is of economic or strategic significance to Russia.” In April, he was also sanctioned by Canada after he was identified as a “close associate of the Russian regime” that was complicit in the “illegal and unjustifiable invasion” of Ukraine.

Now, the United Kingdom has followed suit, with the announcement in late September of sanctions against Makarov “in response to the Russian regime’s illegal sham referendums in Ukraine.” A government statement noted Putin’s reliance on “his cabal of oligarchs” to fund his war; Makarov was identified as “supporting or obtaining benefit from the Government of Russia.” 

In Veneto on the weekend, Lappartient told media that members of the Russian or Belarus Olympic Committees “can’t travel in certain countries and that’s a challenge for all of us.” While it is true that there are some broad impediments to the movement of Russian members, it’s bordering on disingenuous to suggest that Makarov is just like any other sporting administrator.

The way things stand, it will be illegal for Makarov to attend three of the five UCI Congresses between 2022 and 2026 – Wollongong, Glasgow and Montreal are all currently crossed off his travel list. Despite multiple requests for comment from CyclingTips, the specifics of Makarov’s rising tally of sanctions have not been addressed by the UCI.

A stinging acceleration from Makarov drops The Stavanger Stallion at a 2017 training camp. ©Tim De Waele

More sanctions may be in the pipeline. In addition to the attention that he has received from the UK, Canadian and Australian governments, Makarov is currently the subject of lobbying from Ukrainian parliamentarians demanding sanctions against him across the European Union.

Nikolai Tishchenko, deputy chairman of Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky’s party, called Makarov “one of the key sponsors of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine” and cited his “long-term [participation] in Ukrainian corruption gas schemes.” [Makarov has been peripherally involved in a long-running federal court case involving disgraced former Ukrainian prime minister Pavel Lazarenko, where Makarov and one of his businesses have been accused of paying almost US$30 million in kickbacks to gain access to the territory. Leaked diplomatic cables suggest that he also bought a superyacht as a gift for former Turkmen dictator Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, an incident which is probably entirely unrelated to shoring up his control of the Central Asian country’s lucrative gas fields.]

As the war against Ukraine approaches its eighth month, there have been tens of thousands of deaths and economic ripples sent across the world, both of which are likely to continue to escalate heading into the northern winter. “The hydrocarbons extracted by [Makarov’s] campaigns are used for energy blackmailing Europe. He pays billions to the Russian budget, which is used to finance Russian terrorism. Let’s stop this. We need European sanctions against Makarov,” Tishchenko wrote. 

Multiple requests for comment from representatives of Makarov went unanswered.

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