If it’s fashionable to dismiss Pat McQuaid outright in some circles, I think the story is more nuanced. With his background in race organisation, especially the Tour of Langkawi, the UCI President brings experience to open up the sport around the world, something that might not have happened if, say, a Frenchman or Belgian was appointed.
That said, the phenomenon of globalisation is something that touches trade, culture, immigration and most sports, it is not particular to cycling. It’s hard to judge the value he’s brought when compared to others.
But like many McQuaid pieces, I start with a “he’s not all bad” opening paragraph but then quickly point out that he proves serially incompetent when it comes to dealing with the media. It’s no different this time. Indeed he’s the gift to those of us commentating on the sport, at times he rivals Cipollini for the ability to stir things up. Only this is exactly what the president of a governing body should seek to avoid.
Take today’s interview in L’Equipe, the UCI President discusses taking the sport around the globe, with new teams and races taking place in new continents. It’s all good, more people enjoying the sport around the world is something to be celebrated. And whilst any change involves adjustments, overall everyone will win if it’s handled properly.
But here’s where the problems begin. There are significant issues with the administration and development of the sport and I have my concerns about the judgement of those at the top. Even simple matters like an interview get wasted, indeed all too often a media appearance by Mr McQuaid ends with more questions than it began with.
So back to the L’Equipe interview. This was a good set-piece opportunity to put the case for taking the sport around the world, especially to an audience in France and also directly to ASO, since L’Equipe belongs to the same parent company as the Tour de France organiser. It was also a chance to present the basis of longer and stronger doping sanctions. But these vital messages got buried under an avalanche of careless statements and inflammatory phrases.
For example he says “the two or three races run in China are better organised than the Tour de France, say team bosses of those who have ridden in China“. Now perhaps there might be some lessons for ASO but slicker than the Tour de France? When you hear statements like this it’s hard to take the rest seriously.
A Two Week Giro?
Whilst discussing the busy calendar and the spectre of doping, he says “I think we can reduce the length of the Giro and Vuelta by a few days. The Tour, that will always last three weeks“. But what’s the motivation here, anti-doping or trying to shoehorn more races in to the calendar. Above all this is a massively significant policy, the idea of shortening the Giro will prove highly controversial and not just in Italy. It overshadows any discussion of new races in Beijng.
Discussing why the French aren’t the force they once were, McQuaid says “I find the French riders a bit soft“. Now there might be a kernel of truth here. But plenty of French riders are as hard as they come. Above all an international President needs to be careful about singling out particular nations with lazy stereotypes.
No to Vacansoleil, Yes to Vacansoleil
McQuaid also makes a public attack on Vacansoleil. When asked if the team’s methods are questionable he says “yes, that’s true. I’d simply say that that the management of the team have been naive. If I was the director of this team, I’d never have signed Ricco“. Only the President of the UCI has just granted the team a World Tour licence, despite having grave doubts over the management.
Whilst saying a decision on Contador’s case won’t happen “before the end of the year“, McQuaid also tries to make a distinction between “light and heavy substances“, saying “EPO, that’s serious, you should get four years. Ventoline, for example, that could be six or nine months“. Now perhaps there’s a point to be made here but given the sport’s top rider is embroiled in a doping affair, trying to reclassify doping offences is risky business right now. Is Clenbuterol heavy or light?
A wasted opportunity
So for me we have another media performance blundered. What could have been a useful starting point to set out plans for 2011 and beyond ends up reading like he’s trying to poke a big stick into several wasps nests at the same time, to annoy the Italians and French, to rewrite sections of the anti-doping code and more. What could have been a chance to set the agenda for the New Year is simply going to ensure several key players in the sport start 2011 on the defensive.