The image above is a screenshot swiped from the Osun Defender, a Nigerian newspaper. It’s exposing corruption, in this case the award of a construction contract for a sports stadium to a family member. Or look to Sierra Leone, where a contract to supply the country’s army with rice just happened to go to the President’s brother.
Sadly it’s a common refrain where cronyism wins out in some countries. Corruption makes long-term investment hazardous if not pointless. The absence of the rule of law is a large brake on these countries, indeed its perhaps the single biggest factor behind the relentless poverty still present in so many countries.
What’s this got to do with cycling?
Yesterday we saw the announcement that the US city Richmond is bidding to host the World Championships in 2015. The bid is backed by the municipal authorities but it is being managed by Shade Tree Sports, a sports management company run by Darach McQuaid, the younger brother of UCI President Pat McQuaid. It’s worth adding that there’s been a specific internal vote by the UCI to award the 2015 event outside Europe.
Now before anyone gets jumpy, Darach McQuaid has a right to earn a living. Like many in his family he has grown up in the sport of cycling and has experience when it comes to organising races and marketing in the sport. I’m sure Richmond will put on a very good race. So let’s not begrudge Darach McQuaid from trying.
No, my concern here is firmly within the UCI as an organisation, this should not be a personal matter about the McQuaids, rather an institutional question: how does the UCI safeguard its money and reputation? Any contract awarded to a “connected person” like a family member should set off alarm bells. There need to be strong safeguards to ensure people in positions of authority aren’t swayed, even subconsciously, by questions relating to money and family.
Remember that the Worlds is massive for the UCI, it’s the single largest source of income. Given this, selecting the host city is a big deal in every sense of the word, it is highly significant.
I’ve heard it said that Pat McQuaid will leave the room if matters relating to family members are discussed and if so this is useful but a weak solution. It does little to stop nods and winks or more seriously, imagine if someone at the UCI was faced with a decision that would adversely affect their boss’s family, it would be a question fraught with implicit dilemma.
The point here isn’t to accuse people of backroom corruption, there is little evidence of this. Rather that when there’s a potential conflict of interest and money changes hands then this has to be done properly and above all, to be seen to be done properly.
Yet we have a governing body that doesn’t do transparency very well. In an age when many within the sport, including the UCI, talk about increasing professionalism and globalisation, it is time to adopt standards of governance and openness that match this. It doesn’t matter if everyone within the UCI is a saint, the point is to have structures and methods to ensure there’s nothing to worry about on top of this. “Trust us” is old-fashioned at best.
Less shade, more transparency
It’s not like this problem hasn’t occurred before in the world. Accountants have a special rule on the matter to ensure financial statements are transparent. In finance it’s common to consult shareholders on substantial deals with a related party. And lawyers often insist that any dealings like this are verified by an expert.
Put simply, decisions involving family members have to be made in public, for example all related meetings are minuted and the details are available for inspection, plus any related financial transactions are also in the public domain.
I wish the Richmond 2015 bid well and am only using this case to point out a concern that the UCI can be slow to open up. It’s not just dealing with family members, these are matters that can apply elsewhere. For example disclosing gifts and payments received. A lesson from Africa and beyond is that even the whiff of cronyism can make cautious investors stay away.
The UCI is moving in the right direction, for example it published its accounts this year for the first time. But if it wants to invite global companies into the sport then quid pro quo it has to think about adopting the same practices expected by these businesses. The good news is that this is easy to do.