Many cycling fans love the sport but not the politics and certainly the mention of UCI President Pat McQuaid can quickly elicit boos and hisses from many. The case for the prosecution is quite strong, take your pick from the chaos in the sport, murky dealings, bizarre public statements and much more. But more recently frustration with the President has grown. Joe Lindsey sets out a strong case over at the Boulder Report.
Not many are making the case for the defence, least of all the UCI. For what it’s worth, I tend to think McQuaid’s got a mixed record. Let’s not forget he’s overseen the introduction of the toughest anti-doping rules, that the sport is spreading around the world athough I can hear irate readers saying he was never the driving force for these things, they’ve (had to) happen under his watch. But there’s a lot of behind the scenes activity where his chatty, relaxed ways can work wonders.
But if you wanted to replace the UCI President how do you do it? What’s the mechanism and who’s involved? A reader’s asked these questions this morning and it’s time to take a look.
Well the quick answer is that it’s near impossible. If you want to know more, read on. The President is elected by The Congress. This itself is a meeting of cycling officials from around the world. Under the UCI Constitution these officials appoint voting members, a total of 42 divided into regions as follows:
These 42 are the ones who vote to install or dismiss the President. McQuaid was first elected in 2005, he was then re-elected in 2009. The next vote comes in 2013.
Most are not looking to rock to the boat. I’ve spoken to two officials when I mentioned the name McQuaid they replied how they like working with him. When I asked about the problems associated with him, they merely shrugged. This is far from a “representative sample”, just a few words with a couple of officials. But my feeling here is that most of the senior officials from around the world are satisfied with McQuaid, their jobs after all are mainly occupied with the Olympics and amateur riders. A few federations are not happy but other federations have a wariness of these sceptics and so any plans to change things can get met with suspicion. It’s very political.
There are three additional considerations to add to the political mix:
- If you want to vote out Pat McQuaid then you are going to take down a lot of the executive Management Committee because they are closely associated with him. These are the high priests of cycling, to remove the top man is by extension to sanction them. Turkeys rarely vote for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- As bad as things are, do you think an official from Oceania is bothered by things now? Pro cycling sits at the top of the sport but those running bicycle polo, BMX or MTB are not as frustrated by the wranglings at the top. Many simply don’t have the inclination to take on the reform of professional road racing and there’s a prevalent view that a lot of the grumblings are mere nonsense from pesky journalists as well as forums and blogs.
- Those at the top enjoy perks and privileges. When McQuaid stood for election he ran against another candidate Sylvia Schenk. At the time there were allegations McQuaid was given the full contact details for the voting delegates, allowing him to cultivate essential relationships. It seems some enjoy asymmetric advantages. Plus there’s a gravy train, as Schenk put it “after the nomination of McQuaid as successor to Hein Verbruggen they discovered a bottle of fine Irish whiskey in their hotel rooms“. A nice gesture and there’s much more, for example holidays courtesy of others and all without a transparent register of gifts.
Give all this, dislodging Pat McQuaid looks near impossible. You’d need to get plenty of delegates on board but they’d want to see plans for change and any vote to dismiss the President would upset what is quite a friendly club. It would take real crisis to get it to happen, for example proof that the UCI President had visited a star rider to advise them how to manage a positive test.
This crisis however could arise given the implosion of the Beijing Tour scheduled for October. The UCI is currently spending a small fortune to administer and promote this race but the riders and teams are threatening to boycott the race. If every top team were to reject this race the humiliation would be substantial, not to mention the financial cost of an aborted race.
There’s a lot wrong with the sport and to some extent the President is the figurehead who is supposed to be in charge. As such a lot of the blame gets pinned on him simply because he’s the visible one. Personally I think he’s too visible, he gives inappropriate interviews where he consistently puts his foot in his mouth and it would help if others shared the load a bit more. Just as McQuaid can’t claim credit for all the good changes in the sport, fans can’t lay all the problems at his door. But it’s more a question of how effectively he deals with the problems and he is paid a handsome salary to act as the UCI figurehead. Rebutting criticism is part of the job.
The rules make it hard to remove McQuaid. The politics make it harder. But I think it goes deeper than one man. Get rid of him and you don’t fix the problems, you just remove the top guy when a lot of trouble with the UCI is institutional, although leadership matters. It’s not as simple as removing one guy. Perhaps this is the first step but there’d need to be suggestions for the replacement an agenda for reform and probably thoughts given to pleasing the key officials who make the electorate. Fans, teams, riders and race organisers can only make representations, they have no direct voice.
After writing the response to the question, I’ve a thought about the wider issues so I’ve come back to tag on a few more words. Essentially if many at the UCI Congress don’t grasp the problems, if they are satisfied with McQuaid or feel they’re more interested in MTB or BMX, then that’s fine for them now. But not necessarily for ever.
The pro road scene is now asking aloud whether it is being served by the UCI and should a breakaway league form then the UCI will be severely diminished. Not least because the World Road Race championships are the single largest source of revenue. Those who attend UCI meetings without too much interest in elite cycling or road racing might want to reflect on this.