If the UCI can’t mediate, someone else has to

Thursday, 17 March 2011

UCI President Pat McQuaid opened the meeting… …He then informed the CCP members of the reason for the absence of Messrs Jonathan Vaughters and Gianni Bugno, who had been formally invited to choose between participating in the meeting and standing by the AIGCP and CPA in their threat to launch boycotts and strikes against the proposed ban on the use of earpieces during races.

You might think this is from George Orwell’s 1984, a confusing text from Franz Kafka or maybe the notes from of a Soviet Praesidium, as presented by spy novelist John Le Carré. Alas the text above is no fiction but a real statement issued today by the UCI.

Background
Garmin-Cervélo boss Jonathan Vaughters is also president of the AIGCP, an organisation representing the top cycling teams. Gianni Bugno, a former double world champion, leads the CPA which is a sort of riders’ union. Both Vaughters and Bugno had been invited to attend a UCI meeting in Milan, held before the Milan-Sanremo race. The meeting was of the Professional Cycling Council, a committee tasked with overseeing the UCI World Tour. The dispute over radios has now escalated to threats of boycotts of the UCI’s race in Beijing, a topic I covered earlier today.

Let’s take a look at the text again. The threat of a boycott has clearly destabilised the UCI to the point of issuing Vaughters and Bugno and with an ultimatum to drop talk of a boycott or be excluded from the meeting. But the two representatives are tasked with doing exactly that, representing. They are carrying a message from teams and riders alike, refusing them the right to sit in a council meeting is petulant. Just because you don’t like what someone’s saying doesn’t mean you freeze them out.

Back turned

The UCI turns its back on teams and riders

We have a stand-off but one that is getting more and more entrenched. Faced with a lack of dialogue, the UCI isn’t trying to find a way out, it’s slamming the door in the face of riders and teams. Of course, it is being provoked here, as I’ve said several times the teams are pushing the UCI and I’ve even done a piece saying the UCI needs saving. Yet rather than looking for a solution, the UCI is in turn ratcheting up the stakes. This is exactly what a governing body should not be doing.

Outside intervention
I’ve no doubt the idea of a boycott is causing concern inside the UCI but all the more reason to talk. A governing body is not a mere player, it is supposed to be above the other participants, a wise ruler of the sport. But it’s now in a tangle as its seeking to promote this race in China and getting upset that it’s meal ticket risk serious devaluation.

If the UCI is incapable of showing itself capable of resolving the matter then someone else is going to have to step in. Perhaps the weight of RCS or ASO, the Italian and French race organisers respectively? If not, the International Olympic Committee could have a role here. Nobody likes the presence of an outsider ruling on their turf but this proxy war via press release, boycotts and threats is dragging the sport into a bitter dispute on the eve of the classics season. Mediation, not imposition is the best way out.

  • Things could be so different. The same press release also shows the UCI is keen to push for four year bans. For the sake of letting Vaughters and Bugno sit in a room for an hour the headlines could have been “UCI gets tough on doping” and “Three Cheers for McQuaid” etc. Alas…
JimK March 17, 2011 at 9:49 pm

I keep wondering: If the real issue is “spontaneity” vs. safety, why not have commissaires connected to team cars, but racers connected only to each other and commissaires? Doesn’t everybody win then? Racers can talk amongst themselves and do some strategizing, but would not have the micro-second GPS-level overview management of a DS watching the race on three laptops and a television. So “exciting” racing could return (if that is in fact the UCI’s real goal). But team cars could be notified about mechanicals and crashes. Plus riders could be notified about road obstructions, wrong-way vehicles, etc.

Where’s the flaw in my plan? Don’t say “delay of communication” because telling a commissaire that someone crashed would take the same amount of time as telling a team car, and a commissaire notifying the car adds what, literally a second or two? Worth it if the stalemate ends, IMHO.

Reno March 17, 2011 at 10:23 pm

The UCI are a bit short changed in this article, in my humble opinion. Should they bow to threats and strikes? In my opinion a reaction like the UCI’s statement is what is to be expected and one might argue even provoked by the teams’/riders’ association. Source of the confict is that current set up of how the sports is governed/regulated. It’s the same with Football in a way: a small board decides which way the sport goes, for good or bad, and all governed parties have to swallow, spit ot choke.

Or choose to follow.

What the press-release-war is concerned, I’m afraid to say it’s again the teams/riders that cause for I’d reckon 90% of the sound bits and quickly drafted announcements. Clearly aiming for media attention and the public’s opinion behind their arguments. Is it effective? Hardly, I’d say. I, for one, could live without the seaceless complaining by now. I try to remain objective but I am starting to find that a hard thing to do. In all fairness, I get the idea it’s a few men’s personal crusade against the modern days’ equivalent of Don Quichote’s windmills, rather anythng else, really. Banning the radio’s is not against the interest of the sport, in the big picture, or is it? Sure, some might not find their own interests served.

How did Sir Don Quichote end up? He turned mad, didnt he?

We all know who Don Quichote is in this conflict, don’t we. Question is: who’s his pal Pablo and will he stand by his Don or choose to stay sane.

bryan March 17, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I wonder if this tweet suggests Vaughters is looking for outside support from the RCS.

http://twitter.com/Vaughters/status/48431092331585536

Just had coffee with Angelo Zomegnan of RCS. Gotta say, I respect and admire Angelo. I like his collection of Barolo too.

ant1 March 17, 2011 at 10:33 pm

i don’t like the UCI getting into race promotion one bit. that is not what they were created to do and it’s a huge conflict of interest. pick one or the other and try to do it well. stop getting into childish pissing contests with all the other stakeholders in the sport. one day you’re going to find out none of them are interested in playing with your toys anymore. you’ll be sitting all alone in your little sandbox while the other kids are happily playing together in someone else’s yard. as always, FUCI.

JZ March 17, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Just counting down the days when pro cycling decides it really doesn’t need the UCI and just forms its own professional league. If I was a team owner this is exactly what I would be thinking. Get together with ASO/RCS and other major race organizers, choose your own league president, and away you go. Would that be good for the sport? I don’t know.

Reno March 17, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Excuse the expressed emotion in my reaction. I know I’d make a bad journalist or writer, letting my emotion get in the way like that ;-) Oh well, there’s two parties in this conflict and both have their (valid) arguments. Not more to it than that. Just don’t fancy the way both parties choose to solve it.

Reno March 17, 2011 at 10:51 pm

@JZ: What the radio issue is concerned, the big organisers don’t necessarily oppose the ban. Prudomme only last weekend annoucned on Walloon TV that he/ASO favors more decision making by riders during races. He did address the safity issue too, finding or searching for a middle way, a compromise. With the creation of the World Tour, there also seems to be a tight knot between UCI and ASO/RCS/Flanders and some smaller organisers. I don’t see a seperate leage is anywhere close (though I dont know what the future holds, of course).

Enough on this subject from me today.. good night :)

grolby March 17, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Reno, I don’t think the relationship between the UCI and the Big Organizers can necessarily be viewed as solid. But I also don’t think they have much reason to take sides in this fight.

Raymondo March 17, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Radio’s are side issue surely and the principle of some sort of representation for the major stakeholders, the teams, the riders and the organisers, seems to be an absolute requirement. To be dictated to by a faceless organisation in Switzerland, populated by characters with their own dubious past, read our president in as character #1, seems ludicrous in the extreme. It’s not as if they have a brilliant track record in leading the sport where most of us want it to go, changing the Olympic track programme, equipment rulings, ending Masters championships etc are just a few of the ‘executive’ decisions that spring to mind.

The Pelican March 18, 2011 at 2:46 am

Sadly wouldn’t expect anything more from Pat the Rat. He only knows one form of negotiation and that’s banging-heads (comes from his Irish pub brawling days!). I say hold fast riders – if you can’t get a genuine hearing, or in this case a seat at the table – then stick it to McQuaid and his cronnies and screw up their Beijing race. Agree, UCI shouldn’t be cycle promoters any way! This threat of a strike is language McDub at least understands.

The Inner Ring March 18, 2011 at 8:30 am

JimK: what’s wrong with the current system of radio communication? I’m still waiting for the evidence to see radios make racing more spontaneous.

Ren0 / grolby: that’s a fair point but we’re in a situation where the two sides can’t even sit in a room together. Given this, we could find some form of mediation is useful. Note the IOC is very close to the UCI, if they were appointed the could well take sides. But my point is some diplomacy is needed.

bryan: we’ll see, I suppose it helps to keep people happy.

Raymondo: we can list achievements as well! The UCI isn’t all bad, as I say above things could be so different if they’d let Vaughters and Bugno into the room and served them a coffee, then we’d have stories of 4 year bans etc.

ant1: for sure, there are risks there and it does place the UCI in a strange position, another conflict of interest.

JZ: that’s possible but it worries me. Riders risk getting stitched up and the UCI is supposed to act in the greater good, as opposed to team owners and race organisers who have money as their primary duty.

The Pelican: I don’t think McQuaid is the problem. A symptom perhaps but it goes deeper than one individual.

Ronan March 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I think it’s wrong to criticise the UCI for being proactive and trying to bring the World Tour to China. If they want to sport to continue to grow and expose races to huge audiences (something sponsors and potential sponsors would no doubt love), they need to have races in untapped markets.

There is a problem with organising and promoting such races as there is currently no appetite for pro cycling in these markets. You could argue that it is absolutely the job of the UCI to try and bring cycling to these countries and increase the visibility of the sport there.

The way I see it, I am fine with the UCI organising such races as a kind of ‘public service broadcast’ to the Asian community. It is a necessary evil to have such races in the calendar if the sport is to grow in Asia. If and when such races become successful, then the UCI can step aside and let other organisers take it over, but I am fine iwth them trying to foster the sport in new territories.

JimK March 18, 2011 at 3:12 pm

“JimK: what’s wrong with the current system of radio communication? I’m still waiting for the evidence to see radios make racing more spontaneous.”

No I get that, I’m just saying, pop the blustering balloon of demand on both sides by devising a system that eliminates their complaints. THEN maybe we’ll have to find out what all this is really about (power, control, money, all three, etc.)

JZ March 18, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Reno: As Vaughters has said (at least my take on what he has said), this is about many other issues besides radios, but radio use is a pretty concrete issue on which to take a stand.

Inrng: I agree that a UCI/pro tour split could be a bad thing for the sport, particularly for the riders. I really think the UCI needs to better figure out and manage its role in cycling and get rid of McQuaid. He is not doing the UCI any favors. I do find it strange that the UCI is even promoting any race besides the World Championships.

Reno March 18, 2011 at 6:36 pm

And today Pat himself brings a lot of clarity! I haven’t read any reactions yet, will catch up on that tonight, but I hope it sparks the reason within this debate.

Tim March 19, 2011 at 5:33 am

How is it that UCI policy is dictated by a French television network. It is okay for UCI to be intimidated and threatened by a tv network but they draw the line at being threatened by riders. Pat give your f**king head a shake.

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