Is the UCI threatening team sponsors?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Pat McQuaid gun

The UCI is traditionally the governing body of the cycle sport but, via a subsidiary called Global Cycling Promotions, is now also staging the Tour of Beijing, making it not merely a governing body that sits above the sport but also a player on the ground with its own business interests.

This conflict of interest has worried some for a while. But now there could be evidence of the extraordinary steps the UCI is taking in order to further its commercial activities.

The Velocast has obtained a copy of the letter that appears to be sent from UCI President Pat McQuaid directly to team sponsors:

The letter details, in no uncertain terms, exactly what would happen should the cycling team that the company sponsors choose to follow through with any proposed boycott.

In his letter Mr. McQuaid threatens to inform the very highest reaches of the Chinese authorities that the event was to be boycotted. He warned that the Chinese government would take personal offence to this action and that the sponsors’ commercial interests may be damaged in what would no doubt be a valuable and lucrative market…

…Furthermore, McQuaid assures the team sponsor, failing to appear at the start line in Beijing would result in a summons from the UCI Licence Commision where the team could lose their race licence and the benefits associated with this.

The UCI has denied the existence of this letter, creating a stalemate. But it seems a partial copy of the letter could appear online and cycling news website Velonation has stated the letter exists.

If true then for a moment put yourself in the position of a sponsor receiving the letter, you have a sports governing body threatening your business’s commercial future in China simply because you sponsor a cycling team that – rightly or wrongly – doesn’t want to attend a race. It would be an attempt to turn a relatively minor sporting spat into something that could ruin a company’s activities in China, damaging brands, jobs, investment and more.

Apart from threats to harm a business’s position in China, the notion of a team losing its World Tour licence for skipping the race is a bold one. Teams are obliged to ride all World Tour races, here are the UCI’s own rules:

2.15.128 In the event of unjustifiable absence, withdrawal or giving up, the UCI ProTeam shall be liable to a fine of between CHF 10,000 and 20,000 payable to the UCI WorldTour’s reserve and solidarity fund. For stage races, this fine shall be multiplied by the number of days’ racing remaining on the day of absence, withdrawal or giving up. On the third offence committed during the period of validity of the licence, the UCI ProTeam will further receive a month’s suspension

In other words if a team wanted to miss the race it would face a big fine but it’s only when it misses three races that it gets suspended. Now the team could come under pressure in the annual licence review for unsporting behaviour but if three races bring only temporary suspension, it’s hard to imagine the team being stripped of a licence for a single no-show. I suspect the Court for Arbitration in Sport would probably insist on the fine but would view ejection from the World Tour as excessive.

Summary
With the Velocast saying one thing and the UCI saying another much of the above is in the conditional tense, although note journalists at Velonation have seen this letter too, they believe in this too.

If the UCI President did send these letters then it marks a new low in relations between the UCI and the teams, for rather than trying to unite everyone letters are sent over the heads of team management. For teams the UCI could be warning of consequences that the sport’s rules don’t even allow for. unnecessarily making sponsors think their investment in a pro team dangles by a thread when the UCI’s own rules suggest otherwise. But most worrying would be the threats to damage a company’s business interests over the fate of an unproven bike race.

Amidst allegations and denials the one certainty is the folly of a governing body getting too involved in race promotion. It’s great to take the sport to new places but there are different ways to do this. Rather than presiding over the sport and being something that enabling new races to emerge, the UCI has taken on a large financial and reputation risk in becoming an event promoter itself. It cannot remain the neutral guarantor of cycle sport that a governing body must be.

If these letters are for real then they would be proof of the extraordinary lengths the UCI will go to in order to protect its interests, to the point of trying to endanger a company’s long term commercial prospects in China. This could endanger investment, jobs, trade and more and it has nothing to do with the administration of a sport. It’s blackmail.

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{ 20 comments }

Duluth Baptist Clydesdale October 5, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Why can’t Highroad get a sponsor after a year like this? Poor publicity, doping, the sanctioning body threatens to destroy you…

Why would anyone with a modicum of business sense even consider sponsoring a team? The UCI seems bent on destroying the sport.

Mark October 5, 2011 at 3:02 pm

ok they want to make a race happen and will push the rules. but going to sponsors and saying you’ll inform the chinese government is way out of order. you don’t put people’s jobs at risk over a bike race. mcquaid has gone too far this time.

Felipe Botelho October 5, 2011 at 3:05 pm

This makes FIFA and its not-so-saint members look like amateurs.

PVB October 5, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Great piece once again! Would love to see evidence of that letter… The whole McQuaid clan (and UCI) is plain maffia, I feel.

Jeff October 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm

I think the photo at the top of the piece says it all! Who would give that man a gun? He’s plenty dangerous without one.

Erdmann October 5, 2011 at 4:36 pm

If the letter is real then the UCI has to explain.

They have no mandate to tell corporate sponsors that business plans are in jeopardy because of a sports competition.

They look like they do not understand team sponsorship. A company manager receiving this letter will not know what comes next in the post. They will go to tennis or sailing.

El Gato de La Cala October 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Blessed are they who have nothing to hide, and who cannot be persuaded to show it. Show us the letter!

Dan October 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Huge if the letter is real – but it’s still hearsay at the moment.

I would not be surprised in the slightest if this was true however, especially considering McQuaid’s recent quotes regarding how China really cares about cycling and will have a team in x number of years – despite noone wanting to be there, cyclists or spectators

kenny79 October 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm

big mouthful of water pat
place gun gently in mouth
(DONT WE ALL WISH???)
and most of pro cyclings problems are?
(JUST DREAMING !!!!)
ran into this pig of a man at worlds in geelong last year
cannot believe the king of sports is run by such an egocentric boor!!!
(i hate it) when people say DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM !!!!!!
please reveal the corruption and clean up this sport from the top

Dan October 5, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Interesting to note that High Road’s sponsor, HTC, is from Taiwan. When did this letter go out?

The Inner Ring October 5, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Thanks for the comments. I’ve since heard from an extra source that the letter exists and this makes the UCI’s denial awkward.

I do find this an odd story. It’s one thing to defend a race and the World Tour but using scare tactics on sponsors is a new idea. In fact if this is true it’s outrageous.

The irony here is that if the Tour of Beijing was run by another company then the teams would not think about the boycott in the first place because it would not hit the UCI so hard. It is the creation of GCP that gives rise to the conflict of interest.

Olly October 5, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Watching the Sopranos whilst reading this, seems Tony could learn a thing or to from Mr McQuaid…

The Pelican October 6, 2011 at 1:50 am

@Kenny79 couldn’t agree more, the sooner McDud is out of there the better for the sport. I don’t however, necessarily agree that the UCI becoming a promoter is a bad thing, and in fact, I think national governing bodies should follow its example. One of the big problems for those governing cycling is that they don’t own any inventory (events) to sell to sponsors. They need to create this inventory. In Australia, the national governing body (bless them) doesn’t get one-cent out of the biggest race in the country (the TDU) – not even a sanctioning fee! Is this right?

All the UCI own are the rights to is the World Champs (of all disciplines) and World Cups (btw: what are thinking boning the 4-cross?)… but getting back to your point Kenny79, the fish rots from the head – get rid of McQueer.

GluteCramp October 6, 2011 at 1:51 am

Assuming the letter is real, and UCI gets its legitimacy at least in part from the IOC, I’d expect a ‘please explain’ from Jacques Rogge. Except given the IOC’s track record, I probably shouldn’t hope for much…

I wonder if anybody would be brave enough to take the UCI to court for some sort of attempted blackmail? It would have to be somebody who didn’t care about either staying in cycling or was large enough that China couldn’t officially get pissed off at them. That would be a fun case to report on.

nikcee October 6, 2011 at 4:47 am

i can think of a couple of teams whose primary sponsors might not be that concerned about said boycott…
FDJ
Agr2
OPL
Euskatel
(i could be wrong -they may have global interests)

to say nothing of Astana/Katusha both of who have deep governmental connections (and likely existing relationships with the chinese government). im sure mcquaid has some connections to tattle on them but its possible that their connections are higher/more powerful and would trump his complaints.

Flashing Pedals October 6, 2011 at 8:30 am

with this conduct, McQuaid – with approval of UCI (after all, would this letter exist and be despatched solely on the actions of one man?) by threats to commercial organisations who use cycling teams to market their business, has pushed the button.

The mindset within the UCI – to condone this behaviour sets a worrying precedent.
I have always believed the sport management is the biggest problem rather than the doping.
This validates that.

Ad October 6, 2011 at 9:32 am

Doesn’t seem much doubt about it now:

http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/uci-deny-threatening-teams-in-lead-up-to-tour-of-beijing

Don’t seem to be denying that the letter (or letters) exist anymore. Just trying to ignore it.

The Inner Ring October 6, 2011 at 10:53 am

Odd that they denied the existence of letters that they sent out, that was very silly.

To those saying McQuaid has to go, perhaps it’s time for someone else. He’s good at some things but obviously in other areas he has, let’s say it kindly, issues. But this is not about one man, it is a systemic question about how the UCI is run. Replace McQuaid overnight and you still have many organisational conflicts of interest. I’d like to see a stronger management that includes more people in the sport instead of the current system. It’s about a lot more than one man, no?

cthulhu October 6, 2011 at 10:54 am

@The Pelican: Are you sure about this?
“In Australia, the national governing body (bless them) doesn’t get one-cent out of the biggest race in the country (the TDU) – not even a sanctioning fee! Is this right?”
Because we even have to pay a fee for our little amateur race over here, not much, but I wonder what for, and I cannot imagine a governing body pass that chance to cash big time on a WorldTour race.

ChrisO October 6, 2011 at 11:21 am

@InnerRing
I agree the problems are systemic, although the tone is set by Mad Pat.

However I would suggest that having more people from the sport, while good in the long term, is not necessarily the immediate answer.

Other sports – and businesses – have had success by bringing in people from outside, who have a fresh view on things and have not been institutionalised.

Mitt Romney, the US presidential candidate, for example was brought in to clean up after the Salt Lake Winter Olympics descended into a corruption scandal. The situation is not a million miles away from the UCI, which while probably not corrupt is nevertheless widely regarded as unreliable, out of touch and untrustworthy.

Anybody who comes from inside – even someone with a lateral approach like Vaughters – is going to have too much baggage with them.

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