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.
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.
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.