I had to put yesterday’s piece in the conditional tense and use a question mark in the title. That’s no longer necessary given the letters sent by the UCI President Pat McQuaid are now confirmed by further sources… including the UCI itself.
Oddly the UCI started by denying this. When asked about the letters, official spokesman Enrico Carpani told the Velocast:
“I don’t know from where you got this, but I can only firmly deny UCI took such initiative. We are not used to work on this way.“
In other communications Pat McQuaid also denied the existence of letters… that he signed but now it’s in the open. It makes for a embarrassment because at best these people look very forgetful and it suggests the spokesman doesn’t know what is going on. At worst, there’s also the chance that these guys felt they had something to hide and resorted to denial.
Cyclingnews.com quotes verbatim from the letter:
I can also assure you that any team who does not take the start line in Beijing will be brought before the UCI Licence Commission at the end of the year and risks losing its licence and all the associated benefits.
As I stated yesterday this has to be bluff. The UCI has every right to protect the World Tour but scaring sponsors with empty threats is surely the wrong way to go about this. Hinting that licences can be taken away when the actual rules state this can’t happen is disingenuous. Companies spending millions of pounds to support a team will get a cold sweat when they read the investment could be harmed. I suspect the corporate executives receiving the letter don’t have the UCI handbook near to double-check. Besides surely they’d take the President’s letter at face value rather than verifying his words match the rules.
The irony is that if the UCI had left it to others to promote the Tour of Beijing instead of trying to place race organiser via its commercial subsidiary then teams would not have raised the threat of a boycott, because it would not have embarrassed the UCI. In turn sponsors would not receive veiled warnings that their investment in cycling could be jeopardised. It’s the conflict of interest between trying to preside over the sport and wanting to promote a particular race that has given rise to this.
The UCI said “this subject is closed as far as UCI is concerned the UCI does not wish to comment” to cyclingnews.com but it has some explaining to do. Still, you can see why they want to run away from this.
First the initial denial doesn’t look very good, telling people the letters don’t exist when you’ve sent them is a mistake. Whether by accident or deliberate, misinformation from official sources matters and it’d help if it was fixed. We all make mistakes and I’ll gladly change things on here if someone’s good enough to alert me.
Next is the more serious issue. When I first heard of these letters I confess I thought it was such a stupid idea that it could not be true. Trying to scare sponsors is the last thing the sport needs. Something has gone wrong when the President thinks it’s useful to threaten businesses, both over their investment in cycling and their wider interests in China just to make a race happen. There are other ways to get teams to ride
It’s a bit like a tale from an undeveloped country. In many parts of the world the absence of the rule of law and the uncertainty created by a temperamental government can thwarts efforts to develop and scare away foreign investors. The same actions in cycling don’t help the stable climate needed to foster sponsorship and expand the calendar.
I can see the UCI’s incentive to make the Beijing race work but would only wish they’d stick to positive arguments that don’t put noses out of joint or jeopardise team sponsorship. The denial looks inappropriate too.
We shouldn’t bash the UCI, indeed I’ve long said we need “more UCI”. Instead of issuing open threats the governing body should work with its existing rules and promote the benefits of a global calendar of great bike races. For example if it awarded the deal to run the race to ASO (or another specialist) then no boycott would have existed and there would be no need to worry existing supporters of pro cycling.
I think the UCI needs to stick to its strengths, namely acting as a neutral governing body that upholds the rules instead of venturing in to race promotion and product licencing. This mission creep is causing too many conflicts of interest and over-complicating the administration of our sport.