It’s been all over the newspapers on Monday and it is expected to be confirmed on Tuesday that British Cycling’s Brian Cookson will stand for President of the UCI, challenging the current President Pat McQuaid.
Whilst we wait to hear what Cookson’s got to say, there are a few things to look out for. For all the talk of a challenge, Cookson is a senior UCI insider. But this is how the system works.
A reminder there will be elections this September. The mechanism has been set out in an earlier piece but in summary the voters are delegates backed by national federations grouped by region but remember if you’re a licence holder you can ask your federation what their view is.
It’s good news even if you’re Pat McQuaid. Because the last thing the UCI needs is a win by default for McQuaid, an election without a challenge. It’s the equivalent of winning a bike race with one starter, a ride rather than race and McQuaid needs a strong endorsement rather than a slow handclap.
But this seems to have taken Pat McQuaid by surprise, indeed Cookson professed support for McQuaid earlier this year but that’s politics for you. Cookson is a UCI insider who has sat on the UCI’s Management Committee since 2009. Perhaps he was a critic or an alternative voice during this time? Indeed I understand he was with others trying a move to force Hein Verbruggen out of the UCI for good when it met to discuss the USADA/Armstrong case fallout but this was vetoed. But still, he’s been onboard the ship for all the years when it was fighting with USADA, scrapping its own Independent Commission and using UCI funds to sue Paul Kimmage, and those are just some lowlights from the past 12 months.
The British Problem
The fact that we’ve had one man from an island in the north Atlantic for the last two terms means having another from a different island in the north Atlantic might frustrate some. Even Europeans wanting “one of their own” could see Cookson as a continuation of the “anglo-saxon” trend launched by McQuaid. There’s also the conflict-of-interest aspect where unpicking British Cycling from Team Sky has been so difficult in the past that outside consultants had to be hired to give advice. I gather the recommendations were adopted but I suspect some greater degree of independence from the team could be needed.
But even if these issues are taken care of Cookson has a mountain to climb. If you’ve visited the UCI’s website in recent times you’ll have noted the sudden parade of national cycling bosses around the world (here, here, here etc etc) who have all been flown into Aigle giving McQuaid a unique opportunity to chat, discuss any of their particular concerns and look them in the eye. In other words the incumbent President has been having one-to-one meetings with the people who will vote for him at the UCI Congress in September.
It makes you wonder:
- is Cookson standing against Pat McQuaid in a fierce challenge or is thus just simply offering a sparring contest to ensure we don’t get an uncontested vote and thereby provide McQuaid’s third term with some legitimacy?
- if he’s serious and has real ambitions, will he find a way to remove McQuaid given the incumbency bias illustrated above? He could start with the “Pat McQuaid File” produced by some members of Irish Cycling as they attempt to stop McQuaid’s nomination in their home country but will need more to gain momentum
“He would be trusted by the Olympic Movement”
Another thing to remember is the International Olympic Committee is watching. In January we got hints the IOC might be a force behind Cookson, promoting him in order to get an Olympic sport out of troubled waters. Indeed it’s unlikely Cookson will make his stand by himself, it’ll be interesting to know who is behind him. Crucially is the European Cycling Union (UEC) group going to back him?
If he wants to defend a record, from the outside British Cycling seems to be thriving like no other. Whether at the top of the pyramid with the success of Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky and the track cycling team all the down to the base with a record number of licence holders at the bottom. Cookson will need to show how he played a part of in this.
This blog’s preferred oligarch Igor Makarov has declared he won’t run, telling rsport.ru of his frustrations with the UCI earlier this year. He’s on the brink of selling his Itera company for around $3 billion to Rosneft and so presumably has bigger things to do.
Perhaps the sport needs an outsider, someone with administrative experience who hasn’t been caught up the scandals and politicking of he UCI? The problem is that if you agree the mechanism of getting this mythical candidate selected is near possible. As we see with McQuaid trying to get selection in Switzerland instead of debating and winning the Irish vote, the candidate has to have the backing of a national federation. So they have to come from the “cycling family” and Cookson’s probably bid has to be seen in the context of this narrow gene pool.
A quick test for the UCI?
Will news of Cookson’s stand be relayed by the UCI website? It should be given they’ve been trumpeting McQuaid’s Swiss moves to get elected for a third time on their newswires. This is a quick test to see how the UCI will approach the challenge.
Plenty of questions yet that’s the point, a candidate will have to put their case and address arguments. Whilst he’s a challenger Cookson is a UCI insider but that’s the way the system works. Is Cookson a serious challenger or merely standing to provide a contest as opposed to a Soviet-style assembly where there’s a vote but only one candidate?
If it’s real ten Cookson’s got an enviable track record in Britain but this will now be subject to scrutiny. But even if his record is flawless he’s not been sounding out delegates from around the world so he’s got his work cut out in order to woo the electorate.
Regardless of motivation, means or result, any challenge and debate here has to be good for that reason it’ll be interesting to see what happens.