Yesterday saw the news that the UCI will vote on a special amendment to its constitution at its annual congress in September. The proposal allows presidential candidates to secure nominations from around the world and extends the deadline for nomination from late June to the end of August.
It’s hard not to see this as a bold move to ensure Pat McQuaid secures a nomination after he lost out in Ireland and his Swiss nomination faces a legal challenge. If the idea to broaden the nomination process is worthy, the backdated element looks like a rearguard move to save Pat McQuaid, as if the rules are being changed to suit an individual rather than the UCI.
But as tragic as the proposal appears, its chances of being adopted look slim. In fact it could all backfire and undermine the UCI’s reputation.
The item being proposed by the UCI includes a curious retrospective element where if approved, the vote in September would apply to the current nomination process and retrospectively the deadline to seek nomination would be extended from the end of June to August. More suspiciously the press release informs us that McQuaid has secured the nomination of the Thai and Moroccan federations, as if he’s had time to work this all out and this is all being arranged for his convenience.
It makes you wonder if the backdated element is because McQuaid is worried about his Swiss nomination. After the humiliation of being rejected by Irish Cycling, compounded by his refusal to take on the debate in his own country, McQuaid sought support from Swiss Cycling given he is resident in Switzerland. He’s on record saying he’s got legal advice saying the Swiss nomination is secure but what if this statement was a bluff or the advice was duff? You can see why a backdated change to the constitution with retrospective shift in the deadline for nomination suddenly becomes the only way for McQuaid to be sure of a valid nomination. It leaves McQuaid looking like a listing ship sailing from port to port in a desperate bid to find a flag of convenience.
The Poison Pill
This looks like a corporate ploy, a so-called “poison pill” strategy. The idea comes from corporate America where if a bidder came along to takeover a company then the company board could start deploying blocking tactics to thwart the buyer. For example if someone tried to buy a controlling stake in the company, the board could issue more stock so that the buyer can never get enough. It’s plain terms it’s the equivalent of running up an downwards escalator, no matter how fast you try, the incumbent board at the UCI have their hands on the speed lever so the outsider can never make it up.
It won’t happen
If you find the idea frustrating, the good news is that it won’t happen. Any constitutional changes to the UCI require a two-thirds majority in the vote, as opposed to the simple majority to elect a candidate. The UCI Congress has 42 delegates and 14 of these sit under the European confederation who are supporting Cookson. 14/42 = 33% so all it takes is one other delegate to side with the Europeans and the plan is sunk.
Given this, the risk is the proposal will collapse faster than a prototype carbon wheel in the Arenberg forest. In which case it leaves the Malaysians and Pat McQuaid standing by the road with mud on their races. The idea is already getting a terrible press.
I’ve no idea whether Brian Cookson is the right man to lead the UCI although it is apparent that Pat McQuaid is not the person the sport or the UCI needs. However Cookson has to treat this with care. He has two main options:
- declare the idea preposterous, asking why the rules need to be changed with a back-dated element and using this an example to illustrate the crony tendencies within the UCI and make a virtue of improving the UCI’s murky governance
- support it and seek further nominations from other federations. He’ll need to pick the right backers, after all McQuaid has already taken the care to line up extra African and Asian nominations. If Cookson finds ready support in Europe having an all-Euro ticket makes him look insular so he too needs to phone a friend on the other side of the world. Indeed Cookson could play this side well too, hinting that McQuaid’s Swiss nomination could be bogus and that it’s better to have a contest, playing the magnanimous type who rallies support
I like the idea of broadening the nomination process and allowing candidates to build-up nominations from around the world, it’s not a bad idea to debate for the future. But the retrospective element is procedural nonsense and needs a quiet and calm rejection. Governance reform is supposed to be high on the agenda following the Stakeholder report and the UCI should be above these kinds of stunts.
All the same, even if it requires a humiliating Malaysian parachute, perhaps it’s better if Pat McQuaid is allowed to take part, that a choice at the Congress is better than a coronation? That said McQuaid has had years to plan for his third term and the services of the UCI’s legal department to help and if he can’t secure a fair nomination by now then it suggests he’s struggling with the very rules he’s supposed to uphold. A governing body that bends its own rules risks putting its Congress and its President above its own constitutional legitimacy. Bend the rules today and who gets the cosy treatment tomorrow?
However for all the outrage, amusement and pity this proposal generates, it’s likely to lead nowhere. Each time McQuaid thinks he’s got the nomination in the bag he makes a procedural blunder. Bungling in Ireland meant his nomination got put to a vote which he lost, there’s uncertainty over Swiss Cycling’s nomination with a legal challenge and now this Malaysian plan could get palmed off.
Regardless of the outcome the UCI as an entity suffers from a low level of trust – even they acknowledge this via the Deloitte report – and moves like this only make the recovery task harder and make an organisation and indeed the sport suffer because of the wild actions of senior managers.