It might be round number from the decimal system but over the years various political administrations and managerial careers have been reviewed after just 100 days. In this spirit it was 100 days ago that Brian Cookson rode the train from Florence to Aigle to start work as UCI President. What’s happened and what’s next?
Listening to the Eurosport podcast’s review of the year, I was reminded that the election process on the day was a farce. Held in the same building where Niccolò Machiavelli once held office, at times the UCI Congress was more Franz Kafka than power politics, at one moment there was the tautological vote to decide whether they should vote on an issue. Arguably Cookson’s first act of power was standing up to say “We’ve had enough of this. I propose that we go straight to the vote between the two candidates” which delivered him the necessary 24 votes.
Cookson assumed power on the spot and in no time the gumshoes of private security agency Kroll were instructed to secure the UCI’s computer system, apparently taking Pat McQuaid’s laptop. The former President denied this, instead it seems a back-up copy was made of the UCI’s servers.
If Kroll went in, others got their marching orders. Belgian laywer Philippe Verbiest was never a UCI employee but had been retained as legal counsel and a mastermind behind tactical blunders like suing Paul Kimmage or thwarting USADA’s case against Lance Armstrong and his US Postal colleagues. Cookson needed little time to tell Verbiest his services were no longer required. Another departure was Christophe Hubschmid, the UCI Director General who helped Pat McQuaid’s awkward search for a nomination. Viewed from afar Hubschmid seemed to cross a line, bending the UCI’s Constitution to suit the incumbent rather than upholding the principles and Cookson seemed to take the same view. Less one-sided during the campaign, Devra Pitt Gétaz has also left the UCI’s communications department.
In came Martin Gibbs, Cookson’s policy director at British Cycling, as the new Director General. Tracy Gaudry was a new Vice President and every UCI Commission, jargon for committee, now includes one woman. It’s a start to balancing things but a long way to go: how about abolishing the UCI rule that states the World Championships must have six “maids of honor” to deliver the medals? Meanwhile Swiss lawyer Antonio Rigozzi has been appointed as legal councillor, an ironic choice given he worked for many a cyclist in anti-doping cases brought by the UCI; he’s an expert on sports law and arbitration but one wish for the Cookson’s term is less prominence for lawyers.
Truth and Reconciliation
Cookson’s biggest drive has been the idea of a “Truth and Reconciliation” process. The name is all wrong, conjuring thoughts of a South African process for forgiveness but any plans have to be framed by the WADA rules. For now the international anti-doping agency seems unwilling to bend its rules to suit the UCI’s agenda meaning amnesty looks no more possible tomorrow than it was yesterday, only “substantial assistance” will be considered when mitigating a ban. Think instead of the Independent Commission plan to investigate what went on in the past and we should get an update on its composition in the coming days. It’ll be useful to learn from the past – why wasn’t Armstrong disqualified in the 1999 Tour – but each passing day sees this time look less and less relevant.
Meanwhile with someone high in the UCI seeming to brief the British press about “dynamite” you wonder if there’s added motivation to get back at Pat McQuaid for the torment he created during the campaign last summer? Certainly due process doesn’t include briefing the newspapers.
Talking of payback of the monthly kind the UCI President’s salary is now public knowledge. The news release was loaded with a reference to Pat McQuaid’s salary and media reports stated Cookson would “take a pay cut”. Only since he’d never had a UCI salary before there was no cut. He’s on a headline salary of 340,000 Swiss Francs (US$375,000 / €275,000). It was a tilt at McQuaid and a sneaky way to say “this is a big number but lower than the past”. It’s a great wage but if you think it’s astronomical, note Switzerland is an enclave of high pay and high prices too, supermarket cashiers earn 48,000 Francs a year ($45,000 / €33,000) and a pizza and coke can cost you more than anywhere else in the world. The headline salary is one part of Cookson’s package, it’s traditional that he gets a house on top of the salary, something of considerable value too.
As previously the President of the Road Commission in the UCI, Cookson’s a signed-up member of the plans to shake-up the calendar by 2020 so it’s hard to see much change here. However we’re still waiting to learn the fate of GCP, the UCI’s in-house race promotion arm that loses money faster than the UCI can infuse it with cash. GCP promotes the Tour of Beijing, an event that can’t get a break whether its air pollution, denying teams with Japanese sponsors or fears of contaminated meat. You sense GCP could turn a corner to make profit but will Cookson wait or give up this obvious conflict of interest? All will be revealed by the “International Development Commission”.
An independent anti-doping effort was another campaign pledge. There’s an audit of procedures at the moment prior to creating this. But the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) is UCI agency already with separate legal identity. Someone once told me this was in case the UCI was taken to the cleaners, the CADF could be bankrupted but not bring down the whole governing body, an interesting theory. But the CADF was hardly independent, housed in the UCI and its most senior director was a certain P McQuaid. Cookson’s not a director and it looks like the CADF will be pushed further outside the UCI but it’s all a matter of degree, it’s likely to remain dependent on the UCI for funding but it could be operationally independent. If you see what I mean.
President McQuaid had his strengths but dealing with the media wasn’t his best area. As a result interviews were rare and often defensive. By contrast Brian Cookson seems more relaxed in front of the cameras although the UCI’s communications, Its social media efforts look very rigid.
Reports that Greece was offered €25,000 to back Cookson in UCI presidential race. We’ve seen proof that it was indeed the case.
— Orla Chennaoui (@SkyOrla) September 27, 2013
And we’ve not seen this allegation cleared up. I gather the proof was an email apparently from one of Cookson’s supporters on the UCI management committee but others have whispered about a fake email account, a possible smear attempt. It would be good to clear up.
Many a politician can flounder in their first 100 days, restrained by the checks and balances of democracy and caught out by their excessive campaign pledges. The UCI President is far more powerful with fewer roadblocks and Brian Cookson didn’t need to promise the earth to win the job either.
So far nothing seems to have gone wrong since September, a point to note given the UCI’s previous propensity for accidents. Since taking the train to Aigle Cookson’s launched a flotilla of audits and initiatives meaning the real decisions are postponed, sensible to review before deciding. But women’s cycling should benefit from increased representation and the goodwill resulting from change is opening doors for the sport as a whole.
Able to shape the sport, improve the UCI’s reputation all whilst being well-paid, this could be the best job in sports administration. The leadership might have changed but many of the UCI’s problems have been institutional, for example the way it handles a conflict of interest shouldn’t depend on the President or whoever they’ve appointed to run the Ethics Committee. So far so good but it’s the next 1,000 days and beyond that count.
- Hat tip to Dan Craven, aka @DanFromNam for the Cookson photo from the UCI African championships Egypt