Replacing Pat McQuaid

UCI congress

Many cycling fans love the sport but not the politics and certainly the mention of UCI President Pat McQuaid can quickly elicit boos and hisses from many. The case for the prosecution is quite strong, take your pick from the chaos in the sport, murky dealings, bizarre public statements and much more. But more recently frustration with the President has grown. Joe Lindsey sets out a strong case over at the Boulder Report.

Not many are making the case for the defence, least of all the UCI. For what it’s worth, I tend to think McQuaid’s got a mixed record. Let’s not forget he’s overseen the introduction of the toughest anti-doping rules, that the sport is spreading around the world athough I can hear irate readers saying he was never the driving force for these things, they’ve (had to) happen under his watch. But there’s a lot of behind the scenes activity where his chatty, relaxed ways can work wonders.

But if you wanted to replace the UCI President how do you do it? What’s the mechanism and who’s involved? A reader’s asked these questions this morning and it’s time to take a look.

Well the quick answer is that it’s near impossible. If you want to know more, read on. The President is elected by The Congress. This itself is a meeting of cycling officials from around the world. Under the UCI Constitution these officials appoint voting members, a total of 42 divided into regions as follows:

Africa 7 delegates
Asia 9 delegates
America 9 delegates
Europe 14 delegates
Oceania 3 delegates

These 42 are the ones who vote to install or dismiss the President. McQuaid was first elected in 2005, he was then re-elected in 2009. The next vote comes in 2013.

Most are not looking to rock to the boat. I’ve spoken to two officials when I mentioned the name McQuaid they replied how they like working with him. When I asked about the problems associated with him, they merely shrugged. This is far from a “representative sample”, just a few words with a couple of officials. But my feeling here is that most of the senior officials from around the world are satisfied with McQuaid, their jobs after all are mainly occupied with the Olympics and amateur riders. A few federations are not happy but other federations have a wariness of these sceptics and so any plans to change things can get met with suspicion. It’s very political.

There are three additional considerations to add to the political mix:

  • If you want to vote out Pat McQuaid then you are going to take down a lot of the executive Management Committee because they are closely associated with him. These are the high priests of cycling, to remove the top man is by extension to sanction them. Turkeys rarely vote for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • As bad as things are, do you think an official from Oceania is bothered by things now? Pro cycling sits at the top of the sport but those running bicycle polo, BMX or MTB are not as frustrated by the wranglings at the top. Many simply don’t have the inclination to take on the reform of professional road racing and there’s a prevalent view that a lot of the grumblings are mere nonsense from pesky journalists as well as forums and blogs.
  • Those at the top enjoy perks and privileges. When McQuaid stood for election he ran against another candidate Sylvia Schenk. At the time there were allegations McQuaid was given the full contact details for the voting delegates, allowing him to cultivate essential relationships. It seems some enjoy asymmetric advantages. Plus there’s a gravy train, as Schenk put itafter the nomination of McQuaid as successor to Hein Verbruggen they discovered a bottle of fine Irish whiskey in their hotel rooms“. A nice gesture and there’s much more, for example holidays courtesy of others and all without a transparent register of gifts.

Mission impossible
Give all this, dislodging Pat McQuaid looks near impossible. You’d need to get plenty of delegates on board but they’d want to see plans for change and any vote to dismiss the President would upset what is quite a friendly club. It would take real crisis to get it to happen, for example proof that the UCI President had visited a star rider to advise them how to manage a positive test.

This crisis however could arise given the implosion of the Beijing Tour scheduled for October. The UCI is currently spending a small fortune to administer and promote this race but the riders and teams are threatening to boycott the race. If every top team were to reject this race the humiliation would be substantial, not to mention the financial cost of an aborted race.

Lightning rod
There’s a lot wrong with the sport and to some extent the President is the figurehead who is supposed to be in charge. As such a lot of the blame gets pinned on him simply because he’s the visible one. Personally I think he’s too visible, he gives inappropriate interviews where he consistently puts his foot in his mouth and it would help if others shared the load a bit more. Just as McQuaid can’t claim credit for all the good changes in the sport, fans can’t lay all the problems at his door. But it’s more a question of how effectively he deals with the problems and he is paid a handsome salary to act as the UCI figurehead. Rebutting criticism is part of the job.

The rules make it hard to remove McQuaid. The politics make it harder. But I think it goes deeper than one man. Get rid of him and you don’t fix the problems, you just remove the top guy when a lot of trouble with the UCI is institutional, although leadership matters. It’s not as simple as removing one guy. Perhaps this is the first step but there’d need to be suggestions for the replacement an agenda for reform and probably thoughts given to pleasing the key officials who make the electorate. Fans, teams, riders and race organisers can only make representations, they have no direct voice.

After writing the response to the question, I’ve a thought about the wider issues so I’ve come back to tag on a few more words. Essentially if many at the UCI Congress don’t grasp the problems, if they are satisfied with McQuaid or feel they’re more interested in MTB or BMX, then that’s fine for them now. But not necessarily for ever.

The pro road scene is now asking aloud whether it is being served by the UCI and should a breakaway league form  then the UCI will be severely diminished. Not least because the World Road Race championships are the single largest source of revenue. Those who attend UCI meetings without too much interest in elite cycling or road racing might want to reflect on this.

15 thoughts on “Replacing Pat McQuaid”

  1. Can I suggest that one of the first ways to crack open the UCI is to crack open their accounts. If all of their debits and credits could be laid open for public scrutiny, i think that would help confirm/dispel issues, perceived or otherwise….

  2. Best essay on this subject I’ve read so far, good job. I fear the pros may be “jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire” if they allow a for-profit, pro-only NBA or NFL-style program to take over their sport. It’s tough to imagine these folks being somehow LESS corrupt than the UCI. Pat McQuaid’s certainly not the best PR guy but neither was Verbruggen. Perhaps with their increased level of transparency the UCI can appoint a spokesperson who’s a little less “foot in mouth” than McQuaid and let things cool down a bit?

  3. “It’s very political”

    This is the fundamental problem – UCI is a political body trying to run a commercial enterprise. Very rarely, if ever, has this been successful.

    In other (US-based) sports, the chief executive of the sport is appointed by and works for those that have the riskiest financial stake in the sport (the team owners in NBA, NFL, etc.) or is an entrepreneur with the most financial stake in the sport (UFC, bull riding, F1 as I understand it). At least in business, money talks, not bottles of whisky.

    In cycling, it would make the most sense for ASO, AEG, RCS , etc. to form their own commercial league like the NFL and hire a commissioner to administer rules and promote the sport broadly.

    To the extent that one believes it possible for a political body like UCI to successfully promote the sport, McQuaid is a poor leader and not the type of person who can pull it off. The best leaders are able to “sell” their ideas to stakeholders, build consensus, and get everyone rowing the boat in the same direction. It was shocking to read McQuaid’s recent letter telling riders explicitly “you have no say in the decisions we make” – even if true, I’ve never heard an effective leader say such a thing.

    Your article is well thought out in terms of the political mechanisms required to remove McQuaid. I would, however, add one more – it is my understanding that UCI derives its ‘mandate’ to govern cycling from the IOC and the worldwide Olympic movement. If the IOC catches wind of the current situation and how McQuaid is responding, they could exert sufficient pressure to force him to step down.

    In reality, though, it is the structure that needs to change – from a political enterprise to a commercial one.

  4. Just read on another website (Fixed Gear Fever) that a Eurosport commentator covering the World Track Championships stated that the UCI is looking to ban shoe covers. Seriously?

  5. And on the whole governance issue I see in cyclingnews today that McQuaid’s brother is involved in the Richmond bid for the 2015 Worlds. Again, it isn’t that family can’t be involved (perhaps) but there does need to be clear conflict of interest policies in place, that we can all see, read, and understand. I don’t know if there is, but I believe his son is also involved in cycling as a rider agent, and you want to ensure that there is no suspicion of nepotism by having visible and transparent conflict of interest procedures.

  6. roomservicetaco: true but if it becomes “all very commercial” then I get worried too. The incentives to ignore cheats (and others who create bad news) would only grow. It would require big safeguards.

    Kevin: good question. If you go back more they’ve done some good with minimum wages, bank guarantees and more for the riders.

    Dave: there are regulations on clothing, things only allowed for safety or warmth. Aero extras are already questionable. (yes, this is silly).

    Adrian Miles: yes, I’ve covered these obvious conflict of interests before:
    The people mentioned here didn’t enjoy reading it. But I felt it got taken the wrong way. They’ve grown up around the sport and have a right to earn a living and put things learned to work. It’s just exactly as you say, the UCI as an institution has no safeguards. Pat McQuaid says he “leaves the room” when subjects are discussed but that’s very weak. What about implicit pressure and other factors. This needs fixing if the UCI wants to claim it’s running a professional sport and not an amateur committee.

  7. Read in the last days that there is a procedure for bringing on a ” Special Motion/ management meeting ” , sorry forgot to save the site and so was unable to quote it in my ” parrabuddy post ” today !
    @roomservicetaco has said a lot about your article that i am in agreement with ! Who would have thought that you were 18 months in front of the point that we are now reaching ?
    Time you did a followup item for your many followers since you are held in such high regard and i am just a side show by comparison .

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