The Beijing boycott

UCI sign contract
Anyone know a good Sino-Swiss contract lawyer?

With the dispute over race radios rumbling on, there’s talk of a boycott of the Tour of Beijng. a five-day stage race scheduled for October. If you haven’t heard of this race, don’t worry since it’s a new one but nevertheless it’s on the UCI’s World Tour calendar. A surprising addition given it’s never been held before.

The latest fuel on the fire comes from a sudden decision by UCI officials to block the team association the AIGCP and riders representatives from the CPA from an important meeting to which they’d been invited. Inviting people one minute and barring them the next does look infantile from here. Let’s hope the UCI gets out an explanation soon.

Putting aside the pro/anti radio debate for a minute, I’ve said before that I’m worried that the sport itself gets taken hostage by political bickering. Protests during races don’t work, they just confuse casual fans who probably don’t their acronyms or even that riders use radios during a race. It embarrasses race organises and could cost them too.

McQuaid beijing
All eyes are on the UCI's next move

But if you had to pick a race to make a point then it’s got to be the Tour of Beijng. Why? Well, first few get harmed since the race has never been run before, it’s not like a fragile tradition is at risk here. Second, not many teams want to go all the way to China for an unknown race, quite a few sponsors simply have no commercial interests in China. Third the riders are in a similar position, many will not fancy the long journey at the end of the season, don’t forget the tales of clenbuterol-contaminated pork too.

But the biggest reason is that this race is the baby of the UCI, the sole race on the calendar that the UCI itself promotes. The sport’s governing body is so closely linked to the organisation of this race that if it’s diminished then standing of the UCI takes a hit. If the race goes down several people in Aigle are going to lose face big time with the Beijing authorities. Money is at stake too.

High stakes
It’s not without risks. China is obviously on its way to becoming the world’s biggest economy and upsetting sporting officials there could see the future of the sport put on hold. But obviously the solution is to run the race but let local teams in. But again this shows the risks involved with the UCI, it’s taken on the role of organising and promoting the race and the risks that go with this. It is simultaneously trying to promote the sport and push a race whilst also trying to set its rules.

The “dis-invitation” of the CPA and AIGCP from an upcoming meeting looks ridiculous from here and certainly hands the pro-radio camp a minor PR win. But the talk of a boycott has got to causing panic with the UCI. I’d rather everything was harmonious but we’re not there. I don’t want to see any races disrupted but if the teams stay away from this race it represents a substantial humiliation for the UCI without too much collateral damage, although don’t be surprised if the Chinese join the rest of the world in thinking pro cycling can appear incapable of progress.

Where next?
My thoughts are that the UCI should perform a spectacular U-turn around: drop the radio ban and apologise for poor consultation.  But at the same time it can slam the door shut in front of the Trojan Horse attempts of teams to expand their influence on the way the sport is run. I’m all in favour of riders and teams behind heard and this needs to be expanded but I draw the line at letting them decide or veto. It’s a tricky balance: the UCI needs to act as a rallying point, uniting various groups around common ideas, not as a divisive organising playing groups off against each other. Right now that balance isn’t being achieved. A governing body must govern, but govern wisely.

13 thoughts on “The Beijing boycott”

  1. As if there are not enough signs of conflict of interest… It takes mighty big stones to place a new event on the World Tour calendar, especially if you own it. What exactly are the criteria for having an event considered for placement on this calendar? They must be published right next to where the criteria for being a participating team are. It is hard to believe that the UCI is run from precise and neutral Switzerland.

  2. The radio debate has gotten to be so stupid it is insane. The equivalent of suddenly requiring all bike frames to be made of metal. Radios are here, they just make it easier to get food or help with mechanicals. Anybody who’s raced with them can attest that, during crunch time, when it really matters, radios don’t work well enough to communicate anything beyond “keep it up!”, “almost there!” and “yeeeaaaahhh!” If you ban them, then we go through the same deal about sending texts to bike computers. It’s 2011, more information is better.

    The biggest worry is that the UCI is so detached from the day-to-day of the sport that they’re willing to spend this much time on radios. I mean really, how many races have been canceled this year? How many teams have trouble finding sponsors?

  3. I like the idea because it makes the UCI think today but we see no protest before october. this creates the time for dialogue and a solution. also the championships of worlds are also the race of the UCI.

  4. Coincidentally, the riders have chosen a race in one of the most polluted cities in the World. Seems to me rider health plays into this.

    I wish the UCI would let each cycling region grow organically, instead of trying to hold races in far flung locales where the locals do not care, and all that happens is bribes are paid to UCI officials by corrupt government officials or wealthy dictators.

  5. Touriste-Routier: true. The licence application might go rather smoothly I suspect! Still, the UCI can organise a race, they have experience people and should do a good job. It’s just once again they haven’t got people on board, it’s creating trouble.

    Erik: well without dialogue you get a stand off. Every negotiation case study shows both sides need to meet, to talk, to trust eachother. We’re not there, are we?

    jza: that’s true, a lot of time, energy and goodwill is being chewed up here. It’s not really just the radios, it’s the way rules (are perceived to be) are introduced without much consultation.

    Gianni: good point, the timing allows a “ticking clock” but no immediate threat. The Worlds is a race that the UCI gets TV money but it is staged by a local “organising committee”.

    Colorado Goat: another reason the riders might not want to go. I don’t mind an exhibition race but you need to create a situation where teams say “yes, we want to go”. I can imagine Garmin might want to sell satnavs, I can imagine Quick Step might want to push laminate flooring. Even if Liquigas don’t operate in Asia, Cannondale might like the idea. But teams like Ag2r and Lampre would probably be glad to give up their pot for an Asian team.

  6. I like to pretend that the ‘radio ban’ is pure spin, a cunning marketing ploy to distract us from doping and to maintain interest in the sport during the early part of the season. The actions of the UCI, AIGP and co are deliberately engineered to ensure the debate continues until the media lose interest. In the mean time the UCI attract attention to events like the tour of Beijing which most of us would never have even given a second look at. To this extent the UCI are geniuses, demonstrating true leadership, the future of the sport is safe in their hands.

    The alternative is too bleak to consider.

  7. While they certainly have the skill sets, it seems to me the UCI shouldn’t be organizing events. In effect they can end up competing for a calendar slot against a 3rd party, which is certainly an unfair advantage in the review/approval process. A governing body should govern, not compete with their constituents; arms length is one thing, but this is in house.

  8. Q: How much it costs to have your new race on the UCI World Tour?

    A: Nothing, of course. It’s all for the betterment and expansion of the sport, don’t ya know.


  9. Pat McQuaid is a disgrace and UCI really need a change in presidency. Oh, and by the way: Get rid of Rumpf and the horrible pressofficer Enrico Carpani as well

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