UCI threats to sponsors confirmed

McQuaid and Liu Peng

I had to put yesterday’s piece in the conditional tense and use a question mark in the title. That’s no longer necessary given the letters sent by the UCI President Pat McQuaid are now confirmed by further sources… including the UCI itself.

Oddly the UCI started by denying this. When asked about the letters, official spokesman Enrico Carpani told the Velocast:

“I don’t know from where you got this, but I can only firmly deny UCI took such initiative. We are not used to work on this way.

In other communications Pat McQuaid also denied the existence of letters… that he signed but now it’s in the open. It makes for a embarrassment because at best these people look very forgetful and it suggests the spokesman doesn’t know what is going on. At worst, there’s also the chance that these guys felt they had something to hide and resorted to denial.

Cyclingnews.com quotes verbatim from the letter:

I can also assure you that any team who does not take the start line in Beijing will be brought before the UCI Licence Commission at the end of the year and risks losing its licence and all the associated benefits.

As I stated yesterday this has to be bluff. The UCI has every right to protect the World Tour but scaring sponsors with empty threats is surely the wrong way to go about this. Hinting that licences can be taken away when the actual rules state this can’t happen is disingenuous. Companies spending millions of pounds to support a team will get a cold sweat when they read the investment could be harmed. I suspect the corporate executives receiving the letter don’t have the UCI handbook near to double-check. Besides surely they’d take the President’s letter at face value rather than verifying his words match the rules.

The irony is that if the UCI had left it to others to promote the Tour of Beijing instead of trying to place race organiser via its commercial subsidiary then teams would not have raised the threat of a boycott, because it would not have embarrassed the UCI. In turn sponsors would not receive veiled warnings that their investment in cycling could be jeopardised. It’s the conflict of interest between trying to preside over the sport and wanting to promote a particular race that has given rise to this.

Question time
The UCI said “this subject is closed as far as UCI is concerned the UCI does not wish to comment” to cyclingnews.com but it has some explaining to do. Still, you can see why they want to run away from this.

First the initial denial doesn’t look very good, telling people the letters don’t exist when you’ve sent them is a mistake. Whether by accident or deliberate, misinformation from official sources matters and it’d help if it was fixed. We all make mistakes and I’ll gladly change things on here if someone’s good enough to alert me.

Next is the more serious issue. When I first heard of these letters I confess I thought it was such a stupid idea that it could not be true. Trying to scare sponsors is the last thing the sport needs. Something has gone wrong when the President thinks it’s useful to threaten businesses, both over their investment in cycling and their wider interests in China just to make a race happen. There are other ways to get teams to ride

It’s a bit like a tale from an undeveloped country. In many parts of the world the absence of the rule of law and the uncertainty created by a temperamental government can thwarts efforts to develop and scare away foreign investors. The same actions in cycling don’t help the stable climate needed to foster sponsorship and expand the calendar.

I can see the UCI’s incentive to make the Beijing race work but would only wish they’d stick to positive arguments that don’t put noses out of joint or jeopardise team sponsorship. The denial looks inappropriate too.

We shouldn’t bash the UCI, indeed I’ve long said we need “more UCI”. Instead of issuing open threats the governing body should work with its existing rules and promote the benefits of a global calendar of great bike races. For example if it awarded the deal to run the race to ASO (or another specialist) then no boycott would have existed and there would be no need to worry existing supporters of pro cycling.

I think the UCI needs to stick to its strengths, namely acting as a neutral governing body that upholds the rules instead of venturing in to race promotion and product licencing. This mission creep is causing too many conflicts of interest and over-complicating the administration of our sport.

42 thoughts on “UCI threats to sponsors confirmed”

  1. The governing body should only govern, not have a race promotion arm. Big conflict of interest for an organization that is supposed to be neutral and have the sport’s best interests in mind. Next thing you know the UCI will be making bikes (6.8kg +) and will only certify their own product as ‘legal’ to use in events under their jurisdiction…

  2. I think arguing for the UCI to stick to it’s “Strenghts” is a lark. Frankly, they don’t govern the sport very well – every year there is upheaval and acrimony, lax or random rule enforcement, and allusion to scandal. All that they seem to do well is protect their own interests and create a culture of divisiveness between the teams, the riders, the promoters, themselves, and now the sponsors. Maybe a post on what you think the UCI does ‘right’ or what it’s strengths really are…

  3. UCI is corrupt. Is this how the rest of Europe is run? I remember McQaif accusing some countries as Mafia but the UCI sure acts like the Mafia.

  4. @the Inner Ring. It would be better if the governing body stuck to governing, but with so much money in cycling, do we really see that as a possibility? McQuaid has too many Conflicts of interest that cause him to do whats best for his pocket and the Pockets of his family(Worlds in the USA, run by his son?) No other Governing body that I am aware of allows you to be part of it and have another iron in the fire because of said Conflict.

  5. @Brad: his brother runs the 2015 Worlds in Richmond, his one son is an agent for numerous riders, his other sun runs the races in Mumbai, some of the rest of the family are official Santini importer for Ireland… Conflicts of interest? What are you talking about??
    Seriously, this is all a scandal, but it seems that nobody really cares, or at least nobody dares to say anything, which annoys me. This way, I guess cycling will always stay a small, unprofessional sport…

  6. Wow! This is just incredible. What a mess. McQuaid should be fired over this but I have no idea how the UCI works and I guess that will never happen. The big teams and the big races really should think about leaving the UCI and forming their own league.

  7. Totally agree. Scaring sponsors when teams are already folding due to lack of sponsorship is idiocy. The apparent bullying tone of the UCI letter comes across as panicked, bordering on the hysterical. The UCI are trying to look strong but instead look stupid. And wrong. This is the third or fourth time in as many months that I’ve read one of your posts and thought the same question: why can’t the UCI check their own rules?

    I appreciate the argument that they should separate their two somewhat conflicting halves but your (very good) piece on UCI finances shows how desperately they need the money from organising races. If the UCI should not run the Beijing tour, why should they run the world championships? If they no longer received the income from the Worlds they’d have to sack most of their staff. Or totally change the way they are funded. More money from sponsors and TV rights seem to be the main possibilities. I suspect the funding changes will not happen quickly enough, so for now, I’d just be happier if they read their own rulebook and enforced it.

  8. I think the scariest element of this letter is telling sponsors that the very act of sponsoring a team could affect their business operations in China.

    If a team gets kicked out of the ProTour then the sponsor loses their publicity investment. If a sponsor is targeted by a government then they could potentially lose their whole business. It makes sponsoring a cycling team a very risky prospect indeed! No sensible company would consider it when there are plenty of other sports out there to sponsor. And the UCI wonders why Highroad couldn’t find a sponsor?

    The UCI have now moved from mis-management to actively damaging the sport. I thought they made a very astute political move when they brought in the ASO in to run the Tour of Beijing. No cycling team wants to upset the owner of the TdF and, given that both the teams and the riders have demonstrated an inability to act as a cohesive group, they all would have ended up toeing the line without further explicit threats being required. But no, a good move is followed by a bad move. And the really sad part is that it just wasn’t necessary!! How many sponsors will now not even consider cycling as a viable option? I guess we will never know.

  9. Brad / PVB: yes, these conflicts exist. Personally I’m happy to see the McQuaids making a living but I dislike the weak institutional protection in the UCI. McQuaid says he “walks out of the room” when they were discussing who gets the 2015 worlds but that’s not enough for an organisation trying to claim it’s in the 21st century.

    Dan: well the UCI President is elected by delegates sent by national federations. If you want, contact your country’s federation and let them know your concern.

    OJT / Wal: exactly, it is one thing to defend the race – we are where we are with GCP – but another to threaten a company’s business interests in China all because of a cycling team you sponsor. Take Garmin, the % of their income from cycling devices is relatively small and they don’t need to have their team in China… but if they got shout out of the in-car sat nav market in China it could cost them hundreds of millions, maybe billions of dollars. Even hinting to a sponsor that you’re willing to go down this route is absurd…. and surely an abuse of power?

  10. Given that the UCI already “owns” the World Championships and promotes them as well (right?) it seems pointless to argue that they shouldn’t be in the business of promoting races that they can also govern. Actually, if the UCI wants to commercially-develop new races via a wholly-owned subsidiary (or even one that’s off-the-books) I think it’s great – as long as they do so fairly and responsibly. And it would seem that mailing implied threats to sponsors to force their teams’ participation in a UCI-promoted race is neither fair nor responsible, and I hope that it didn’t really happen and that the letters are forgeries, part of Overlord’s vast conspiracy to overthrow the government. Err., I mean the UCI.

  11. Joe Papp: maybe the worlds are a bit different, in that they don’t compete with other events on the calendar and the teams don’t ride (but the TTT next year is different)? I too hope the letters are forgeries… but I’ve seen other communications from UCI staff admitting the methods were used.

  12. I wouldn’t want McQuaid’s job for anything. There’s probably a lot going on that only he / UCI knows that could either explain everything, or make it more suspect.

    Have there been any updates on the “new league” that was allegedly in the works, the creation of a few team directors? Don’t think I’ve seen anything on that lately.

    Thanks for the open discussion.

  13. It is all about power. Red v Blue, so to speak. UCI has known for many years that financially they are deep down the pockets of the teams so securing an additional income from organizing races is no crime, just pure logic in order to create a healthy business. As cycling fans we are actually not used to see the tricks behind the ropes – and maybe we just want to remember UCI as the body who simply approved the color or the jerseys and set the date for the World Championship.

    But thanks to Velonation, Cyclingnews and Inrng (although they tend to copy paste each other) we now know more about what is going on. As a matter of fact what happens in the UCI are absolutely pranks compared to what is going on in the board rooms and managements of the sponsors, and let us not forget what is going on in team managements at the present. Finally, let us not forget that the best cycling annalists doesn’t neither come from the inner circles of business life. Go ride your bike in the weekend and stay healthy!

  14. Well… I agree with inrng and most of you other guys.


    UCI are not the only sport organisation that is doing more than governing the sport it is responsible for, FIFA is an example… (Not that it justifies what McQuaid and UCI has done)

  15. Maybe I was (edit: I was) a little naive when the doping scandals where at the highest. I never felt like the sport was threatened. Maybe because naive romantic view was that it was individual riders, who where the offenders and not organised “crime”.

    This, on the other hand, makes my stomach turn a little bit. Not only because of the essence of the case/letter, but also the signal this sends to the teams and sponsors. I wouldn’t blame them if they lost a little bit of confidence in the UCI because of methods like this.

  16. I have a question, what came first, Stapleton’s team folding or the letters to the sponsors?
    I the letters came first, could that be an explanation for the most successful team to fold?
    Regarding the election of the UCI president, I think that the Europe and USA federations are in minority to the African and Asian federations, so it is almost impossible to overturn him, would be nice if you wrote something about the rules and who of the federations that are behind him.

  17. I haven’t really followed news and results from the Tour of Beijing so far but this news has prompted me to take it a step further: from today I will boycott anything to do with the event. I don’t care who wins, comes second, last or anything. It is a non-event in my calendar.

    It is becoming increasingly obvious that the UCI is unfit to carry out its role in the sport. Perhaps it has to get (even) worse before it will get better but for everyone involved in the sport it really NEEDS to get better than this!

  18. UCI less is totally out of control !
    I have blogged about this all year and many know my views on mc quaid et alia !
    Fact is UCI controlled events are haphazard at best with their management blaming the local organisation if anything is substandard .
    Family being seen to gain benefits , spells ” Nepotism” at the very least . Mc Quaid is not a common name so it is blatantly obvious which family is benefitting from the presidency down the food chain .
    Where is the separation of interests that would be required in bids for Government Contracts in the International Business World ?
    Mc Quaid has become a bully over the years and when found at fault attempts to bluster his way out of the corner into which he has backed himself .
    Look at what he has done with ” Frames ” and it is certainly on the plan to add more equipment to require UCIless approval . Had it been to improve ” Safety ” then it would be applaudable but there are ulterior motives at work and one wonders who benefit indirectly behind the scenes !

    Mc Quaid has not got the support to stand aside whilst ” ALL the Anomalies are sorted” so it will require the IOC to instigate an Independent Audit before the UCI can be treated as a Respectable Governing Body in Sport !

    More people of Stapleton’s character are needed to stand up to this Oaf and his cronies !

  19. @inrg – you say
    “Companies spending millions of pounds to support a team will get a cold sweat when they read the investment could be harmed. I suspect the corporate executives receiving the letter don’t have the UCI handbook near to double-check. Besides surely they’d take the President’s letter at face value rather than verifying his words match the rules.”

    There’s an implication here that the UCI read their own rulebook before they act !
    What’s the likelihood that the UCI would apply their threats, then someone affected will point-out what the rulebook says and a huge kerfuffle would ensue, then even if the UCI back-down sponsors and potential-sponsors will just turn away ?

  20. The letter smells like “Hein Verbruggen”.

    Is it not that Hein Verbruggen, former UCI-president and currently an active IOC-member, was chairman of the IOC-committee that was responsible for organising (and selecting) Beijing 2008?

  21. If you think any other sport is governed any differently, you’re crazy. The Olympics being the most famous, FIFA, Italian league soccer, the list goes on. All totally backroom-governed, members-only clubs looking after their own.

    To Rich’s question about whether all of Europe is like this……yes, it is.

    It’s all dirty…….to the core.

  22. Big Mikey has hit the nail on the head. It seems that in the world that we live in now, it is wholly acceptable to employ shady practices, nepotism, bribery and bullying as long as you do so in the name of sport. All of the practices that we strive to eradicate from those who participate in sport, the pratices we as fans expect to never grace the chosen sporting arena that we frequent and the very pratices we work so hard to stop our children from picking up, are seen as completely fine by those who govern the sport.

    They rule not to promote the sport, they rule not to ensure a fair playing field but to personally benefit from the enjoyment that so many get by simply following the travails of men and women who play sport at the highest level.

  23. My original comment lost in transit so here is my blog posting :

    “ Bull in CHINA ” shop , causing more controversy by forgetting he signed correspondence and his spokesman “ mis-spoke ” when saying there was no such letter/s ?

    Don’t think so ! Whilst Deignan comes second to Nicholas Roche in stage 3 of the Tour of Beijing , the “ Trick Cyclist ( denied his Olympic ride by appearing in South Africa under an assumed name ) ” is grabbing all the headlines with a letter that must have caused ALL the Pro Team Management Angst .

    When Cycling news.Com and Innerring.com published their articles they were in denial that such behaviour could be allowed by the UCI let alone be published !

    Threatening reprisals at the end of 2011 on Teams that did not choose to participate in the “ Tour of Beijing ” with a review of their “ Status ” for 2012 was not only STUPID but contravenes the “ Rules and Regulations ” that the UCI pretends to operate under .

    Seems to me that there are going to be more than Stapleton’s HTC team having difficulty finding “ Main Sponsors ” in future years !

    Wish the Irish Media would concentrate on DEignan and Roche rather than the ” oaf’s shenanigans “!

  24. If any sponsor reduces it’s sponsorship or discontinues it’s relationship with a team as a result of the intentional interference from the UCI, then the governing body will be open to an argument that it has tortiously interfered with contract. Maybe the UCI would be prudent to seek legal advice before acting. It smacks of arrogance but I am sure ‘he’ and it will get away with it. Carpani obviously has no idea what is going on or worse still does not check before opening his mouth. Further, if the President is also acting from self interest due to an alleged shareholding in a private company then the may be concern due to a real conflict of interest. The President’s position may not continue to be creditable going forward.

  25. While the UCI certainly needs to be blown up and rebuilt in a transparent way, be careful of what you wish for. I laugh at the references to “corrupt Europe” made (likely) by North Americans who seem unaware of any corruption in the governing of their national sports or, how ’bout the mess with the Salt Lake Olympics? Isn’t the NBA currently in the middle of a huge argument over salaries and profits to the point the season has been delayed?

  26. Pat says whats the fuss, its just normal business practice.

    Quote from Velonews interview

    VN: How do you react to allegations that the UCI has threatened the teams and forced them to come to the Tour of Beijing?

    PM: Not at all. We were being strong-armed by them, we were the ones being blackmailed by the teams. We had to fight fire with fire. That’s business. That’s normal negotiations between parties.

  27. @James – recall that the teams originally planned a boycott to voice displeasure at the radio ban – so there is the politically convenient ring of truth in McQuaids comment…UCI is the victim here! Except he follows it up with “fight fire with fire”comment ..which implicitly supports the existence of the letters, which they so steadfastly denied….whoops! So….conjecture aside…what can be done is the question. As McQ stated….the voice and opinions of the bloggers and fans have no weight in UCI’s World…

  28. The worst thing is that the race itself turns out to be the worst crap ever. No public, no mileage, and the GC stays the same as in the prologue. Go to the other end of the world, breathe polluted air and don’t ride enough kilometres: what a great preparation Cunego or Sánchez have gotten for Lombardy!

  29. Big Mikey,
    I hope you’re not standing (or sitting) in the United States when making the, “It’s all dirty…….to the core” comment.

  30. This is completely absurd. Almost every week we read about politicians in the UK being forced to resign for comparitively minor offences, simply because it brings their judgement into question. How can McQuaid continue in his role after so many blunders and gaffs that I don’t think anyone in the sport has the slightest bit of faith in anything he says or does? The UCI are a governing body but are not – or certainly should not be – immune to pressures from those operating under it.

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