Debating Ideas, Not People

There’s a lot of focus on the likely re-election of Pat McQuaid for a third term as the UCI President. Rightly so because the job is an important one, both in terms of the political power but also the symbolism of being the boss of competitive cycling.

But I can’t help thinking there’s too much talk about the man and not enough about the job and the organisation itself.

First let’s run through the process of how you become the UCI chief. The President is elected by The Congress, a meeting of cycling officials from around the world, each from national federations. Under the UCI Constitution these officials appoint voting members to form an electoral college who vote for the President. There are a total of 42 delegates divided into regions as follows:

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

In order to stand as President a candidate has to be nominated by a national federation. Currently Pat McQuaid’s is the only name in the ring. But his nomination by Irish Cycling is wobbling pending a possible Extraordinary General Meeting. It’s right that the Irish get to debate who is the best candidate and I’ve been worried about foreigners trying to lecture them on the correct way to vote.. only few in Ireland ever got to vote, the emergency meeting could change this.

No challenger
If McQuaid’s nomination has been challenged, there’s nobody else considering running for the job for now. This is a real regret because elections are better when there’s a debate and a contest rather than a perpetual ruler elected without challenge. Compare North Korea and South Korea.

Possible challengers like France’s Davide Lappartient, Britain’s Brian Cookson or Moldova’s Andrei Tchmil are on hold. The UCI has successfully delayed contentious issues like the fallout from the Armstrong investigation. As a result the pretenders appear to be lining up for McQuaid finish a third and final term. It’s probably too late to launch a campaign anyway and the electoral system rewards the consensus builder rather than the agent provocateur.

McQuaid tightens his grip on Lappartient

Indeed incumbency has its advantages. McQuaid has been flying around the world to meet the members of the UCI Congress who get to cast votes to elect the President and is assidously using the UCI’s own newswires to promote his activities and nomination. I gather the last time an outsider ran, Sylvia Shenk in 2005, that she didn’t even get a list of the congress members whilst her rival McQuaid had been visiting, writing and calling the others in order to cultivate relationships and harvest votes.

McQuaid’s Pitch
McQuaid’s buzzword is globalisation, the idea that the UCI is taking the sport to the rest of the world. I’m skeptical here. Globalisation is a tidal force and I can’t tell if cycling has floated on the current or actually been rowed hard in particular direction. Yes there are more foreign riders in the pro peloton than ever before but look at any pool of workers and surely you’ll find a similar result? Yes there are more races in Africa but there’s more capitalism so more sports marketing too. I bet your bike is made with parts from around the world. So if the UCI has gone global, so has… the globe. Especially when the UCI’s attempts to take pro cycling to China have been questionable and in the case of Hangzhou, backfired.

For better or worse, the process of winning a third term as President is not a political campaign, there are few broad visions, bold speeches and pledges so we don’t know what McQuaid’s third term would involve (apart from clumsy interviews and spats with international agencies?).

Ideas, Not Personalities
A coronation and then four more years of the same? Perhaps but I can’t help feel the contest shouldn’t be about the man but should be about the sport, the organisation and its governance. As I’ve said before we know McQuaid isn’t well-briefed for some interviews… so instead of criticising his clumsy style, we should be asking why aren’t the UCI helping him out here with media training or interview preparation? The same with all the angry press releases which the UCI concocts, does the Management Committee sign off on these? In other words this is a collective problem to solve, the creation of an institution and not a one-man band.

Helpfully McQuaid only got the backing of Cycling Ireland in exchange for a pledge to investigate governance reform. Here are the proposed ideas:

1. An independent review of the system of internal controls and processes at the UCI, with the findings to be published and the recommendations implemented.
2. Engagement with Stakeholders to re-write the existing Governance Code and the Code of Ethics, as set out in the Constitution of the UCI.
3. The following proposals are to be put forward to UCI Management Committee for tabling at the 2013 Congress at:
a. A limitation on the period for which a president or vice president can serve in the UCI as follows effective after the 2013 Congress:
i. The maximum number of two four year terms.
ii. No president, vice president or management committee member can serve the UCI for more than 16 years in total over their life time, in any capacity (paid, voluntary or other).
b. That co-opted management committee members are permitted to vote on all matters which management committee members are entitled to vote.

It’s quite something to get supported for a third term on a ticket… to end third term Presidencies.

Point 3.ii is also a way to tackle the issue of serving repeated terms. The UCI has the concept of “honorary presidency” which has allowed the likes of Hein Verbruggen to remain active within the UCI, attending vital meetings and more long. With Verbruggen it’s hard to debate ideas more than personalities but the “job for life” role is surely detrimental in most cases.

Conflict of Interest
Another issue that needs looking at the subject of conflicts of interest. This is a running topic on the blog, for example the 2015 world championships are being organised in part by Pat McQuaid’s brother Darach, his son Andrew is a rider agent. Now I don’t begrudge the McQuaid’s a living, the family grew up in cycling – they probably had their infant milk out of a bidon – but the point is the UCI needs to be alert to this. In the past President McQuaid said he “leaves the room” when talk of Richmond 2015 appears but how can those left in the room reach a decision without being implicitly influenced by their boss? It’s not just the McQuaid family. Britain’s Brian Cookson runs the UCI’s Road Commission and sits on the UCI’s Management Committee but is a director of Team Sky (although not a formal corporate officer): can he take decisions for the good of the sport whilst also having a fiduciary duty towards his team. A similar issue for Igor Makarov, the Russian oligarch is both the Katusha boss and sits on the UCI’s board.

What’s needed here is a formal approach to managing these issues. A register of interests is a start and then updating the rules on governance. But there are some moves in the right direction. Leaving the room is better than ignoring the issue and in the last few years the UCI has started publishing its financial accounts, an excellent move in transparency.

Easier said than done
Just look at soccer’s FIFA where promised governance reforms have been causing problems. A small governing body like the UCI will find it expensive to hire lawyers or consultants to draft weight governance reports and implementing the changes will be hard too. But on the positive side others have gone through these reforms, they can be imported rather than invented.

McQuaid this, McQuaid that. Of course his lead sets the tone for the whole body. Is he the best person in the world to run cycling’s governing body? Probably not but for now he’s the only candidate. This itself is a problem as the lack of candidates means ideas don’t get tested, records are not challenged. And why aren’t there other capable officials who feel they have something to offer? Thanks to the way the UCI works means that the incumbent has a natural advantage which means McQuaid, as the hand-picked heir to Verbruggen, could count on three terms from the day he took up office. This isn’t healthy.

Beyond this election itself there’s plenty to reform the UCI. Bismarck said “politics is the art of the possible.” Sure we can’t expect the UCI to become Transparency International but adopting easy measures from other sports bodies is achievable and sensible. With McQuaid heading for certain re-election perhaps we need to ask what will happen in the next four years rather than fixating on the idea of him being re-elected?

  • And what can you do in all of this? Call or email your national federation to ask them what changes they expect from the UCI or to ask them to lobby on your behalf. Even if you are not a member it’s possible your taxes fund them so they’ll be willing to listen.

43 thoughts on “Debating Ideas, Not People”

  1. “What will happen in the next four years” I good guess would be more of the same. Armstrong followed Puerto which followed Festina. The same policy has been adopted in each case – not our fault, its in the past, forget the problem and it will go away. Globalization appears to be a serious money raising exercise for the UCI amongst the more noble aims. Where to stop ! That’s only two examples of poor or questionable governance. With the present system NOTHING is going to change. Any change is most likely come from outside the cabale – which is what it is. I have written to our national representative and have received no response. See a theme here. Maybe some serious outside influence will eventually force the issue – sponsors, team management or serious investment money from outside the sport. Change will have to be forced if it is to happen.

  2. Globalization…following the FIFA model. The elephant is that the developing nations tend to be easier to glad-handle, something that I’m sure Mr McQuaid is very good at. What we need is some uptight angry Frenchman in charge, but how is someone like that going to charm the provinces? Pat’s got it made. He can bring African and Asian Federations into the fold and then sit back and say ‘who you think they’re gonna vote for eh??’ The whole thing needs to be burnt down and rebuilt.

    • It’s true you don’t win by telling delegates they voted for the wrong guy last time. We should note many of these voters are rightly interested in their local issues and not concerned with men’s pro cycling, the sport goes beyond this.

  3. I’ve heard insanity defined as continuing to do the same thing expecting a different result. Four more years? If you liked the past eight, you will love the next four. There is no hope for the UCI.

    • True but if Verbruggen can be retired and McQuaid knows his legacy needs to be about more than the Armstrong mess perhaps he can do something? Don’t hold your breath but given his election seems 100% certain today, what else can happen?

  4. You are being too kind. I’d argue Hein is the one that needs to go with a guy like Patrice Clerc in there instead.

    Regarding globalization, what I see in my country is zero growth in events and attendance, the population of continental pros has declined as have their wages. Makarov publicly noted he had to pay an unnamed private company to license the title “Tour of Russia.” That’s the kind of globalization Hein and Pat are working towards. It’s the opposite of participation.

    • Cycling, Pro or otherwise, needs a UCI. Without a world governing body there is no Olympics, no legitimacy, anti-doping, governance or lobbying for the sport.

      Something like the UCI has to exist.

      • Yes, pro cycling probably doesn’t need the Olympics but we need a strong and healthy governing body. Clear rules on the sport, intelligent anti-doping and the power to stop others in the sport making a mess of things. We need a better UCI with more self-confidence rather than the defensive press releases that often characterise its self-image.

        • Men’s pro road cycling might not need the Olympics but I would imagine women’s cycling and track cycling would miss it a lot more.

          • Good man Dan, are you going to run a professional sport?? Maybe we call a few plumbers and see can they do it…… or Kwik-Fit that did an great job changing my cars tyres!

  5. An interesting take on a difficult topic. It reminds me of the disclaimer of mutual funds and ETF’s ” Past performance is no guarantee of future results”. To often we on this blog seem to forget that we need to strengthen the interpretation and execution of the UCI rules and not just complain about the management. Let all of us, regardless of country or continent notify our representatives that we insist on
    clear, clean execution of the rules of professional cycling as spelled out in the UCI by-laws.

  6. Interesting that asia and africa total 16 delegates of the UCI Congress almost 30 percent when pro riders from both regions are less than 1 percent. Also hard to believe that only national reps sit there when UCI deals with pro peloton matters and sponsorship money. Maybe pull back the curtains and look at the real wizard of oz.

    • But the sport is far more than just pro road riders, it is about cycling in general. The media and fans may focus on pro road, but the sport is also about amateur events, road, track, cyclocross, mountain biking, BMX, and even artistic (indoor) cycling (look it up, it is under the UCI’s domain), among other things.

    • But the UCI is not just about professional racing – it’s just part of its remit. It also has a duty to get people cycling for environmental and health reason Racing is just a small noisy and visible part of cycling but it is just a small part of what the UCI should be doing.

      If you look at the voting up in terms of national representation (loosely based on 7 billion world pop.):
      Africa, 5 delegates representing 2% of world population (out of possible 15%)
      America, 9 delegates representing 11% of world population (out of possible 13%)
      Asia, 9 delegates representing 6% of world population (out of possible 60%)
      Europe, 14 delegates representing 3% of world population (out of possible 10%)
      Oceania, 3 delegates representing 0.4% of world population (out of possible 0.5%)

      Basically it is a mess.

      • But the UCI is not just about professional racing – it’s just part of its remit. It also has a duty to get people cycling for environmental and health reason Racing is just a small noisy and visible part of cycling

        This is just not true.
        The IOC makes sure their sports pay lip service to this ideal, but it is definitely not true. The goal is to feed athletes into the Olympic show.

        The Australian Gov’t did a report revisiting the funding of AIS and found that it was not encouraging participation at all. Low-cost access and open organizations encourage more sports activity. When the IOC got wind of this, there was some media time spent pretending the Olympics encourage participation, which as the report showed, was entirely untrue.

  7. INRNG is right. The only useful tool we have as fans/cyclists etc to press for change is to write to our respective national federations. Just bitching and moaning on Twitter or blogs will get us nowhere – might make us feel better momentarily, but on a practical level we have to work within the parameters of the current system in order to influence change.

    This is what people like Anto Moran did in Ireland last week – and all power to him

  8. One of the few times I disagree with you Inrng. McQuaid needs to be hounded out of the sport. This is not to say that we don’t need to look beyond his removal but that man needs to take responsibility for the mess our sport is in – like any leader would in the real world. An unrepresentative, brass-necked, hopeless, corrupt, fool.

    Agreed that there is more to the UCI than its leader but the leader shapes the organisation and, as an organisation, the UCI won’t improve unless there is change at the top.

    • Disagreeing is fine.

      But how do you hound him out? He’s delayed all the Armstrong troubles away by abolishing the Independent Commission and every week there’s a new photo opp with a federation boss from Africa and Asia.

      That’s one of my points above, that there’s almost no way to for anyone to do anything and from the moment Verbruggen picked him the system’s guaranteed three terms. Given this won’t change, at least we could try to fix the system to prevent it happening again.

      • I take your point; focus on the system and it should take care of itself and minimise the rule of despot-fools. However, in the here & now McQuaid, Verbruggen and probably a few others need to be shown the door. The structural changes you are talking about will never happen while these guys are there to prolong their time on the throne. They will continue to weasel their way through every proposed change and water down every initiative in a death-of-a-thousand-cuts war of attrition. Evolution is a nice idea, revolution is what’s needed.

        • But as INRNG keeps on saying, who’s going to show them the door? There are only 2 ways:

          1. The IOC force change by threatening to chuck cycling out of the Olympics – and that’s never going to happen for many reasons. Look at how the sporting governing bodies are set up and run, and you’ll understand. Not to omit the fact that both Verbruggen and McQuaid are well connected within the IOC.

          2. By people like us putting pressure on our national cycling federations

          Change cannot be brought by revolution as you put it. No ones going to march on mass to Aigle and arrest them. McQuaid and Verbruggen are not going to be shamed out of office – they have skins like crocodiles.

          Change can only be brought about by working within the system to change from within the system. The only ones who can ‘show them the door’ are the national feds, by electing someone other than McQuaid, who can then work to try to change things.

          The UCI Constitution can only be changed by the UCI itself.

          • Yes, that’s what I was trying to say. We can march on Aigle, wave pitchforks but McQuaid just pulls up the drawbridge and laughs. The only is to work by asking your federation or some outside intervention that reveals scandal and forces change etc.

          • To be fair Inrng, I don’t think my comments and the points in your article are at crossed purposes so I take back my previous comment about disagreeing with your position. We clearly need to find a way through this on a practical level (lobbying our local representatives, etc) which you quite rightly suggest but we should not relent for one minute in maintaining the rage against Patty Boy and his old mucker Verbruggen. We need to keep the unruly mob at the castle gates waving pitchforks.

            Scorn and public derision needs to continue to rain down from on high on those two clowns. While attacking this through the proper channels is the key, continuing to show all of those within cycling how we, the cycling public, feel about their incompetence and corruption is also very important. Those in positions of power within the federations must be taking notice of this, not to mention the sponsors who fund the sport. McQuaid and Verbruggen should not be allowed to feel comfortable at any time, even when hiding behind the walls of the UCI constitution.

            One question I have always had in my mind is whether this outrage towards the UCI is felt outside the anglo-saxon or English speaking cycling world. Do the Belgian fans care? What does the Italian cycling public make of all of this? Is there something cultural at play here?

          • A revolution is not voting for change via existing mechanisms, nor is it waving placards and getting cranky. A revolution is someone coming along who is able to back a viable alternative which has the means ($$, intellect, connections, media) to construct something better.

            To use a familiar example; F1 has teams who contract to F1 Management who run races. The FIA is the licensing authority with roles relating to rules, safety etc. They don’t run races nor do media licensing or product endorsement. Cycling won’t change until it gets someone like (f0r all his faults) Bernie who can shake the whole thing by the balls and galvanise the teams & commercial interests. Until then its the same tired old fools working towards their retirement package on the IOC.

            Change might be possible via existing mechanisms but frankly, I can’t see it. Too many vested interests from the incumbents.

  9. I think that PT has said it very well. This is a defining moment. The status quo needs to be badly shaken even if it means a crisis of leadership at the UCI and an unpredictable result. Based on a couple of personal reactions recently, I would say that four more years of the same probably means that my interest will completely vanish. The other day, I looked at a mouth drooling bicycle in the shop window and began picturing my ride on it. I don’t even need another bike! Then my eye fell to the UCI label on it and my resolve became firm that no amount of my money would go to the UCI. After the Tour de France welcomed back Armstrong, I find myself less and less absorbed by the story and the theatrics of the Tour de France. I will likely follow this year’s results to some extent and I will likely shun the celebrations that accompany it. I have more free time to pursue my interest in cycling, my cycling!

  10. The “easiest” approach would be to start with a blank piece of paper or a new – even imported – system.
    If a look at national federation e.g. of Germany there is no wind of change, not even a breeze.
    ( )

    Maybe a rotational system like the presidency of the european community? (Which is 6 months).

    The base of people interested in cycling politics is not that big, and might be even getting smaller, so a conflict of interest can hardly be avoided.

    Or do something completely different: An alternative could be to go the way of Formula One, forget the Olympic status and define a professional regime. It would be all about the money and the show!


    Dr. Ko

    post scriptum: North Korea would go for Paddy:

    • Except the UCI vaguely complies with the IOC’s specifications for how a sports federation is to be run. So, we call all WANT a new, more transparent UCI, but would the IOC recognize such an organization? Probably not. The IOC does not welcome transparency initiatives.

      Check out the recently manufactured controversy the IOC created with Pakistan. Same idea.

  11. I think track cycling needs the Olympics as it’s involvement underpins funding and interest. Take away the olympics, and track cycling becomes marginal, tracks close and kids have one significant route into the sport cut off. Maybe that’s a UK centric view right now (Wiggins, Thomas etc) , but it wouldn’t be a healthy development for road cycling no matter how little the gold medal means to the pros compared to the Grand Tours, Monuments, Rainbow stripes, etc…

  12. There was an opportunity for change in cycling but sadly that may have passed.
    I think back to all those who have attempted to change cycling, from Kimmage, Lemond to Walsh, etc. and we blew the chance, it’s frustrating.
    The UCI, under the previous and current administration is operated like a Circus. When McQuaid is handed back the reins it will be time to cue the clown music and begin the doping merry-go-round for one more generation. They know they can get away with anything as long as they hang on to the reins of those freaky-looking horses long enough.
    The evidence is clear, in Spain’s Operation Puerto, Fuentes was convicted this week and got a one year suspended sentence! Everyone else goes free. No blood evidence was allowed for examination.
    Doping is big business in sport and guys like McQuaid are there to keep the merry-go-round spinning.
    We can debate ideas as long as we wish, but if the people are bad, so is the system.

  13. A few people have touched on it, but I think it deserves repeating. Men’s Pro Road Racing should be a separate entity governed by people whose sole duty is to Men’s Pro Road Racing.

    The UCI is (necessarily) a giant bureaucracy and it is not optimally designed to operate a top professional sports league. As some have commented above, the UCI’s domain includes Road, Track, BMX, Mountain, etc. The UCI governors have far too many obligations to far too many interest groups that do not align with the interests of Men’s Pro Road Racing.

    As for the World Championships and Olympics, just look at many other private independent professional sports leagues that manage to flourish while cooperating with the Olympic Movement by allowing their members to play for national teams and participate in international tournaments.

    I am not suggesting that an independent Men’s Pro Road Racing league would instantly solve the problems that exist in cycling today. I am suggesting that it is not worth asking the question of how to solve the problems as long as this behemoth bureaucracy is the governing body. But a smaller, more focused and efficient management structure could tackle problems.

  14. A very balanced piece Inner Ring , maybe too balanced . I ‘m heartily fed up of McQuaids John Prescott like gaffs , the knee jerk stupid press releases , the independent inquiry which opened and shut with no effect whatsoever. The fact that the scales are so heavily weighted in his favour makes it almost certain that we’re in for four years of this crap AND Verbruggen is STILL there ; totally absurd. It s as bad as fifa but without the billions of euros , but having said all of that ,no one’s putting their head above the parapet so perhaps the sport gets what the sport deserves.

    • I’m in sympathy and there have to be better people for the job. But nobody is coming forward so there will be no change, for me this is the frustration. Four more years of the same is not what the sport needs now but I can’t see how it changes.

  15. I wonder if the pledge to reform governance will turn out to hold as much water as the undertaking to let an independent commission look at the Armstrong saga?

    For what it’s worth, I wrote to BikeNZ as a licence holder. Never heard back and don’t hold out much hope that I will. I suppose I can semi-excuse them by admitting they’re a small federation Uncle Pat would probably squash underfoot for getting lippy, but that I don’t have a clue how they’re going to cast their vote or what their opinion is – that, I can’t.

  16. I have a strong suspicion that alternative candidates are out there, but that they cannot show their hands yet because it would not be prudent (or politically wise) to do so. The deadline for candidates to be officially nominated is around the end of June. I think we’ll see some movement about then. And when that time comes, there will need to be some strong and vocal support around the globe, because the incumbent has all the cards in his favour.

  17. He wasnt exactly jumping up and down with glee at the idea when it was mooted. A ‘I’ll do it if I have to’ isnt exactly overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Besides, the first step would be to get put foward by his national cycling fed – USA Cycling – and that’s certainly not happening.

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