The UCI Presidency After One Year

A year ago this week Brian Cookson was elected president in a contest that was close and at times bitter. Today the role of the UCI President is barely a talking point. Still as the sport’s top official Cookson’s role matters.

Feargal McKay has done a good job for reviewing Brian Cookson’s manifesto pledges to see what’s happened since. Bear in mind these pledges are ongoing, there was no commitment to achieve everything by now but it allows us to see the direction of travel. With this in mind, let’s take a wider look at the cultural and managerial changes.

On those campaign pledges the Independent Reform Commission carries on its work and feels like a promise that had to be kept. It is costly and we’ll have to wait for the report to see if it’s value for money.

Institutional Change
Brian Cookson isn’t a messianic figure with a powerful charisma and this is one reason he got elected. The voting delegates wanted someone calm to handle sensitive cases. So we can’t expect him to change everything alone. To effect change Cookson and Martin Gibbs, the UCI’s new Director General, have had clear out of old regime. Several names high on the UCI organigramme have moved on, especially from management and in the legal department. Normal as some the incumbent stuff where found to be working on Pat McQuaid’s election campaign, notably Christophe Hubschmid who was the UCI Director General and the architect of McQuaid’s awkward search for a nomination. Chuckle.

All of the UCI’s commissions, their word for committees, feature a woman. Symbolic for now as it’s too early to see more changes. There are still plenty of easy fixes in place, for example there’s still a rule for the World Championships stipulating six “maids of honor” must deliver the medals.

Sporting Change
Jens Voigt owes Brian Cookson a drink, maybe even a case of fine wine. If the Hour Record was reset it’s because of a new and more relaxed approach to bike technology. The Hour had become track cycling’s version of L’Eroica thanks to its requirement for a vintage “Merckx” position. But the rules were changed to allow riders to use current track bikes, for example a bike approved for the 4,000m pursuit today can be used for the Hour. There’s more due to change with a review of the 6.8kg weight limit, an arbitrary limit set in 1999 when today’s technology have evolved.

Not all modernity is attributable to the new boss. This year’s novelty of on-bike cameras is coincidental and the result of long-running discussions. The same for the mooted calendar changes and World Tour reform, it’s all part of an ongoing process that Cookson has perpetuated rather than innovated. What matters is how he manages this.

Management Style
At times Brian Cookson seems to react to events. It’s trivial when there’s silly fuss on Twitter about the kit design of a Colombian women’s team he wades in with a view, a bit clumsy here as it doesn’t look too Presidential. We all tweet in haste and his appearance on Twitter is welcome and a useful communications tool.

But it’s more fundamental at times. For example when accused of a conflict of interest over his son Oliver’s job at Team Sky he’s forced to deny it rather fall back on conflict of interest management procedures. This story blew up in with the fuss following the leak about Chris Froome’s TUE at the Tour de Romandie where the UCI had to tighten up its procedures for TUE issuance, a point raised by an audit two months before the scandal erupted. Again the UCI was responding and tightened things up for the Tour de France.

We had another case with the news of Dennis Menchov. The UCI has started quietly uploading a PDF list of doping cases to its website rather than publicising cases… only for everyone to be astounded at the catch of Dennis Menchov. In a Kafka-esque moment the UCI issued a press release to confirm what its own PDF said. To be clear we don’t need a fanfare for every bust but when a grand tour winner is caught by the passport system a brief one or two line announcement is fitting, especially as it’s more significant that a lot of the UCI’s worthy press releases about coaching days in its car park. There are more examples, see Diego Ulissi being provisionally suspended the day after Lampre-Merida put him in the Coppa Bernocchi race rather than before.

Not Pat McQuaid
Pat McQuaid had his strengths but his weaknesses too. The tendency to charge into issues and make a clumsy mess caused divisions and provocation. Sometimes it was way to get things done but it undermined the governing body’s image and authority at times too and McQuaid paid the price for it a year ago. It’s here that we see one of the most attractive changes, it’s not what the UCI is doing but rather what’s it stopped doing. There are no more turf wars, awkward interviews and rule-bending ruses.

Not that it’s perfect, for example Cookson felt moved to describe Roman Kreuziger’s bio-passport, telling cyclingnews.comthere are very serious anomalies” when it would have been wiser to avoid comment.

Cookson’s comment on Kreuziger’s passport brings us to the UCI’s anti-doping efforts which are described as independent but obviously the President is getting briefed on matters which makes you wonder about the independence. The Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation is still listed as “c/o Union cycliste internationale”. If it’s independent, it’s in an adolescent phase as the CADF still living at home with its parents and reliant on the UCI to manage its funding.

The UCI today announced it’s creating a new independent tribunal to hear some doping cases rather than entrust other National Anti-Doping Organizations (NADOs). This could be a strong move to ensure more consistent and speedier rulings but the tension between one part of the UCI tasked with prosecuting cases and another that will be hearing them creates obvious traps.

Where’s Pat McQuaid?
In case you wondered the former UCI President has retired to Dublin and made only a few appearances at races and given even fewer interviews. He cuts a discreet figure but in his interviews remain defiant, the same combative stance he took in office. In fact he’s just blasted Brian Cookson over the loss of the Tour of Beijing.

If the UCI Presidency were a bike race then Cookson’s out on the course and has reached the first intermediate checkpoint. There’s a long way to go before any finish line or judgement. So far so good? To stretch the race metaphor Cookson’s less accident-prone and made fewer handling errors than his predecessor but he’s not immune to a wobble. Tactically the UCI President seems prone to reacting to moves rather than controlling events.

The UCI Presidency isn’t a race nor a competitive role but there is a time limit. Like any new arrival Cookson’s brought a stock of goodwill to the UCI and deploying this to get stuff done early matters, it’ll get used up as difficult decisions over reforms, budgets and more have to be taken. There have been visible changes whether increased women’s representation, the UCI’s website or technical alterations which allowed Jens Voigt’s Hour Record but it’s the bigger reforms that matter. These aren’t Cookson’s creations but they are now his responsibility.

39 thoughts on “The UCI Presidency After One Year”

  1. Nice take, as any manager he has a style and one must accept that fact.

    If anything I would like to see an effort to make it difficult to build UCI management dynasties.
    As we have seen in the recent past.

    • +1 governance governance governance… get that right, and good sense should then be able to prevail, regardless of what ‘characters’ get involved in the sport.

  2. I read the original article, and like your take found it generally well balanced and interesting. I consider Cookson should be given the length of his term in office before coming to a definitive conclusion about his contributions or failures. So far most moves appear positive – not easy with characters like Tinkof and others threatening to take you to the cleaners when they don’t approve of the way the UCI is conducting business.

  3. I am propounding thankful that McQuaid is gone. The old boys club was bad enough with their constant maneuvering to keep control and stay in power. But far worse was the combative environment with the press, teams, sponsors, fans, races, and the media. We have forgotten that the UCI was at war with one or most of these at any one time. Two come to mind that were poison from my view point (besides doping): the long running feud with the ASO and the Tour, and the whole exclusion and admission of teams like Uibet (among others). All these controversies made cycling look unprofessional at the very least.

    Cookson does not have the propaganda machine McQuaid used to his benefit, and refuses to use blatant bait and switch tactics that the old UCI was so ready to put into motion. Look at the old UCI press releases and McQuaid sound bites. He often used everything and everyone to “further” cycling by keeping the environment poisonous and in the dark ages. Cookson has a platform to undo these horrendous practices. Cookson remains a breath of fresh air, working quietly and professionally. I consider his mistakes to be minor compared to the McQuaid era.

  4. There’s a conflict of interest with Cookson’s son at Sky, but the fact Sky is run by the national federation was never a problem?? USA Cycling and USPS ring any bells? How is this different?

    Also, there’s no way the UCI running it’s own sanctioning board is a good thing. It’s the opposite of transparency. I’m not sure if it can work with the WADA standard.

    We’re still waiting for a 2013 report from the CADF. It was better than nothing and now we’re back to nothing. This along with the sudden change to burying PDF’s with sanctions on them suggests less transparency is the new never tested positive.

  5. Sadly Cookson has appeared extremely bias towards English and American teams, riders and races.

    Tour of Utah upgraded, Tour of Beijing deleted.

    Defending Team Sky.

    Defending Chris Froome.

    Second consecutive UK president of the UCI, that’s a problem.

      • Keep it civil please Tom.

        David raises points that are worth debating. Beijing for example wasn’t deleted by the UCI, it was the Beijing Municipal Sports Bureau that took the decision.

        And as others have said, McQuaid is Irish and Cookson is British. This was a point for some voters last year, not because they’re from the same country but we did have two men from the North Atlantic and by implication, a shared view.

        • What ‘shared view’ ‘by implication’ would that be INRNG?

          As of this past 12 months, personally I’ve seen little in the way of Cookson’s views and by extension actions, that are in common with those of McQuaid.

          And maybe it bears a reminder that other, non-British Isles candidates COULD have stood. However, no one chose to.

          • Who knows? It’s more the European confederation getting yet another candidate and from one country to another next to it. We see these things when people are selected to run various international organisations, like UN General Secretary etc, as if the jobs have to be shared around regions etc.

    • So true. Team Sky’s stellar performance in the Giro & TDF can solely be laid at Cookson’s door. You could practically see his puppet strings towing Wiggo up the cols to glory in the fourth Grand Tour.

  6. Some of the comments above, i.e. his appearance, don’t deserve the effort of a reply. Cookson has and is changing the working practices of the UCI for the better – give the man some time, or would some of you rather we all go back to the McQuaid era ?
    The recent announcement of the removal of National Federations from adjudicating on doping cases being a case in point. Illustrating slow but constant progress in the right direction. This is a clear cut case of improving process, scientific interpretation, reducing costs, transparency, fairness, objectivity, and speed. This system will replace some of well known examples of cases heard over the last few years, where national interests, rather than scientific objectivity have appeared to take preference. In these cases the UCI has been forced to appeal, extending the process, increasing costs and leaving riders uncertain of their future.

    Give Cookson time to implement the myriad of changes required at the UCI.
    The same old SKY argument is baseless and without any foundation. Could we please keep too facts, rather than air personal prejudices.

  7. The “six maids of honour” reminded me of an old Johny Cash song Streets of Laredo:
    “Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin.
    Six dance-hall maidens to bear up my pall…”
    A well chosen photo of McQaid with the Belorussian dictator. Questionable regimes should not be attracted to cycling for any prize. Riders from such countries yes, authorities no. That’s my opinion about the China matter.
    The independent tribunal for doping sounds an interesting idea. UCI needs another attitude. The recent offending of the Czech Olympic Comittee (judging Kreuziger case) was useless. Their result after hearing Kreuziger’s new experts and defending lines was predictable and CAS continuation inevitable.

    • at least cyclings still better than football (soccer for the us audience) in that matter, there they sell everything to the highest bidder, from stadium names, to clubs, to leagues and the odd dictator gets the chance to host all that stuff.

  8. It’s not been perfect but I’m so much happier then if Pat (and Hein) were still running the circus. Some genuinely significant change has already been delivered and much more is underway.

    Of course I’d love it to all happen quicker but that’s easier said than done isn’t it?

  9. Ah Patty McQuaid. How I miss that bumbling, indignant, poisonous rotter. If anything he brought a little comedy to our lives. Keep on keeping on fella.

  10. There was pretty much nowhere to go but up after Mad Hatter and Mr. Mars left the building, but it’s still a long way out of the swamp. Taking the national federations out of the doping sanction issue was long overdue and Cookson will make his share of mistakes, but think where the sport would be now if the previous characters where still in control?

  11. Well balanced and fair report! Speaking of which, whilst I think there’s a lot of fair comment against McQuaid, there’s quite of a lot that, one year on, possibly seems unfair.

    No doubt the man was a walking PR disaster, but the accusations of corruption have never been proven or even gone to a court – why not if they were true and so many seemed to know of them? Where is Makarov’s dossier now, what were its contents and can they be used for prosecution? What happened to the laptops and files that Cookson had seized after he got the Presidency etc?

    I inquire not because I’m McQuaid’s one-man fan club – I ask because I believe that corruption of any sort by high ranking officials needs to be a) proven factually and b) properly punished. Otherwise we are left to reflect that either an informed Cookson, Makarov & Co are allowing him to get away with it or a lot of what we heard prior to the election was simply fabricated to get him out – which one is it?

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