The Explainer: When it comes to the UCI, change is needed … but it ain’t easy
Dear Mr. Pelkey,
I’ve been a follower of LUG, RKP and the social media cycling community for a while, now.
I am really happy about the recent events in pro cycling. Success and openness of Garmin, support for Paul Kimmage and, of course, the USADA report and consequences.
My huge concern is that those running the sport, Hein and Pat, will remain and we risk having the situation of 1998/1999 repeat – big scandal followed by business as usual. UCI leadership has no credibility, is incompetent and very probably corrupt.
Is the UCI election process capable of bringing change? Is there a way for grass roots activists to make a difference?
An Explainer to give us a little hope would be good, really frightened that this opportunity could be missed.
I have to agree with your assessment of the opportunity we lost in 1998 and ’99. I was among those who were convinced that the Festina Scandal of the ’98 Tour had finally proved that the cost of cheating would exceed the benefits and that riders, teams and officials would realize that it wasn’t worth the risk. Well, I was disabused of that Pollyannaish notion by the middle of the ’99 Tour.
This year has presented us with an even bigger opportunity. We have compelling evidence to suggest that not only did the sport not get cleaned up after Festina, it got worse. It appears that there is also enough evidence to suggest that the UCI was, at best, willfully ignorant of those developments or, at worst, complicit. As a result, it’s time for the two most visible and influential leaders at the UCI – Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen – to step down for the good of the sport.
Former – and now “honorary” – president, Verbruggen, has always struck me as having something of a Machiavellian streak, the sort that is intent upon working his way up the hierarchy not just of the UCI, but of the International Olympic Committee. He’s always struck me as one of the “Lords of the Rings,” described in Vyv Simson’s 1992 book.
I have to say that I actually like the current president, Pat McQuaid. He’s personable, bright and he seems to love the sport. Unfortunately, he and Verbruggen – whether by acts of commission or omission – have become part of the problem. Both really should resign from their respective positions and from the management committee for the good of the sport of cycling. But that ain’t gonna happen. And laudable as they might be, reform efforts face an uphill battle, largely because the organization is structured in a way to discourage genuine reform by limiting real power to a very, very small group of entrenched “leaders.” Here’s why:
The antithesis of democracy
First let’s have a look at the election process you asked about. There are two organizations that exercise control over the UCI. Those are the Congress and the Management Committee. Along with the president and vice presidents, the system is truly and example of how power in the organization is progressively distilled into the hands of fewer and fewer and fewer people.
The Congress is, according to the Constitution of the UCI, the “general meeting of members and the highest authority of the UCI.” But what does that mean? Are you, for example, one of those “members?”
Well, not exactly. Let’s assume that you hold a license to race bikes; one issued to you by your national governing body, which is USA Cycling. For purposes of this Congress, that doesn’t make you a “member” under the definition of the UCI Constitution. For purposes of this Congress, the members are the 171 national federations affiliated with the UCI. Member federations may be represented at the Congress by a delegation of not more than three persons.
Article 28 of the UCI Constitution requires that the statutory Congress be held at least annually, although exceptional circumstances could justify an emergency meeting. So, let’s imagine that all 171 member federations send three delegates to the Congress and those 513 representatives of the world cycling community assemble for the mandated annual convention. What do they get to do there?
They can talk to each other. They can listen to speeches. They can pick up gift packs of swag. Oh, and they can vote, right?
Well, not exactly. Let me explain.
Article 29 of the UCI Constitution grants broad authority to the Congress:
1. The Congress shall have the following exclusive powers and duties:
a) Alteration of the Constitution and dissolution of the association;
b) To transfer the registered office of the UCI to another country;
c) Admission, expulsion and suspension of federations, without prejudice to Article 46, d;
d) Setting the annual amount of contributions on a proposal from the Management
e) Election of the President of the UCI and of nine other members of the Management
f) Dismissal of the members of the Management Committee of the UCI;
g) Appointment of the public auditor, on a proposal from the Management Committee and his
2. In addition, the Congress shall each year decide on:
a) the management report of the Management Committee;
b) the auditor’s report on the accounts;
c) the annual accounts of the previous year;
d) the budget for the following year.
So we have up to 513 members of the global cycling community who wield considerable power, right?
Article 36 of the Constitution limits voting rights to just 42 delegates. Those delegates are selected to represent their respective Continental Federations and are distributed in accordance with the following formula:
- Africa: 7 delegates
- America: 9 delegates
- Asia: 9 delegates
- Europe: 14 delegates
- Oceania: 3 delegates
It is those 42 delegates who get to vote on important issues and, more critically, select the president and 10 of the fifteen members of the Management Committee, which, according to the Constitution, is “vested with the most extensive powers as regards the management of the UCI and the regulation of cycling sports.” It’s where the real power in the UCI sits.
As I said, the power is increasingly distilled into the hands of smaller and smaller groups of people. Who are those 15? The Management Committee is composed of the President of the UCI and nine other members elected by the Congress. Of those ten elected members, at least seven have to belong to European federations. They are then joined by the presidents of the five Continental Federations.
In his day, Verbruggen worked that Management Committee like it was an extension of his own personality. He pretty much ran the show and hand-picked McQuaid to be his successor. I am not under the impression that McQuaid exercises as much power as did Verbruggen, but do keep in mind that Verbruggen remains involved in the Management Committee in his capacity as “honorary president.” It’s a non-voting position, but given that Verbruggen is also a vice-president in the IOC, he continues to wield power and influence in the UCI in general and the Management Committee in particular.
It is, by any definition, an old boys club and the old boys want to keep it that way.
Is there a way to change it? It may require a bit of creativity and, as Deep Throat told Woodward and Bernstein, it will require us to “follow the money.”
Time for reform?
After the USADA document dump in the Armstrong case, we suddenly had an opportunity to attack the way this sport is managed. The revelations were serious enough to even give the UCI, McQuaid and Verbruggen pause to reconsider their lawsuit against Irish journalist Paul Kimmage … at least until an “independent commission” completed a report as to the UCI’s involvement in the scandal.
That independent commission turned out to be structured quite like a normal three-member Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) panel. This one will be led by British appeals judge, Phillip Otton, and will include Australian lawyer Malcolm Holmes and British Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson. The three will meet in April to review evidence and then issue a report by June.
I’ll take a wait-and-see approach with regard to the panel’s independence. Superficially, it looks like a good group. Meanwhile, we won’t see much internal action from the UCI until that report is issued in June.
There is an admirable grass-roots effort underway right now, though. Following the whole Armstrong kerfuffle, Australian clothing entrepreneur Jamie Fuller started Change Cycling Now and the group organized a summit conference in London earlier this month. They are calling for a host of reforms, including the removal the UCI’s authority to administer its anti-doping enforcement and place it into the hands of a truly independent agency. (Do recall that is the model used in the U.S. and is likely the only reason we saw the Armstrong case pursued as it was.)
There were some heavy hitters involved, too, including Kimmage, his friend and colleague, David Walsh, the head of the Association of Professional Cyclists, Gianni Bugno, anti-doping expert Michael Ashenden, Garmin’s Jonathan Vaughters and the only American to win the Tour de France, Greg LeMond.
It may be a good sign that Johan Bruyneel referred to the meeting as “a bunch of douches.” Looking beyond that flash of Bruyneel’s rhetorical brilliance, it is important to remember that the quality of a man – or of an organization – can best be judged not only by the quality of their friends but also by the quality of their enemies. If you’re pissing off Johan Bruyneel these days, you’re probably doing something right. (Note to Johan: Take a cue from that Lance guy. Twitter is not your friend.)
It may well be the start of something good. Indeed, LeMond – who, by the way, is the only American to win the Tour de France (did I already mention that?) – said he was ready to run for the post of UCI president. Frankly, I can’t think of anyone better qualified than LeMond, who, by the way, is the only American to have won the Tour de France.
It will be an uphill battle, though. Again, think back to those 42 voting members of the UCI Congress. We’re not talking about a cadre of committed reformers when we mention those 42. The odds are good that these are people with the same set of skewed priorities and ingrained conflicts-of-interest that caused the problem in the first place.
As I mentioned, it may be time for us to “follow the money,” and come at the UCI from the financial side. It’s time to organize and, yes, even boycott, sponsors whose support is critical to the UCI.
According to its annual financial report, the UCI’s “resources consist of contributions, sponsorship and royalties generated by sports activities.” Indeed, those sponsorships are the biggest single item in the governing body’s list of receivables each year.
Those sponsors include such notable companies as Shimano, Santini, Tissot, Skoda and Swatch. Let those sponsors know that their support of the UCI as it currently stands is not something that necessarily endears you to their product. Don’t necessarily boycott them yet, but do encourage them to use their influence to force reform within an organization that has failed to live up to its obligation.
Yes, we can push for change, but it ain’t gonna be easy.
The Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.