Interview: Brian Cookson


Editor’s note: Until the emergence of Brian Cookson as a candidate for the presidency of the UCI it seemed that Pat McQuaid was destined for a third term as president of the UCI if for no reason other than a lack of challengers. We’ve been clear in our criticism of the UCI under Mr. McQuaid’s leadership and believe that while his tenure has not been without progress, too much of its  work has been undermined by McQuaid’s adversarial nature and lack of transparency in his dealings. His failure to fully investigate the doping problem in cycling had made it apparent that different leadership is warranted. Now that Cookson has emerged as a candidate, McQuaid faces the prospect of an actual election and cycling has picked up a whiff of hope for the future. But who is Brian Cookson? We decided to request an interview to allow him to tell us why he’s a suitable replacement to McQuaid.  

RKP: As Pat McQuaid’s letter regarding your candidacy notes, back in January you said you had no interest in running for president of the UCI. You’ve obviously had a change of heart. What led to that?

BC: Because I love cycling and I know that the UCI badly needs a complete change of leadership. Back in January, I was optimistic that further progress would have been made in tackling the key areas that continue to damage the reputation of the UCI, but little progress, if any, has been made.

That is why I’m now exercising by democratic right to challenge the leadership by running for Presidency.

RKP: I understand that you’re retired and that your work for British Cycling has been done on a volunteer basis. Let’s begin with your work background: What did you do for the Pendle Council?

BC: I was employed by Pendle Borough Council as Executive Director (Regeneration) having gained wide experience in strategic management of multi-facetted organisations, and of managing teams of staff engaged in major programmes of urban regeneration and renewal.

RKP: Is it safe for us to conclude then that you have the ability to both steer a large organization and navigate political waters without creating war zones? 

BC: I believe in the power of sport as a force for good and I am committed to the Olympic ideals of Excellence Respect and Friendship. At British Cycling I’ve been proud to lead all its achievements at the elite international level but also all that we’ve done to develop grassroots sport and participation.

RKP: You became president of British Cycling in 1997. Prior to that, what had your involvement been in the federation? 

BC: Administratively, I have held positions within British Cycling since the early 1980s when I started out as a Division Road Race Secretary in 1981. I qualified as a UCI International Commissaire (i.e. judge/referee) in 1986, working on events such as the Tour of Britain, the Milk Race, the Warsaw-Berlin-Prague Peace Race and stage races in Australia, South Africa, Germany, Spain and France.

Internationally, I was elected to the UCI Management Committee in 2009, and was appointed as President of the UCI Cyclo-Cross Commission from 2009 to 2011, then President of the UCI Road Commission from 2011 to present.

RKP: It’s obvious that British cyclists weren’t successful at the turn of the century. How bad were things for the federation overall when you became president?

BC: When I became President of British Cycling, the Federation was in deep trouble. The transformation since then has been achieved by creating a stable federation governed on the principles of honesty, transparency and clear divisions of responsibility.

These principles are essential for an international federation and I want to bring them to the UCI.

RKP: During the 16 years of your tenure at British Cycling the national team experienced not just a resurgence but perhaps the most surprising rise of a national cycling team in the last 50 years. Two of the world’s best riders—a sprinter and a GC rider—are British and the U.K. can now lay claim one of the top pro teams in the world. You’ve obviously had a hand in this, but can you tell readers about specific initiatives you undertook to help foster this transformation?

BC: As mentioned before, my role as leader has been to create a stable organisation, which is governed on the principles of honesty and transparency. The scale of the transformation that has been achieved is thanks to the continued dedication of countless people and it would therefore be unfair to pinpoint specific initiatives.

RKP: You’ve served the UCI as a commissaire and have been a member of its management committee since 2009, so you have some familiarity with operations in Aigle. Where do you see the most obvious problems at the UCI?

BC: All of the good work the UCI has done has been undermined by the lack of confidence people have in the leadership.

For far too many people our sport is associated with doping, with decisions that are made behind closed doors and with conflict with important members of the cycling family.

RKP: Supposing you are elected president, what changes would you make straight away?

BC: If elected I would:

–        Immediately seek to create a more open and modern UCI, operating in partnership with all stakeholders in the sport we love.

–        Separate doping procedures from the governance of the sport

–        Create a more collegiate decision-making structure and culture

–        Ensure transparency in key decision making

–        Have a clear strategy to grow the sport at elite and grass roots level globally

–        Grow broadcast and sponsor partners and revenues to underpin the growth of cycling

The full detail of my vision for the UCI will be included in my election manifesto which I will publish later this month.

RKP: Would the GCP remain in place or would you spin that off as a private company run by someone other than the UCI?

BC: We need a full review of the World Tour structure. I would like to broaden the assessment process and increase the transparency of the awarding of World Tour Licenses.

RKP: How would you propose we deal with the fallout of all the doping revelations moving forward?

BC: Doping is the biggest problem the sport faces by far. We must restore cycling’s credibility.  For a start, I will work with WADA to establish a completely independent unit to deal with all aspects of anti doping. It is absolutely vital we restore confidence in the anti doping procedures for cycling, without that we won’t make progress.

RKP: Do you support a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and do you think that it could ever happen given the risk that some riders might face prosecution for their revelations?

BC: There are practical problems with a truth and reconciliation process, but if these can be overcome I would welcome it.

What I can say is that I am absolutely committed to ensuring that any allegations which directly implicate the UCI over doping cover ups are fully and independently investigated and this will be one of my key priorities if I become President.


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  1. MCH

    Great questions! A bit dissapointing that his answers were so scripted and vague. That said, I suppose its to be expected in a very political, and likely nasty, election.

    Many of us have a lot of hope tied to his candicacy. I hope that he’s able to survive the election process, and that if elected, that he doesn’t let us down.

  2. Patrick24

    Just curious – was this a phone interview or some sort of IM – I would think a phone interview might give you a better chance to tell whether he was honest or slick.

    Regardless of whether this fair or not, given how divisive he has become, you think McQuaid would choose not to run to give cycling a better chance to move forward and gain credibility with the public, racers and sponsors.


    1. Author

      Patrick24: I had to submit the questions by email. It’s not a perfect scenario, but it was a chance to hear something from the man himself, rather than just media reports of his activity in cycling. I suspect we’ll be learning more about him.

      McQuaid has proven he won’t go without a fight. It’s time to give him that fight.

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  4. Skippy

    phat the rat will not leave aigle , until he is hauled bodily from the building !

    There needs to be a MORE COMPLETE CHANGE , bringing forward @GaudryT , as an exanple , being a Woman without the AMBITIONS for the Presidency , would send a very STRONG Message to the CYCLING World , that Change NOW is needed !

    There must be many of the 42 ” Voting Delegates “, that have the Credentials to take on the Presidency : That said , there are reportsd of a ” No Confidence Motion ” being introduced , lets ALL hope that phat gets the message !

    Continually we hear , how underfunded UCI , appears to be , lets hope phat does not score a ” Golden Parachute “! If rumours are true , his drawers are already packed with brown paper lunch bags ?

    Only 2 days to go , until we hear the outcome of the Cycling Ireland EGM , then perhaps Cyclists can think about the future ?

  5. LesB

    I’m thinking that if Cookson (or anybody besides McQuaid) is elected, many of the companies that quit sponsoring teams might do a quick turn-around.

  6. Aar

    Where is reform of the mundane technical rules governing the shape of a bicycle on his agenda? My guess is that is very low because that is one are where British Cycling (built by Cookson himself) has a distinct advantage over their competition these days.

    McQuaid must go in order for the UCI to ever be reformed. The cure should not be as bad as the disease and all facets of the UCI should be reformed, not just doping. Cookson should be addressing things like UCI’s mundane bike shape rules, race radios, etc not just doping. While these specific measures could be couched in his high-level platform above but his call out of the doping and revenue challenges almost necessitates call outs of other individual matters as well.

    On the other hand, given the rather mundane election process, maybe he needs to play those cards close to his vest in order to be elected. Yet, obscuring these things is rather odd for a person running on a platform of transparency.

    1. Author

      Aar: I’d like to see the rules regarding the technical requirements for a bike updated, but in the grand scheme, those are indeed tiny potatoes. Compared to the cancer of doping, bike design rules are a stubbed toe. No one stops following cycling because of the stupid requirements for airfoil shapes. More important, no sponsor has pulled out of the sport because of aero bar design. Doping is our house on fire. That’s what we need to deal with. Well, that and getting rid of the GCP, which is robbing the UCI of important capital to be able to pay for testing.

  7. LesB

    “Where is reform of the mundane technical rules governing the shape of a bicycle on his agenda?”

    This question has piqued my curiosity. Do I understand correctly that you would like to see the rules regarding the shape of the bicycle relaxed? If so, can you give some specifics?

  8. Derek

    How about “the saddle support shall be horizontal.” a rule which had been on the books for years but never enforced by the UCI until a tech check before a major race which many bikes failed because of those officials interpretation of the a rule previously dormant. How do you interpret that? The saddle rails are level? The seatpost shall be level? The top of the saddle…

  9. Derek

    relaxed is the wrong word for what needs to be done with the rules and I am still not sure about this official manufacturer model certification process. It seems bigger companies can much more easily pay for the certification process and so will get a distinct advantage.

  10. LesB

    “the saddle support shall be horizontal.”
    Since the saddle rails are a part of the saddle, I would interpret that rule as requiring the saddle to be mounted directly to the top tube.

    …trying to picture that.

    If it were my team that got disqualified I’d have taken the UCI to court for damages.

  11. gmknobl

    Since it’s been so long, this may not be seen but here’re my feelings at this point:

    I do not trust Cookson. He does not answers in a straight forward manner and at this point, that deception is not needed. He didn’t stand up for this post until relatively late in the game when it became obvious to everyone that McQuaid was susceptible to loosing. He is an IOC insider. I don’t trust that organization either as I believe it is filled with supporters of a royalist type system with an overdeveloped attitude of self-privilege. I suspect he is doing this for himself alone – and this IS a problem – rather than any of the points he makes. I believe we will see superficial changes in the end but no real concrete changes that affect the protected, endemic cheating culture of the sport.

    These are my feelings based on the little information I’ve read. A change is needed (sound familiar) and if I had a vote I’d probably vote for him as better than the alternative. But much like elections in this country, I’m so very tired of voting for the lesser of two evils. In this last federal election I refused to vote for Obama because of such things as the NDAA and suspicions of more basic human rights violations as has been proven true. I think we’ll see a similar result here. Things aren’t quite comparable but that’s not the comparison I’m making here. It’s the suspicion that I’m not getting what I’m being sold and that things will continue in a similar vein that should not continue at all under anyone.

    I want to be very, very wrong and will be glad if I have to admit “I was wrong” ten years from now.

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