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.