British Cycling President Brian Cookson has officially announced that he is running to become the next UCI President, nominated by British Cycling. His statement is reproduced in full at the bottom of this article.
Cookson, who is a member of the UCI's management board, has been instrumental in the revival of British Cycling's fortunes over the last two decades. British Cycling has transformed itself from a ramshackle and amateurish outfit – that often didn't even have enough kit for the riders representing it in international events – to an organisation admired for its slick professionalism far beyond the realms of cycling: it was recently named British Sports Governing Body of the Year.
Cookson says this was achieved "by creating a well run, stable federation governed on the principles of honesty, transparency and clear divisions of responsibility" and he aims to apply the same principles to the sport's governing body. While the current regime has paid lip service to the idea of transparency and openness, many would argue that in reality they are ideas that go very much against the grain of presidencies of Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen, who groomed McQuaid as his successor.
Certainly Cookson seems to be in no doubt. "Our international body, the UCI, remains hugely distracted, continuing to flounder in waves of damaging historical controversies", he says in his statement. "For far too many people our sport is associated with doping, with decisions that are made behind closed doors and with ceaseless conflicts with important members of the cycling family and other key stakeholders. This situation is deeply damaging for our sport, and it has severely compromised the UCI’s ability to develop and communicate some of the good work that is happening across the world."
Earlier this year it was suggested by a senior International Olympic Committee official that a Cookson UCI Presidency would be viewed with favour in the higher circles of international sports politics. Those remarks were made in response to rumours in January that Cookson would run against McQuaid - rumours that Cookson denied - pointing out that there was no vacancy and giving his support to the beleaguered UCI President.
One immediate advantage Cookson will have is the backing of his home federation. McQuaid was forced to relay on the Swiss Federation to nominate him as its preferred candidate for UCI President - which he was able to do under residency rules - after the Irish Federation went back on its original decision to nominated him for the post and called an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) to discuss the matter later this month.
While it would be impossible for Cookson to run against McQuaid without the backing of British Cycling (McQuaid can only do it because as UCI President he is resident in Switzerland and took the prudent step of becoming a member of his local federation) it is also noteworthy that by backing Cookson British Cycling would be sticking its head above the parapet.
The calculation in Manchester must be that their man stands a good chance of winning. It is reported that Cookson has already been sounding out potential support from other national federations, because in the winner takes all world of cycling politics being caught on the wrong side could prove very costly indeed.
Other cycling federations are said to have viewed Team GB's run of success over the last decade with a mixture of envy and suspicion, but it might well be that the sport's power brokers will take the view that if can't beat them then cycle sport at large could benefit from some of what has made British Cycling such a success.
While a British audience might not like to hear it, in a contested election - that is sure to be dirty - Cookson's close association with British success could be something of a double edged sword. For though they might not shout it there is a firm belief amongst many in the international cycling community British success owes something to cheating. Although such ideas are undoubtedly wide of the mark given cycling's tarnished history people can hardly be blamed for holding them.
Voting in the presidential election takes place in September, so we can look forward to three months of interesting, entertaining and above all bruising campaigning.
“I am today announcing that I am standing as a candidate for the Presidency of the UCI. I have the full support and nomination of my home federation, British Cycling, and I respectfully ask for the support of the national cycling federations of the world and the whole international cycling family.
I am not doing this lightly as I know how much needs to be done. When I became the President of British Cycling in 1996, the Federation was deeply troubled and close to bankruptcy. Since that time cycling in my country has been transformed beyond recognition. Many wonderful people have helped this process, motivated by a passion to do the best for cycling, and I have been proud to lead them.
This transformation has been achieved, above all, by creating a well run, stable federation governed on the principles of honesty, transparency and clear divisions of responsibility. These principles are even more important for an international federation.
Cycling has been at the heart of my life for as long as I can remember. It has shaped my personality as much as it has my professional career, and I will always be grateful for the sheer enjoyment, inspiration and opportunity that cycling has given me. I still ride my bike almost daily.
Many good things have happened in our sport around the world in recent years, and I am proud that British cyclists and British events such as London 2012 have played their part in showing what a superb sport we have in cycling, in all its diversity.
But the passion I and many others have for cycling cannot hide the fact that our international body, the UCI, remains hugely distracted, continuing to flounder in waves of damaging historical controversies. For far too many people our sport is associated with doping, with decisions that are made behind closed doors and with ceaseless conflicts with important members of the cycling family and other key stakeholders. This situation is deeply damaging for our sport, and it has severely compromised the UCI’s ability to develop and communicate some of the good work that is happening across the world.
The stakeholder consultation exercise held this year by the UCI has clearly demonstrated that there are many excellent aspects to the UCI, with much good work underway, but all of this has been severely compromised by the widespread absence of confidence in the integrity of the organisation.
Against this backdrop, and after careful consideration, I have decided to stand for the Presidency of the UCI. This is because I passionately believe that the UCI needs to embrace a new way of doing things, and address, head on, some of the critical challenges facing our sport.
We must restore cycling’s credibility. The first priority for the new UCI president must be to change the way that anti doping is managed so that people can have confidence in the sport. We must also urgently carry out a fully independent investigation into the allegations of corruption in this area which have so damaged the UCI’s reputation.
Cycling is not the only sport with problems but if we don’t have a sport that parents can send their children to with absolute confidence then we are failing. If elected I will devote myself to rebuilding relations with WADA and establishing with them a completely independent body to deal with anti-doping in cycling so that no-one can doubt that it is being tackled without fear or favour. I will also seek their full co-operation in the independent investigation into the UCI’s past.
In the next few weeks, I will publish my manifesto, which will outline clear recommendations to tackle the future challenges for our sport, as well as specific policies to address those problems from the past that still haunt us today.
More broadly, I want to see a UCI whose culture and way of doing things is defined by openness, transparency, and a commitment to more collegiate decision making. We need to work for the good of cycling globally, and not protect vested interests, wherever they may lie. The best way we can achieve this is to be much more open on how we operate and make decisions. In essence, my manifesto will outline how I would build trust in the UCI, and what our vision should be, for the future.
I believe that I have a strong and proven track record in delivering positive change in cycling, and in a way that is collegiate - not confrontational - as my time as President of British Cycling shows. It is this style of approach that I want to bring to the UCI.
I would be truly honoured to be elected UCI President, but I also understand the magnitude of the challenges we face. If successful in my campaign, I will do all in my powers to turn my vision of a more open and modern UCI into reality, in full partnership with all the other stakeholders in the sport we love”.
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.