The winds of change pt1
A change is coming.
The USADA case against Lance Armstrong could possibly be a watershed moment for the sport of cycling. Not necessarily for the opportunity to (finally) clear up a dubious period in the sport’s results - but for something even more serious. Something remotely acknowledged - but not necessarily focused on during the case - is the impact this will have upon cycling’s governing body, which could have enormous ramifications for the sport.
News broke in May 2010 that Lance Armstrong had made a large donation to the UCI in 2002. The money was used to purchase a Sysmex machine, a piece of equipment for analysing blood samples. Ignoring the irony of that machine possibly being partially responsible for Lance Armstrong’s downfall, a guilty verdict on Lance Armstrong will cause that donation to be revisited.
It’s one thing to get a donation from an active athlete to the governing body (although it’s rather unprecedented). It’s another thing entirely to have received a donation which, in hindsight, has come from an athlete engaged in the greatest sports doping conspiracy of all time. I suggest that no other governing body in another sport would have accepted such an offer from an active athlete, particularly one seemingly in the prime of their career.
If Armstrong is guilty (although the evidence in the public domain suggests it is far more likely to be when), then the issue of Armstrong’s donation must be revisited. More accurately, those who accepted the donation must walk from the governing body. It is entirely inappropriate that anyone with hopes of transparent governance would accept such a donation from a cheat. We can only hope that such pressure is brought to bear.
If it does, the sport can finally move on from the archaic leadership model it’s had for a long time. Pat McQuaid must be part of that departure. He’s spectacularly failed to bring the sport further than when he inherited it’s leadership. The sport needs a new model of leadership, something like this:
- An independent organisation to manage road races, and the teams competing within them.
- The UCI needs to act as a governing body and nothing else. It should be the organisation responsible for promoting cycling around the world, governing technical rules of the sport, and providing education on bike-riding.
- The chairperson of the board should rotate between one of each of the categories laid out below on a bi-annual basis.
- No person should serve on the board for a total of greater than six years at any time.
- The board of the organisation should consist of 13 seats:
- 4 seats for members nominated by teams competing in the elite men’s category of road racing
- 2 seats for members nominated by teams not represented in the elite men’s category, but from teams competing in the elite women’s category
- 1 seat each to experts responsible for the following categories: marketing, sponsorship, development (this should include development in underprivileged areas, as well as paralympic)
- 1 seat for a nominated member by a cyclist’s union.
- 1 seat from a recognised anti-doping authority (more on that later)
- 2 seats for affiliated cycling sports (MTB, Track, CX)
The UCI should have nothing to do with the marketing, the sponsorship or the management of any segment of the running of races/leagues or competitions at the elite level. Nor should it be involved in any anti-doping activity. Anti-doping should come under the mandate only of WADA, and a new, independent body should be responsible for both investigation and prosecution, answering only to WADA, with the UCI as a signatory.
A simple glimpse at the UCI reveals how spectacularly it has failed: Sponsors are largely small multinationals, and largely involved in bike-related manufacture. Nowhere is there a corporate giant on the scale as those as FIFA, for example. Bike riding is constantly underestimated in terms of public participation, and the viewing figures for the Tour de France make it the world’s most watched annual sporting event. This equates to a spectacular failure of the UCI to market it, and encapsulates why they need to have the responsibility for that side of the sport removed.
Tomorrow I’ll look at how the process of anti-doping in cycling needs to be revolutionised, and also stripped away from the UCI.