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Cycling: Why governance is not a side-show

It is now 10 months since revelations about Lance Armstrong shocked the world. At the time we called it a watershed moment for cycling, opening the door for a long overdue reform at the International Cycling Union, known by its French acronym UCI. Unfortunately this has not happened.

Back then we welcomed the UCI’s decision to establish an independent investigation into its relationship with Armstrong but in less than six weeks this fell apart when the World Anti-Doping Agency refused to take part because of the terms of reference. There have been small signs recently but there is still no timeline for a detailed investigation into the Armstrong affair.

This sluggish reaction is indicative of a lack of organisational good governance at the UCI: every few months more incidents hit the headlines (as we saw recently with the French senate report) and yet the UCI has not progressed with any investigation into its relationship with Armstrong over the years. This includes the period when he was known to have questionable doping samples and when he donated money to UCI.

Coming Clean

Next month the UCI will elect a new president. Transparency International believes that his first job (there are currently two male candidates) should be to resurrect the investigation into the Armstrong era and ensure that it is transparent and independent.

The UCI cannot miss a second opportunity to clean house. Its reputation remains in tatters.

In June this year the UCI released a report it commissioned from the consulting firm Deloitte, which undertook a survey of more than 6,300 people involved in cycling. The report concluded that the single most critical challenge facing the UCI is “restoring credibility and public perception”.

The report went on to note:

If the UCI does not take steps to restore its image and accordingly public faith in the sport, there is a risk that sponsors and rights holders will withdraw from the sport, events and teams will suffer and parents may not promote their children taking up cycling as a pastime."

Although new technologies have made it easier to catch cheats, and the UCI has been credited with enforcing these, it has clearly not won back the trust of the millions of people who take part in cycling.

What the UCI should have done was work with, not against, the bodies overseeing doping in sport. Seventy-two per cent of the respondents to the Deloitte survey said the UCI had a poor or very poor record dealing with doping and the report recommended as a critical priority that UCI should repair its relationship with the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Unfortunately, the run up to the election of the new president has become something of a shambles and illustrates how difficult it is for the UCI to win over hearts and minds.

Pat McQuaid, the current UCI president who was in charge during parts of the Armstrong years and publicly defended him when he was accused of doping, wants to run for a third four-year term. McQuaid failed to get the backing from his home country Ireland and as a result he has been exploiting the organisation’s statutes to allow another country to nominate him. This was roundly criticised by his opponent, Brian Cookson, head of British cycling.

Despite all the questions with the nomination process, the Armstrong debacle and the failed independent investigation, McQuaid, has a good chance of winning if he manages to get on the ballot. Like many sports organising bodies, incumbents build up relationships over time with the voting delegates who remain loyal to those who hold the power over income distribution and awarding of events.

Both UCI presidential candidates have released manifestos. McQuaid’s declaration, “A bright future for a changed sport”, calls for an independent audit of the Armstrong era. In “Restoring Trust, Leading Change” Cookson focusses on improving the governance of the sport and promises to investigate past corruption as priority number one.

Whatever the outcome of the election, the UCI must become pro-active in its reform agenda. It announced in June that it has commissioned a governance report from KMPG and will implement its recommendations but has not yet made the full report public.

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