Is the UCI leadership accountable to pro cycling team owners?

INRNG provides an excellent breakdown of Monday’s news that the Malaysian federation has proposed an amendment to the UCI constitution which would allow any two National Federations to nominate a candidate to stand for President of the UCI. The communiqué from UCI General Director Christophe Hubschmid also included the related piece of news that incumbent UCI President Pat McQuaid has received nominations from Thailand and Morocco.

INRNG’s piece tells of how the nomination process has lead to this latest move by McQuaid, describes the strategy, gives odds on the successful adoption of the amendment, and even presents two ways McQuaid’s opponent Brian Cookson could respond.

I don’t have anything to add to the well-written piece other than to say you should read it.

Instead, I’d like to take Monday’s news as an opportunity to point out the influence demonstrated by delegations from Thailand, Morocco, and Malaysia over the process for selecting the leader of the UCI—the body that governs, among many cycling disciplines, men’s professional road racing—while the ProTour and ProContinental teams and their athletes have no place in the process to nominate or elect the UCI President.

Compare this to Roger Goodell (NFL Commissioner) or David Stern (NBA Commissioner). Both are endowed with tremendous power and latitude to operate once in office but, critically, each is elected by the team owners of the respective leagues. The Commissioner necessarily forms productive working relationships with each team owner and franchise organization–their primary constituents.

The selection of the UCI President is problematic for ProTour and ProContinental teams for two reasons:

  1. The UCI President is not directly accountable to the team owners and athletes—those most directly invested in the success of men’s professional road racing; and
  2. The federations that do nominate and elect the UCI President have far more than only the concerns of men’s professional road racing on their mind

The UCI governs men’s, women’s, road, track, cyclocross, mountain, BMX, paracycling, and more. Each of these disciplines is separate from the other–the only common thread being the action happens on two wheels. The athletes in each discipline compete at different events and for different titles. In practice, the UCI President and the organization he/she leads serves a diverse array of masters from a diverse array of nations that participate in a diverse array of cycling disciplines.

Again, compare to the NFL where the Commissioner serves only a set of team owners who at the least share the common goal to operate a successful sports league.

Can Brian Cookson fix the UCI?

Many fans of men’s professional road racing are optimistic that Brian Cookson will be a fresh start after the many embarrassments of the Pat McQuaid era. Even some team owners like Slipstream’s Jonathan Vaughters have openly supported Brian Cookson’s candidacy. While I agree that Brian Cookson is likely more competent than Pat McQuaid, regardless of the identity of the leadership the UCI remains a cumbersome worldwide governing body overseeing multiple (mostly amateur) sports. The leader of the UCI will split his/her attention among multiple sports and his/her performance will ultimately be judged by the member federations of the UCI—not the teams and athletes.

Is men’s pro road racing ready for a new leadership structure similar to what is seen in major pro sports around the world? One that is neutral to the fortunes of any particular team, but is directly accountable to those most invested in the sport—the teams and athletes?

Teams want ‘clear and credible governance’

The AIGCP—Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels—is the association of top teams and the closest thing to a “league office” in pro cycling today. While Jonathan Vaughters served as Director of the AIGCP he butted heads with the UCI on a number of issues, the most well-documented being the race radios ban. The episode occasioned public statements on twitter calling for an increased degree of self-governance, but two years later and from the outside things look unchanged. AIGCP’s current Managing Director is Luuc Eisenga— notably not currently affiliated with any pro team, unlike predecessors Vaughters and Patrick Lefevere, who were/are central figures to the Garmin and QuickStep programs.

Luuc Eisenga, AIGCP President

In statements made to Eisenga said: “I would see no need for such a resolution. There are two candidates who have made some clear statements, in the past and the present, about how they want to run the sport. That should be enough for the delegates to make a balanced assessment…Cycling will benefit from clear and credible governance. The sport has gone through some rough times, the future can only be bright if there is a fair share for all stakeholders including teams. The AIGCP want ‘clean riders in balanced races’ and a sustainable, stable financial base for teams, so they can have the healthy environment for their riders. More stability is key to the (financial) health of the sport.”

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