Brian Cookson Interview: UCI Presidential candidate speaks at length on range of topics
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Monday, June 24, 2013

Brian Cookson Interview: UCI Presidential candidate speaks at length on range of topics

by Shane Stokes at 12:51 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
Independent Commission, UCI reform, McQuaid, anti-doping, transparency, women’s cycling and more discussed

Brian CooksonToday sees Brian Cookson unveil his manifesto laying out what he would propose to do as UCI president, and talking about what he sees are necessary changes which need to occur in the sport. The Briton is thus far the only challenger to the current president Pat McQuaid, and is pushing his candidature as someone who is looking for widespread reforms.

Cookson laid out six goals  today, namely to rebuild trust in the UCI, to transform anti-doping in cycling, to grow cycling across the globe, to develop women’s cycling, to overhaul elite road cycling and to strengthen cycling’s credibility and influence within the Olympic Movement.

He discussed those points in greater detail here and also in his manifesto.

The British Cycling president has been a member of the UCI management committee since 2009 and been involved in the sport in other capacities for far longer. While he has been part of one important element of the UCI’s structure for the past four years, he speaks about what he feels have been failings within the current setup, and also about the reasons why he believes a change at the top is needed.

While he states that he doesn’t want to get into a public slagging match with McQuaid, he is clear in his belief that the two-term president must leave that position if cycling is to have a chance at the fresh start it needs.

“I think that it is no secret that there is widespread dissatisfaction about the way the fallout from the Lance Armstrong affair has been handled,” he told VeloNation in a long interview carried out recently. “There are still questions to be answered about that era that have still not been answered satisfactorily.

“We are not making the kind of progress that we ought to be able to do as a sport and pastime in an era when everything is favourable for our sport and pastime – we are still being dragged down by these allegations from a previous era.”

When news emerged on June 3rd that Cookson was going to stand against McQuaid, the latter was quick to cast shadows upon his challenger’s decision to go forward. In a letter sent that day to national federations, he raised doubts about Cookson and also insinuated that he may be under the control of others, specifically management committee member Igor Makarov and UEC honorary president and former UCI management committee member Wojciech Walkiewicz.

The letter was interpreted by some as mudslinging, and also as a knee jerk reaction from someone who was tightly gripping onto power. Responding, Cookson has said he hadn’t expected such a response from McQuaid, and that he was a little dismayed by the tactics.

“I was surprised. I don’t think that kind of megaphone diplomacy is – if I can put it that way – the right way of going about things,” he said. “I don’t want to enter into a personal dispute or debate with Pat, although I know it makes good press if I do! That may be Pat’s way of doing things…it is not my way of doing things.”

He went on to stress that he believes he doesn’t have anything to hide, in terms of contacts with others, and that he considered the insinuations to be unfair.

“It is quite legitimate for me to speak to members of the management committee. It is quite legitimate for me to speak to the major stakeholders in our sport,” he said. “As far as I am concerned, there is absolutely nothing untoward with those discussions.

“I am not in a position to make promises that cannot be delivered, and I think that some of the things that have been raised by Pat are not really a matter for me. They are a matter for the European Cycling Union, for example.

“I am happy to stand on my record. My integrity at British Cycling is there for anyone who wants to look at it. Again, I don't really want to get into a tit for tat response.”

In the interview below, Cookson answers a large number of questions on diverse issues. He discusses his reasons for opposing McQuaid, the issues that he feels dog the sport, his view on what the Independent Commission looking into the UCI’s actions around the Lance Armstrong/US Postal Service affair didn’t work and what alternative setup that he believes would be more beneficial in this regard.

He also explains why he sees complications with a Truth and Reconciliation type-approach, how he wants to rebuild relations with the various anti-doping bodies and why he feels the UCI’s current CADF anti-doping arm is not sufficiently independent and transparent.

Cookson also explains how he has distanced himself from a previous role connected to Team Sky, essentially acting to avoid suggestions of a conflict of interest.

The need to grow and develop women’s cycling is also covered below, plus his thoughts on a minimum wage in that area of the sport. He also speaks about the so-called breakaway league and reforms of the sport.

VeloNation: You have decided to run against Pat McQuaid in the UCI presidential elections. Can you talk about that decision and the factors in it?

Brian Cookson: As everyone knows, I have been a member of the UCI management committee for almost four years now. I have been supporting Pat and what you do when you are in those circumstances is that you stand by the principle of collective responsibility, corporate responsibility. You express your views behind closed doors in meetings and you give people your opinions as forcibly as you possibly can. I have been doing that, and I have not been the only one, of course.

I just felt that having given Pat my support up until quite recently, things weren’t changing, things weren’t getting any better. We were approaching the deadline date by which nominations have to be made and I felt that it was the time to put my head above the parapet. So that is what I did.

VN: You say that you had hoped that things would change over time and were not. Can you articulate any particularly instances that were a source of frustration, or any areas that you felt were not being tackled?

BC: I think that it is no secret that there is widespread dissatisfaction about the way the fallout from the Lance Armstrong affair has been handled. There are still questions to be answered about that era that have still not been answered satisfactorily. We are not making the kind of progress that we ought to be able to do as a sport and pastime in an era when everything is favourable for our sport and pastime – we are still being dragged down by these allegations from a previous era.

Lots of good work has been done, there is lots of great stuff going on at the UCI. In many ways it is a very good organisation but we are constantly disfigured by these disputes on and around really this one issue.

VN: The Independent Commission was seen as a way for the UCI to prove that it didn’t do anything wrong, as it states, but that hasn’t happened. When that was stood down, did you see it as an opportunity missed?

BC: Well, the problem with the Independent Commission was that the route that was chosen by the people who were working on it was far too bureaucratic, far too expensive. It was using as a model the British public enquiry sort of structure, which ended up by necessity involving teams of lawyers on each side…lawyers representing the UCI, lawyers representing the panel. As a result the cost was escalating wildly out of control.

Not only that, it was quite clear that it wasn’t going to be given the credibility given to it by WADA, USADA or any of the other independent bodies in the anti-doping and sports governance world. So we could have spent most of the UCI’s assets on an Independent Commission that results were published one day and the next day they would be rubbished and undermined by those bodies that didn’t have confidence in it. It would have been a waste of money anyway.

It was important that a decision was made quickly on that, as it was an inappropriate mechanism. But what is disappointing is that we are still not in a position several months later to have an alternative put together. I am disappointed it has taken so long and really we can’t keep going on like this because it is continually dragging down the image of the UCI.

VN: So you agree with the decision to shelve the commission but you feel that in the months since that something should have happened and didn’t happen. Is that correct?

BC: I agreed very strongly with the decision to shelve the Commission as it was being formed at that time, as it was far too top heavy, bureaucratic and overloaded. What I do think is we need an independent investigation into those allegations, genuinely forensic, genuinely independent and absolutely full publication of the findings of that.

VN: At the time one of the issues that was raised by WADA and USADA and was actually echoed then by the Independent Commission itself was that there was a sentiment that perhaps witnesses wouldn’t have an immunity if they came forward. Do you see a way to answer that request?

BC: Well, I think there is some confusion between a number of different issues. There is the independent enquiry that is looking into allegations. Then there are questions of a so-called Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and then there are all sorts of other ongoing legal cases, some involving doping positive tests, some involving supply, some like the Fuentes case and others in Italy and other countries.

I think one of the things that I have got serious reservations about is the so-called Truth and Reconciliation commission. There are real technical problems with that. I mean, it doesn’t have power…anything run by the UCI wouldn’t have powers of subpoena, you couldn’t guarantee that people were telling the truth so people wouldn’t be there for perjury. Then you have also got the issue of some of the activities that are need to be investigated are illegal in certain countries. Doping in sport is now illegal in some countries, in others it isn’t.

So you could offer a sporting amnesty or a UCI amnesty to some witnesses, but they could find that they fly home and get arrested in the airport as they arrive back to their home nation, having done something illegal.

Then you have also got to think that this is not just about what individuals may or may not have done in doping. Really, what you need to know is about the suppliers, the doctors, the funders, the financers of it all. Then you start getting into issues around criminality, money laundering and so on. Once you start making accusations about things, then you get into very murky waters, not least in terms of libel and slander and so on. It is not that simply to say ‘we will have a truth and reconciliation commission and everything will come out.’

At the end of the day, if someone wants to confess something, there is nothing to stop them doing that. The internet is out there, you can post whatever you want. You can say, ‘I did this, I am guilty of doing this and I wish I hadn’t.’ Whether it is a rider from the past, a doctor or a supplier, there is nothing to stop those people doing that now if they want to do that.

VN: So you wouldn't be in favour of a truth and reconciliation? What do you want to see going forward instead of that?

BC: Well, I think there are serious questions about what is meant by a truth and reconciliation commission and how it would work. What I am in favour of is a full and detailed and transparent investigation in to the allegations of misconduct and misbehaviour at the UCI. I hope there is nothing there, I would like to think that people haven’t done anything that they shouldn’t have done, but if they have, it needs to come out and we need to take action accordingly.

Brian CooksonVN: Would you see WADA as being the body to run that, or how would you see the structure of it…bearing in mind that you had concerns about the Independent Commission and how that was set up.

BC: Well, I don’t think WADA would want to do that from previous experience and the comments at the time of the original Independent Commission. So I think we need to look at CAS, we can look at other bodies who may or may not want to do that. I think the important thing is we get the buy in of all those people, all those stakeholders and assist them in a structure that is lean, efficient and above all transparent and speedy as well. Let’s get these things resolved sooner rather than later.

Factors influencing push for change at the top:

VN: Pat is obviously running for his third term. He originally sought nomination from the Irish federation and that went to an EGM, which he ultimately lost. He also went to the Swiss federation and there has been a bit of headlines over that as well. Was that one of the areas of concern within the management committee that these kind of issues were happening?

BC: It has not been discussed by the management committee. I think it is probably not appropriate for me to comment on the affairs of the Irish federation and the Swiss. That is entirely a matter between them and Pat.

VN: You have said that you were not happy with things in recent months. Is that concern shared by others on the committee?

BC: I believe so. A number of others, yes. But all those people can speak for themselves. I don’t want to speak for them. I am not a lone voice and I am sure Pat is not a lone voice either on those things. That is what happens in committees and on boards. You express your opinion, and then you go on with the agreed decision until such time as it is appropriate to make a challenge. And an election is a time to make a legitimate challenge, and that is what I am doing.

VN: Were you surprised by the letter that was released by Pat McQuaid to the federations?

BC: [Pause] Yes, I was surprised. I don’t think that kind of megaphone diplomacy is – if I can put it that way – the right way of going about things. I don’t want to enter into a personal dispute or debate with Pat. I know it makes good press if I do! That may be Pat’s way of doing things…it is not my way of doing things.

VN: In what looked like an attempt to raise questions and doubts and perhaps to sling some mud, there were claims in the letter about you meeting Mr Makarov and the European Union president. Is this something that you are prepared to address?

BC: Of course I have spoken to those people, of course I have visited them in some cases. Some I have spoken to on the phone. It is quite legitimate for me to speak to members of the management committee. It is quite legitimate for me to speak to the major stakeholders in our sport. As far as I am concerned, there is absolutely nothing untoward with those discussions. I am not in a position to make promises that cannot be delivered, and I think that some of the things that have been raised by Pat are not really a matter for me. They are a matter for the European Cycling Union, for example.

I am happy to stand on my record. My integrity at British Cycling is there for anyone who wants to look at it. Again, I don't really want to get into a tit for tat response.

VN: There is three months to go until the election. Presumably you want to keep it on an issues level and not on a personal level. Would you like to see Pat do the same, for it to be fought out on the various issues and nothing more than that?

BC: Yeah, I think so. I am of the view that democratic organisations are made stronger by leadership debates and by open discussion and by leadership elections. That is what we have got. The deadline for nominations is towards the end of June. We have got a management committee coming up next week and that is why I thought it was important now to not leave it too late, but also to make a timely intervention to say that I am now willing to be a candidate.

VN: What sort of reactions have you got since declaring that you are going to run?

BC: Overwhelmingly positive. Very very encouraging, absolutely heartwarming in fact. I have been astonished by the level of support coming in from around the world.

VN: Do you feel there is a mood for change, a fresh start for the UCI?

BC: Yeah, I think there is, absolutely. It’s a time when I think people are fed up with the poor image the UCI has got. That may or may not be justified, but it is what it is and we are where we are in terms of what happened to our sport.

At the end of the day, I think we only going to move out of this era with a change in leadership and I’m absolutely heartened that so many people have already expressed the view that I’m the right person to lead that change. I hope I can live up to that. I’ll try my best, if I’m elected.

VN: How do you see the votes coming? Obviously it’s divided between continents etcetera. Have you identified particular areas you think you can do well in?

BC: Well, I’ve been talking to a number of key people around the world and I believe there will be a ground swell of opinion moving in my favour amongst those voting delegates from the national federations through to the continental confederations, as the campaign develops.

If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t have put my name forward. I’m not going to name names and count votes at this early stage but I’m very happy that lots of people said to me, in general terms, ‘we are supportive but we want to go through our proper procedures and protocols to make sure that we are democratically supported and the choice that we make.’ And that’s right and proper…that’s the way it should be.

VN: You’ve said that you want to avoid any perception of conflict of interest; you say it’s important for the role. One of the things people have spoken about is that you have a role with Team Sky, part of the board of Tour Racing, which runs the team. So, do you see that as something that you will have to give up if you are elected as UCI president?

BC: The role that I had with Team Sky has been on the operating board, which is a liaison group between Tour Racing Ltd. and British Cycling. So, myself and the chief executive Ian Drake have been on that. Nevertheless, what I felt is that it is probably inappropriate for me to be a member of that group, at least for the duration of the election and, if I’m elected, thereafter. So, I’ve agreed to step aside and I’ve told Sky that. One of my vice-chairman at British Cycling will be taking that over.

VN: And your role within British Cycling as well, is that something that, presumably if you are elected, you will have to put that on hold given that…

BC: Yeah, that’s clear in the constitution of the UCI – you can’t be president of the UCI and hold any national federation office. So I’ll certainly be compliant with that if I’m elected. If not, I’ll carry on at British Cycling as long as the members support me.

Anti-doping, women’s cycling and reforms to the sport:

Brian CooksonVN: As regards anti-doping – you’ve said that you want changes with the system, that you want to make it more transparent. How do you see that working and do you see the CADF being sufficiently transparent, or do you think it needs a new body to look after it?

BC: I think the CADF being a good step in the right direction but I think we need two or three more steps sooner and further. I want that really to become an entirely independent organisation...not the one that’s based down the corridor from the president’s office in the UCI, but in an entirely separate organisation.

The details of that will have to be worked out very closely with WADA because we do have responsibilities as an international federation in terms of anti-doping and so on. I’m absolutely strongly in favour of cycling anti-doping being ruled in every sense by an independent organisation, so there’s no possibility of a conflict of interest between the international federation, the teams, the race organisers and so on and so forth.

VN: When Ann Gripper was appointed to the role of head of anti-doping, she was quite public, quite open, it was quite easy to get interviews with her and she would speak on a range of subjects. That changed before she left, it became a less open role. That has continued since Ms. Rossi moved into place.

The shortcoming with that lack of communication is that people don't get to hear about what is being done. Is there scope for that to change and become more open?

BC: Yeah, I think we could probably do a lot better in terms of positive publicity for the mechanisms and the processes that are in place and what’s happening in terms of statistics. I think where difficulties arise is in individual cases, which are really difficult to handle in terms of the confidentiality of the process, in terms of needing to be a bit more sub judice, you know what I mean.

The worst thing that happens, and which has happened, is too many leaks in the process. People get very upset when they hear half-baked stories about what’s happening in a doping case and so on.

Results’ management is the key in that process. You know you have the A sample, the B sample… We do still stand by the principle of presumed innocent until proven guilty kind of thing. Handling that in that sort of disciplinary situation is very difficult when, you know, you are in a situation when a rider might have a positive A test and then suddenly disappears from the team roster. Then people are asking why and so on.

Those things are quite difficult to handle, but I would like to see more rigour in that process as there are definitely too many leaks.

VN: Sure. But also presumably to have a greater information stream of the amount of tests being done etcetera - is that possible?

BC: Absolutely, yeah. As I said, I think in terms of who are being tested, where, when, how – it is in the statistics, which events…I don’t see a problem with that, and certainly the out of competition testing.

Because I think actually we got a good story to tell at the UCI despite one or two of the problems and the historic cases and so on. Actually, you know, we are transforming our sport. I think there’s been a lot of good progress, but we are still dragged down by the historic controversies. And there are still people out there who haven’t learnt the lesson, as we have seen from the Giro only recently.

VN: Do you see a way to increase the budget for anti-doping, in other words, to have more bio-passport testing etc.? For example, do you the possibility of teams or other people putting in more money over time?

BC: Well, it’s a massive cost at the moment. I think we need, yes we need to have more money spent on it, but we also need to make it more effective and more efficient and targeted better and so on.

But, you know, it’s been a hard job tackling what was I think an ingrained culture. I think we’ve made huge strides, and you can see that in the way the peloton races these days. But eternal vigilance is necessary, as they say.

We have to keep refining and changing and working and never be complacent about tackling this problem. We need to have a sport that parents can have absolute confidence they can bring their children into our sport, take them all the way to the very top without having to cheat or do things that might risk their health or be illicit, or get them into trouble and so on.

VN: What’s your plan to develop the women’s area of the sport?

BC: I’m very proud that we do a lot of good stuff for women in British Cycling. We’ve always tried to treat women as equally as we can. Clearly there are difficulties and issues around the economics of women’s pro cycling but in terms of participation levels I think at the UCI we can do a lot better and work a lot harder at encouraging and bringing women into sport at all levels around the world.

If we look at the elite women’s road scene up until now I felt that it’s probably not the right time to bring in that minimum wage. There’s been a lot of talk about that, I’ve thought about that a bit more. I think what we can try to do now is perhaps have a two tier system where the top women’s pro teams do have to have a minimum wage, and rest are re-categorised as an equal to a continental cycling level.

That’s not going to act of itself, flick a switch and suddenly bring more money to women’s pro cycling but I think it will set an aspirational level for the teams, a baseline if you like, for the genuine professional women’s road teams. I think it’s probably something we need to do sooner rather than later.

So, as I say, right the way from baseline up to elite level, there needs to be a different approach. There are some good people working in the UCI on those ideas and I want to try and empower them further to develop those ideas.

VN: Finally, what’s your feeling about the new breakaway league structure that has been discussed in recent months?

BC: As regards the breakaway league…I think there is a number of ideas being floated around at the moment. I do think that pro road racing probably needs a comprehensive review.

I think we need to look at everything from the points system to the team structure to the league-type ideas to the calendar and so on. It’s been done on a bit of an ad-hoc basis. There are people with all sorts of ideas, some of them I think are not workable.

But what I’m going to say is that I’m willing to listen, willing to talk to people. I’m very open to ideas - let’s see what can be done to not slice the cake up in a different way, but to make the cake a bigger cake so there more there for everyone. For the teams, the race organisers, for the media and for the fans as well..let’s not forget the fans and the cyclists around the world who are what keep it going.

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