Brian Cookson Interview: UCI Presidential Candidate on Verbruggen, Armstrong, Breakaway Series and more
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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Brian Cookson Interview: UCI Presidential Candidate on Verbruggen, Armstrong, Breakaway Series and more

by Shane Stokes at 5:12 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 

Brian CooksonBrian Cookson has said that if he succeeds in winning a UCI presidential election which will take place in two days’ time in Florence, Italy, that he wants a full examination of the UCI’s past actions in relation to Lance Armstrong and others. While he says that he hopes there is no evidence of wrongdoing, he has said that former president Hein Verbruggen and others will not be shielded if anything untoward is found.

Speaking in recent days to a small number of journalists during a long press conference call, Cookson initially said that Verbruggen’s wishes to be left alone would be respected.

“I’ve…had an assurance from him that he is no longer involved in the world of cycling and the world of sports administration and wants to be left alone.

“I am very happy to confirm that will be the case. I want to absolutely emphasise that in effect this will be a new administration which takes over. We will not be relying upon networks of the past. We will be establishing a new management and a new governance at the UCI.

“I acknowledge Hein’s achievements from the past, which have been many, but equally I think it is time for a regime change. I know there is massive appetite for that around the world.”

However when clarification of that remark was sought, Cookson made clear that he was talking about turning a page in terms of the running of the sport, but not speaking about immunity from what may have occurred in the past.

“If people have misbehaved, if people have done things they shouldn’t have done, if there has been anything illegal or collusion or whatever, then there is no hiding place,” he stated. “It is absolutely right that public authorities, police and judicial authorities should treat all those things in an appropriate way.

“I hope that is not the case, I don’t like to think that there has been anything as serious as that, but clearly we need to investigate that.”

Claims have been made that Verbruggen and current UCI president Pat McQuaid may have shielded Lance Armstrong. It’s something both of them deny, but Cookson said that if anything untoward comes to light, that those who have crossed the line will have to face the consequences of their actions.

A total of 42 delegates will vote on who will become the next leader of the governing body. If none of those abstain, it means that either Cookson or McQuaid must secure 22 votes or higher to be elected. Ten days ago the former won a vote 27 to 10 at the European Cycling Union’s exceptional general assembly held in Zurich; if the mandate decided there is followed, that means he has fourteen of the 22 votes he needs to become president. But how confident is he that all fourteen will indeed follow the UEC’s direction in what is a secret ballot?

“I am very confident that I will get all of those fourteen votes. Those votes are mandated. It is the constitution of the European Cycling Union that they shall reflect the will of the congress that was just held,” he answered. “I know all of those people and I believe I can trust in their integrity to do what they have been mandated to do.

“So I am very happy with that. As I say, I know those people and I am happy to rely on their integrity.”

Cookson also spoke about what he said was “very, very good progress” as regards commitments from other delegates and federations around the world.

“I am very, very happy to assure people from all around the world that the UCI under my jurisdiction will be a properly international body,” he said. “It will live up to and exceed its international commitments already in place and will do a much better job going forward.”

In the interview below Cookson speaks about a range of topics, including McQuaid’s disputed nomination from Morocco and Thailand, how he would restore credibility to cycling if elected, his attitude to a Truth and Reconciliation process and to Lance Armstrong plus Hein Verbruggen, his position on potential amnesties, his thoughts on women’s cycling and what could be done to boost media coverage of this wing of the sport, plus his willingness to consider publishing TUE details and power figures.

He also makes clear that contrary to what McQuaid has suggested, he is not pledging support for the so-called Breakaway League in cycling. While he accepts that changes should be made to try to develop the sport, he is clear that it should not be done at the expense of long established events.

“Paris to Roubaix is a very important race, and clearly one with a massive heritage. If you ran another race, say from Paris to Lyon or whatever, just because it was in the same format, that is still not going to attract the same interest.

“Cycling really depends on those monuments, that massive heritage of the traditional events. And so whatever development takes place in professional road cycling, it will have to be built around those monuments and those legacy events.”


Q: Will there definitely be an election as the latest news is that your opponent has lost support from all quarters. Is he going to be able to stand against you?

Brian Cookson: I think that is a matter for Pat, really. I have got a firm nomination, I have abided by the rules of the constitution at every stage. Pat’s difficulties are a matter for him.

Q: Would you contest it if he was to stand against you, due to the statutes, or would you just go ahead with the election?

BC: Well, let’s see what Congress come up with. At the moment I don’t see that there is very much support for the proposal to allow retrospective nominations.

I think the issue of Pat’s nomination, the validity of that, around whether the nominations that he has got fulfil the requirements of the constitution. There may well be a discussion about that at the congress before the vote.

At the end of the day, I made this commitment to the national federations that I will still insist on an election vote as to whether they want me or not, even if there is just one candidate.

VeloNation: If it is Congress itself rather than CAS that is going to decide about whether or not Pat’s interpretation of 51.1 is valid, as regards the federation which should nominate the candidate, do you not have a concern that the decision on that will go along the same patterns as the voting?

In other words, whomever would vote for Pat will also vote for his interpretation of Article 51.1?

Q: That may be so. I think I am happy at this stage to see what happens at Congress. I think people have a lot of integrity…people have got a lot of experience of these things and ultimately the will of congress will be very sensible and very diplomatic. We will see what happens.

Q: You have said that you want to talk about how you are going to try to restore trust and credibility in cycling. Could you be specific and say exactly how you plan to do that?

BC: First of all, I think we need to have a forensic and detailed investigation about all the allegations that have been made about collusion and behaviour at the UCI over the years. That has still not been put to bed and I want to make sure that happens sooner rather than later.

Following on from that, we need to establish a genuinely independent anti-doping body. The fact of the matter is that people just don’t trust the UCI to handle anti-doping properly any longer. Until we have a properly independent body, that will continue to be the case. So making sure that we establish that is a key top priority.

We have to do that in a way that aligns with the World Anti Doping Agency. I am sure that we can do that, they have already said that that’s possible and I think we need to make that happen sooner rather than later.

As part of that again, we need to look at the analysis of what has gone wrong. Some people have called it a Truth and Reconciliation commission. I am not entirely comfortable with those words. But we certainly do need to have a review, something like the Mitchell report into baseball in the United States, for instance, that was very well received. I think we need to do that very quickly as well.

So that is something that I want to get underway as soon as I possibly can in the first few weeks of my presidency.

It is essential that we make sure that the mechanism by which we do that has the support of the World Anti Doping Agency, IOC and other bodies. I think we can do that sooner rather than later and I think frankly that we need to have a different leadership for it to get to that stage.

Q: Lance Armstrong said he would be willing be participation in a Truth and Reconciliation commission. You have just said that you are not very comfortable with this idea. Have you talked to Lance Armstrong in the last months about this possibility, that he talks about what he knows?

BC: Let me just be clear, first of all – I am not uncomfortable with the idea of having a commission. I am just not entirely comfortable with the worlds Truth and Reconciliation. I think we need to define exactly what we mean by that.

Certainly as part of that we need to have a form of incentive for people to come forward and tell the truth. So I guess there will have to be some form of amnesty or reduction in sanction. Those are the sort of details that need to be legally cleared. Let’s not forget that doping in sport is actually against the law, illegal in some countries now.

We need to be clear about what level of amnesty, what level of offers we can make to people to encourage them to tell the truth.

I haven’t spoken with Lance Armstrong. I don’t know him and I have never met him. I have read what he has had to say in the media. I guess like all of us, we watched the Oprah Winfrey show. It was clear then that he was telling some of the truth. I would like to encourage him to tell all of the truth. I am sure that we all know he is not the only rider who was guilty of doing what he did, but certainly he is the only one who won seven Tours de France. So he obviously bears a heavy responsibility for some of the activities in that area.

So what I want to make sure we do is to treat everybody on an equitable basis, to make sure that people are treated fairly, but I want to get more of the truth out and get it out once and for all, so that we don’t have this continual drip drip drip of information and confessions, force or otherwise, that we have seen yet again through the course of this year.

Brian CooksonVN: You obviously got the vote at the UEC meeting. In theory that is fourteen votes. How confident are you of getting all of those fourteen votes?

BC: I am very confident that I will get all of those fourteen votes. Those votes are mandated. It is the constitution of the European Cycling Union that they shall reflect the will of the congress that was just held. I know all of those people and I believe I can trust in their integrity to do what they have been mandated to do.

So I am very happy with that. As I say, I know those people and I am happy to rely on their integrity.

VN: What sort of feedback have you had from delegates in other areas of the world?

BC:Well, I have been making very, very good progress. I have been over to Africa twice, I have been to Australia, I have been to Miami last week meeting some of the Pan American delegates. I get a very good reception. I think the people like what I have to say. I am able to ensure them that they should have no fear from electing me, that I will certainly live up to the level of commitments that have been made by the previous administration, and in fact I want to do a lot more to develop the sport around the world. I want to support them much more effectively, with a better strategy, with a proper international development department, with a commission that deals with the federations more effectively than the ad hoc thing that we have seen in the past.

I think that is a good message that goes down well. I want to repeat it again, and I am very, very happy to assure people from all around the world that the UCI under my jurisdiction will be a properly international body and it will live up to and exceed its international commitments already in place and will do a much better job going forward.

Q: Hein Verbruggen has got a position within the UCI and he is probably still a very influential character in some parts of the world of cycling. If you are elected, how – if at all – are you going to deal with this case?

BC: I have had an email from Hein asking me not to mention him when I am interviewed by the press, which is very difficult when you guys keep asking me questions [laughs]. I’ve also had an assurance from him that he is no longer involved in the world of cycling and the world of sports administration and wants to be left alone.

I am very happy to confirm that will be the case. I want to absolutely emphasise that in effect this will be a new administration which takes over. We will not be relying upon networks of the past. We will be establishing a new management and a new governance at the UCI. I acknowledge Hein’s achievements from the past, which have been many, but equally I think it is time for a regime change. I know there is massive appetite for that around the world.

Q: If you want to leave him alone, how would that fit into investigating what went wrong in the past if you found that he was in some way responsible for cover ups or anything else?

BC: Let’s be clear – if people have misbehaved, if people have done things they shouldn’t have done, if there has been anything illegal or collusion or whatever, then there is no hiding place. It is absolutely right that public authorities, police and judicial authorities should treat all those things in an appropriate way.

I hope that is not the case, I don’t like to think that there has been anything as serious as that, but clearly we need to investigate that.

Q: Going back to the point of the amnesty, Lance Armstrong has obviously been stripped of his titles. Floyd Landis was stripped of his. Other people have been caught doping or now since admitted to it, and they have kept their titles. Where would you stand in terms of an amnesty allowing previous results gained through doping to stand, or would we find twenty, thirty years of results just wiped out.

BC: Well it is a pretty difficult one, isn’t it? Where do you draw the line? I am not comfortable with a complete amnesty, but equally I am anxious that we treat everybody equitably. At the same time, the people that I feel sorry for are those who none of us on this phone call probably don’t even know their names. The people who chose not to go down that route, and therefore probably never had a career, never even got to make that choice as professional cyclists, because they found out early on that this was such an endemic problem that wasn’t being dealt with properly.

Equally, we are going to have to be realistic. We are going to have to look at what we can or can’t do. There is a statute of limitations from WADA in terms of going backwards and I am very anxious that we really do an in depth evaluation.

I don’t particularly feel too sympathetic towards Lance Armstrong because, as I said, I believe he went above and beyond the level of doping that had been present in that previous era. But it is absolutely clear that he wasn’t the only one. As I said before, what is important is that we try to treat everybody as equitably as we possibly can.

VN: Obviously there has been mention of this dossier and there have been some calls for it to be given to the ethics committee. Equally, the people who have the dossier have expressed their reservations about the neutrality of that committee.

I am wondering if there is any other mechanism that this can be examined?

BC: First of all I want to make it clear that this dossier is nothing to do with me. It is not part of my campaign. I actually announced my candidacy before any of this came to light, so I think it is not a matter for me. All I will say that the allegations that I have heard seem to pretty serious and they need to be investigated.

I can understand why the people who have the dossier have some doubts that it will be treated appropriately by the ethics commission, but equally I understand that the ethics commission find it hard to make any deliberation without the information that is in the dossier.

What I would say is let’s get as much of this out into the public domain as they possibly can as soon as they can possibly can.

I think the thing about the truth is that it comes out in the end. The sooner we have the truth out there, the better. The same for the whole doping era and the dossier. The more we get out there the better.

Q: Going forward and in terms of transparency, do you have any ideas for how you can make cycling more transparent? I am thinking in particular of the TUEs. After the Tour de France it was published how many people were on TUEs but not who they were. I am wondering if you have got any plans to, for example, publish the names of people who are using those exceptions before a race starts, so that everyone knows exactly what is going on from the word go and there is no hint of hiding things?

BC: I think there is a lot in what you say. I think publishing TUEs and publishing power outputs and so on – I think publish the most data possible. I guess the only problem is that you then get amateur scientists analysising it and coming up with their own assumptions. Everybody becomes a barroom expert on this kind of data.

Equally, sometimes I think some of the teams would perhaps not want to release some of their power output data because it could show that the training that they are doing is working or not working and so on. But we are in such a situation now that people disbelieve so easily now, and we certainly saw this in the Tour de France…to me it was absolutely appalling that – I was stood there in the guest area at the top of Mont Ventoux, watching the big screen – when Froome attacked there was booing and hissing. The assumption being that people had seen exceptional performance in the past from Lance Armstrong and many others that subsequently proved to be due to doping, and that this must have been another exceptional performance that was down to doping.

I don’t believe that this was the case with Froome and Team Sky because I have been involved in setting up the team, setting standards and so on, but equally I understand the scepticism. We have really got to make sure as a sport we have an extra level of being above and beyond any sort of approach, and so maybe we do need to release more data than has been traditional the case. I would certainly be open to that.

Q: What do you think about people like Alonso coming into cycling? [editor’s note – the interview was conducted prior to this week’s news that the Alonso deal would not go ahead]

BC: I think that sounds like good news…if he is bringing in sponsors to keep a team going, that has to be a good thing. For me, what is interesting is that I believe there is a massive amount of latent opportunity out there in the commercial sector for involvement in cycling. I think there are big companies, big sponsors, big investors who would like to put money into cycling but for the moment are holding back because they don’t believe that the sport is governed properly and they don’t believe that we are dealing with the doping issue properly.

They don’t want to get damaged by association with a sport that is itself being damaged.

Another example of that is Germany, for instance. We saw at one time that Germany had three top level professional road teams. All of them disappeared. Cycling is not even covered on the main television channels in Germany any longer.

The biggest economy in western Europe, Germany, has no major involvement in the sport of cycling any longer. I think there is a massive potential out there once we restore credibility to the UCI, restore trust into our anti-doping processes will be willing to come back in. Alonso and others will have many competitors.

Brian CooksonQ: Do you have a special plan to regain the German market?

BC: Yeah, I have been looking at a commercial plan. I published that on my website – there are eight or nine key elements of that. It is probably too long to go through it all today but if you have a look on the website, I think you will see that there are massive opportunities there and we have got a good handle on how they develop.

VN: There has been a lot of talk about globalisation and how important it is, which is true. Equally there has been highlighting of inadequate dope testing in Asian events. The UCI is on one hand giving out UCI status to these races, but on the other hand there may not be an obligation for some organisers to actually test.

Is there a way to ensure that if a race gets UCI ranking, that it must have proper testing and so that these developing areas are clean?

BC: Absolutely. I think this is a problem that is emerging. I am very disturbed by what I am hearing. I think it is absolutely imperative that we treat events throughout the world in exactly the same way in respect to anti-doping, whether it is Europe, Asia, America, anywhere. I think we have got to really raise the game here and this is a very worrying development that we need to put some attention to.

BC: I’d like to say something about women’s cycling. I think this is one area that the UCI has really underperformed on. Some of us have been trying to push as much as we can. I am very pleased that we have now got a female member of the management committee, Tracey Gaudry, an excellent appointment to recruitment to the management committee.

What I want to do is to really take that forward. I invited Tracey and Marianne Vos to the last meeting of the road commission. We got some very good feedback from them. Part of my manifesto is to have a women’s commission, where we can really put some energy and commitment behind this. At the moment it is a third of one person’s job at the UCI to develop all aspects of women’s cycling all around the world.

That is clearly inadequate. But there is massive amounts of potential out there. There are a lot of women involvement in governing and the administration of the sport around the world and I am sure that we can get more of them involved at every level in the governance of the sport so that women’s voices are heard.

One of the key things we can do straight away is put in a television highlights package for the women’s road World Cup. We have looked at that, costed that – I think an hour long package is quite achievement. We can give that away to broadcasters, actually, as a way of stimulating interest in the sport.

Once we have got that involvement, once we have got that television, you can believe that sponsors will come and the economy of the women’s side of the sport can grow. Then we can actually start doing something about getting women onto decent salaries as professionals.

I think all of those things are going to come together with the right will, and I am absolutely determined to develop women’s cycling.

VN: Pat McQuaid said that he was opposed to the proposed series of four day events [the so-called Breakaway League]. Can you give your position on that, how you feel that would or wouldn’t work with the older events that are already in place?

BC: I think that Pat’s absolutely right. I am not quite sure why he seems to be associating me with this proposal. It is nothing to do with me, I have had no involvement, I haven’t met with the people who are proposing that. As far as I am aware, Sky are not part of that proposal. I am sure that they have ideas and would like to help develop cycling in the broadcasting of cycling.

I am absolutely sure that they are committed to doing that within and with the support of the UCI, not setting up an independent league.

You know, cycling is a very specific sport, in road racing terms. Paris to Roubaix is a very important race, and clearly one with a massive heritage. If you ran another race, say from Paris to Lyon or whatever, just because it was in the same format, that is still not going to attract the same interest.

Cycling really depends on those monuments, that massive heritage of the traditional events. And so whatever development takes place in professional road cycling, it will have to be built around those monuments and those legacy events.

I do think there is the opportunity to globalise that in a structured, strategic way, and make sure that the sport can develop around the world. That is not just by parachuting an event into somewhere, the circus comes to town for a few days and then goes away again.

It has got to be a structured, strategic approach which involves the national federation, that involves the continental confederations and helps them develop the sport in their part of the world.

Those are the kind of things that I think we can do with a different approach under my leadership.
 

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