Posted by Editoress on 09/20/13
Brian Cookson is the President of British Cycling and member of UCI Management Committee. He is also a candidate for the President of the UCI in next week's election at the UCI Congress in Florence, Italy, on September 26th. He may or may not be running unopposed, depending upon constitutional amendments that have been proposed, which would enable incumbent President Pat McQuaid to run also, for a third term. We published an interview with Mr McQuaid last week [see it Here], from a conversation at the Mountain Bike World Championships. Here, we have published our interview with Brian Cookson from the same event.
Photo courtesy Brian Cookson
Canadian Cyclist: It's actually hard to say at this point whether you are one of the candidates or the only candidate for the position of President of the UCI. Obviously this has been one of the most controversial Presidential elections we have seen in a very long time; usually we see a smooth transition. Can you talk to what has been going on in the past few months?
Brian Cookson: I announced my candidacy first, I think. I don't know when Pat made his mind up, but everyone assumed he was going to run again. I think perhaps he assumed that there wouldn't be any challenger. I announced my candidacy at the end of May, early June, and I've been working on that ever since.
I produced my manifesto and I've been trying to talk to as many federations and voting delegates from around the world as I can in the period since.
CC: Within the road cycling - particularly the professional men's scene - you are fairly well known, but outside of that, for example, in mountain biking, you are probably not as well known. One of the questions people might have is 'Are you more focussed on the road, or will you be able to be a President that covers all the disciplines'?
BC: Well, personally I've had a mountain bike since the early 90s, and ride as much as I can; probably more on the road, but my son and I, when he was in his teens, rode a lot on mountain bikes. I'm still a regular mountain biker and always will be, but my background was on the road, no doubt about that.
But in terms of knowledge of mountain biking, as President of British Cycling over the last 16 years I've been involved in trying to support mountain biking as much as I can in Britain. That's not always easy when the funding we have is focussed around Olympic disciplines. We've also tried to expand to support the non-Olympic disciplines in recent years, and we've done reasonably well at that. In Downhill, for example, Great Britain is one of the leading nations, and I'm very proud of that.
So I think my background as President of British Cycling, with all of the disciplines we have, I think I can bring my expertise to bear on a worldwide basis as well.
CC: One of the other questions is that there is always competing interests in events such as world championships, for example, particularly on the road side - who gets the Road Worlds? The European nations obviously have great interest and huge fan support, but the rest of the world wants to get access as well. What about the globalization of cycling, how do you feel about that? To be able to balance the competing pressures of the traditional cycling markets and the growth of new ones? Over the last six to eight years we have seen more major events around the world; are we going to continue to see that sort of global growth under your Presidency?
BC: Absolutely. I don't want to do less development in cycling around the world in the different disciplines, I want to do more. I think the big mistake the UCI has made so far, in terms of developing cycling around the world, is to try and impose the European pro road cycling model on the rest of the world and that doesn't work.
What I want to do is help cycling develop in all the different continents of the world, in ways that are appropriate to the development of the sport in those areas. In some areas mountain biking is strong, in others BMX is strong. In some areas there is a heritage of road racing; Colombia, for example.
So, as I say, what I think is really needed is a much more intelligent approach to developing cycling around the world. That is, it learns from the particular geography of that particular area. So African cycling, for example, should be telling the UCI how to develop the sport, not the UCI coming up and trying to impose some artificial structure on them. And I think the same goes for the other continents as well.
CC: It's become a policy that every seven years or so the Road Worlds go out of Europe. Is that something you plan on continuing?
BC: Well, I that should be an absolute minimum. I think world championships should be distributed around the world more frequently. The seven year rule I think was only ever a minimum, not a maximum. So the more cities and regions there are that want to promote world championships, whether it's road, track, mountain bike, BMX or whatever, I think that deserves to be supported.
Frankly, I think this is a process that will emerge through natural conditions anyway, as the economies of Europe, for example, are struggling at the moment to promote major cycling events in certain areas. Whereas some of the emerging nations are finding it a bit easier. So I think that is a pattern that is going to continue to emerge and evolve, and I think it's a good one. I think we want to see world championships and World Cups in all the disciplines spread around the globe.
CC: One of the other big issues cycling has been struggling with is doping, and moving past what we might call the 'Lance Armstrong era'. Right now, cycling is very confrontational in dealing with it; how do you plan or hope to move cycling forward, and heal some of the wounds?
BC: The first thing in moving forward is doing a proper acknowledgement and having a proper understanding of what the problems of the past were. Why we got into the situation we've been in.
We've never really had a proper forensic investigation of the Lance Armstrong years, or indeed, the allegations around Lance Armstrong up to the present day. We've heard some of the story, we've heard USADA's report, and all of that has helped make real progress. What I couldn't and still can't understand is why the UCI spent so much time and effort trying to argue with WADA, and argue with USADA over the jurisdiction in the Lance Armstrong case. Why on earth did it matter where the jurisdiction is? What matters is catching the people who are cheating. So, I really don't understand that. Until we get a proper analysis of that whole scenario we won't really learn from the mistakes of the past.
I want to have a renewal of that independent commission, but in a way that's acceptable to WADA and all the other anti-doping agencies around the world. Clearly that's not going to happen at the moment because those agencies have no confidence in the current leadership of the UCI. That's been demonstrated time and again.
So, I think, coupled with that, call it a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whatever you want to call it ... you will have to have some form of amnesties, but that's complicated by all the different legal situations around the world. In some countries it's a criminal offense, so you could give someone a sporting amnesty and they could be arrested at the airport for criminal doping.
Those are all issues that need to be resolved. Let's get that underway, let's get it resolved as soon as we possibly can, but let's get everybody on side - WADA and all the other agencies - and let's stop fighting and squabbling with them. I think we can have a partnership with them, but until we get that partnership, until we get confidence back into our own anti-doping processes, we're still going to struggle.
The other key element of that is that at the moment cycling doesn't have an entirely independent anti-doping body. Some steps have been taken with the CADF [Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation], but I'd like to see a considerable number of major steps further taken, so it does become an entirely independent organization, not one that's based down the corridor from the UCI President's office. Not one that the UCI President is the President of the [anti-doping] organization, and not one with the same legal advisor [as the UCI].
So, I think until we've got that genuinely transparent, totally independent anti-doping body, the media and the public will still have suspicions about the way in which doping cases are handled. You can't have the fox guarding the hen house. You have to have total independence for the body that is policing the sport from the body that is promoting and developing the sport.
Most people can see that there is a conflict there, that's why many governments have established national anti-doping agencies that are independent from government, and independent from the bodies that run sport. If governments can see it around the world - and that's why WADA is separate from government and the IOC - I really can't see why it can't apply to the sport of cycling. In fact, when I made that proposal, Pat McQuaid said it was not possible under WADA rules, but within 24 hours WADA said yes, it is possible, it is entirely possible.
I think it is imperative that we do it sooner rather than later.
CC: On to something more specific about doping. There is a lot of talk about how we need to 'draw a line' - stop looking back and start looking forward. Are you personally in favour of that, and if so, how do you choose the date? Where do you stop?
BC: Exactly. That is the $64,000 question, isn't it? Where do you stop? I was talking to someone the other evening and they said, 'Well, you could stop at 1967, when there was the Tom Simpson fatality and anti-doping tests were introduced'. Somebody said we should stop at 1998, when the Festina affair happened.
To me ... there's nothing to stop people from the past coming forward now, if they wanted to, but the critical period for me is from 1998 up until the present day. I think we are pretty clear that in that period we lost control of the sport. Up until '98, while we certainly had EPO and other activities damaging our sport, a real opportunity was lost in 1998 - that is when we should have had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that is when we should have drawn the line in the sand and said 'No more'.
Some teams and nations tried to do that but, by in large, others responded by going in the opposite direction, and raising the game to ever higher levels of corruption, conspiracy and cheating. So, I think that's the period when we totally lost control of the sport. The era before was pretty grim as well, but whether we will ever get people from that era to come forward I don't know. What's in it for them other than damaging their own reputation? I don't think going back further than that whether you could give an sort of incentive to people other than clearing their own conscience.
So, I don't want to say '98 and no further' - I'm quite happy to keep an open mind on that - but I think that period from 98, from Festina through to the present day.
What I think has been really damaging is that every time there has been an opportunity to do something about it the past, the UCI has lost that opportunity, thrown it away. Often it's been quite deliberately, so, for instance, when Paul Kimmage wrote his book [A Rough Ride] in 1990, what was the reaction?
I think people like you and me probably read it and thought 'Oh my god, that confirms a lot of the horror stories we might have heard', and thought that's terrible and we need to do something about this. What was the reaction of the UCI? 'It's one bitter rider, who wasn't good enough and now he's spitting in the soup'. The teams and riders made those kind of comments.
So that was an opportunity missed to do something. 98 Festina was another opportunity missed. Then we had more and more horror stories come out from the Lance Armstrong era and other people, other teams doing similar sorts of things.
If I would argue with one element of the USADA report it was where it said this was 'the most sophisticated doping conspiracy in the history of sport' ... well, I think if you insert the words 'one of the most ...', then I think that is just as true. So, there were others at it, as has been subsequently exposed ... Operation Puerto, the Oil for Drugs, [Michael] Ferrari, and so on. In each occasion, the UCI failed to grasp the nettle, and we were faced instead with a continuation, and an attempt to minimize the situation. It's only really in recent years that we've been able to make progress with a number of initiatives - some from the UCI, some from external bodies, some from the teams as well.
But it is interesting that of all the major cases we have been involved in, or have been discovered in cycling in recent years, almost none of them have come out of testing, and almost none of them have actually come out of the UCI. They've come out of USADA and other agencies around the world.
CC: On a different topic ... I said at the very beginning of our chat that we don't know whether there is one candidate or two candidates. What's your feeling about Pat McQuaid's candidacy? It seems that we need a change to the UCI Constitution before he can participate in the election. What's your feeling on where the UCI should stand on this situation?
BC: Well, let me be absolutely clear, I welcome a contest. I think any democratic organization is made stronger by a leadership contest. So, I'm quite happy to have two or more candidates. I've got my candidacy sorted out, my nomination came from my national federation, entirely and completely within the constitution of the UCI. Pat seems to be having some difficulty in that respect. But what I think's really important is that we abide by the rules, abide by the Constitution, the rules as they are. You can't change things mid-stream in an election, just as you can't change things mid-race in a bike race. You can't say we are riding a cross-country race and all of a sudden in the middle it becomes a downhill or 4-cross [race]. I think everyone understands that that is not the right way of running anything, let alone a democratic election. So, I'm quite happy to have a contest between the two of us, but I do think it's absolutely vital that we set the tone at the top of the organization, that we obey the rules, that we don't seek to bend them, break them, or twist them in a way that suits any individual.
CC: Last question: Can you state three key initiatives that in your first six months you want to see underway.
BC: Certainly I want to get this independent anti-doping agency up and running as quickly as possible. I want to establish a proper women's commission and a proper strengthening of women's position generally within all the other Commissions, so we start taking that a lot more seriously and help women develop in the sport, because there is fantastic potential out there. And I want to do a lot more in helping internationalization and development around the world. I think there's a lot more that can be done to establish a proper international development department of the UCI. Actually make it somebody's job to help the continents and national federations develop the sport in their countries, and I want to resource that more effectively as well.
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