Cycling - 03 Oct 2011 - By Callum Murray
The UCI, cycling’s world governing body, decided to take the near-unprecedented step for an international sports federation of listing its own weaknesses and the threats to its activities in its annual report because “people that might want to invest in cycling will do so freely if we’re open,” according to Pat McQuaid, the federation’s president.
Speaking exclusively to Sportcal today, following the publication on the UCI’s website of its annual report for 2010, McQuaid said: “The openness is just an element of good governance which we feel we have to do. We’re accessible to our stakeholders, and we have nothing to hide. I’ve said recently that I believe cycling is entering into a golden era because we’re being seen to be conquering our doping problem and because cycling is closely connected to the environment, so we’re in a wonderful position to develop and go forward in an open way.”
The report, running to over 100 pages, opens with a section listing the strengths and weaknesses of the UCI itself, and the opportunities and threats of the environment in which it finds itself.
The strengths, according to the report, include McQuaid’s own election for a new four-year term, ensuring ‘stability’ at the federation, and also his election as an International Olympic Committee member and member of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
McQuaid was speaking to Sportcal from the airport on his way to China for the inaugural Tour of Beijing, which is scheduled for October 5 to 9, a new top-tier road race organised in part by Global Cycling Promotion, a semi-autonomous commercial group set up by the UCI to bring more revenues into the sport.
In the ‘weaknesses’ and ‘threats’ columns, a recurring theme is a shortage of revenues which, McQuaid said, is a common complaint of all international sports federations (“with the possible exception of Fifa”), but is being exacerbated by the present economic conditions and by the relative strength of the Swiss franc (the UCI is based in Switzerland) to other currencies, especially the US dollar and the Euro.
The report cites ‘inadequate financial reserves’ among the federation’s weaknesses, and McQuaid said: “We’re doing well to make ends meet. We have 60 staff and we’re always in need of more money. It’s why we set up Global Cycling Promotions. The first event is the Tour of Beijing, which will bring in funds to the UCI. GCP is also looking to bring other events to the world calendar, and at other areas such as TV and TV production, in which the UCI would be constrained from acting.”
McQuaid said that currency fluctuations “have probably cost us the best part of SFr1 million ($1.1 million) [in the financial year].”
One of the opportunities cited by the report is: ‘Possibilities for partnering with Major Tour organisers.’ McQuaid said that the UCI now has a good relationship with the organisers of the three annual ‘Grand Tours’ – the Tour de France (ASO), the Giro d’Italia (RCS) and the Vuelta a Espana (Unipublic) – albeit this was not always the case.
ASO is already involved with GCP in helping to organise the Tour of Beijing and McQuaid said: “The organisers have a high reputation and if we can jointly work on developing new events, then who better to team up with than the current organisers of the three big tours?
“In principle, we’re prepared to work with all three in the future on new events.”
Among the federation’s weaknesses, according to the report, is: ‘Some event formats not adapted for television (difficult to sell).’
McQuaid cited mountain biking, saying: “Some mountain biking traditionalists think it should take place in the calm and quiet of mountains. The problem is, that doesn’t work on TV. For the cross-country mountain biking at the  Athens Olympics, we had 42 cameras, the highest number of cameras of any sports event on the Olympic programme. It’s hugely expensive and hugely impractical. In London [host for next year’s Olympics], the course is different from the traditional mountain bike cross-country course. Eighty per cent of it can be seen from one place.”
The UCI has a three-year agreement with the European Broadcasting Union, the umbrella body of mainly public-service broadcasters, to broadcast many of its top events, including the annual UCI Road World Championships, and McQuaid said that negotiations to extend the deal have yet to begin.
He said: “Ideally, if we get a good deal with the EBU it suits our needs, but if not we’d have to consider another approach.”
One of the threats listed in the report is ‘Decreasing resources (= TV revenues) for UCI World Championships,’ and McQuaid said that the federation needs to take advantage of new technological advances to ensure that television coverage of cycling is regarded as exciting and innovative.
He said: “As new innovations come in, we should be prepared to embrace them. So long as it doesn’t affect the rider – whether it’s cameras on helmets or on bikes – if it’s possible we will consider introducing it. HD TV is a big benefit to cycling.”
Another threat, according to the report, is: ‘Waning interest of public and media in major cycling events.’ This threat refers to the many doping scandals that have gripped the sport in recent years, according to McQuaid, who said that, with sponsors pulling out of cycling, “the commercial arm of our sport was very much under threat, if we didn’t get to grips with doping – but thankfully we are getting to grips with it. We’re only threatened otherwise by the diversity of ways in which people receive sport. We need to come to terms with other media.”
Among the federation’s weaknesses, the report lists: ‘Use of web and new social networks could be improved’. McQuaid said: “We need to make the [UCI] website more attractive to fans, more fan-friendly. It’s fairly institutional at present. It needs to give a youthful image. We also need to get more involved with social media in a more active way. Rather than giving institutional messages, we have to give relevant information to fans. It shouldn’t just be press releases.”