Cycling - 11 Oct 2013 - By Simon Ward
The UCI is now in communication with the World Anti-Doping Agency about the process for conducting an independent investigation into previous cases overseen by cycling’s international governing body, and two senior members of the previous regime have departed, its new president Brian Cookson announced today.
The 62-year-old Briton, who defeated previous incumbent Pat McQuaid in an election on September 27 to take the saddle of world cycling, made combatting doping a central plank of his campaign for the top job and has moved quickly to show his commitment to the issue by contacting WADA and other bodies.
He has also confirmed the departure from the UCI of two leading officials - Christophe Hubschmid and Philippe Verbiest - who were allied to McQuaid as the federation seeks to move on from a controversial period in its history, and plans to meet with Thomas Bach, the new president of the International Olympic Committee, and Carlos Nuzman, the head of the organising committee for the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro.
There will be an extraordinary management committee meeting at the UCI’s headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland on October 29, where, Cookson said, “we shall assess our progress in implementing my manifesto pledges and plan for the important period ahead of us.”
Speaking from China, where he is attending the Tour of Beijing in his first foreign engagement as UCI president, Cookson said: “These early days are very important for the UCI. We have embarked on the process of implementing our manifesto commitments so that we can re-establish our International Federation’s reputation and make it the best and most respected in the world. I believe that we have made a good start.”
Cookson is eager to address the criticism the UCI has faced over its handling of various doping scandals, including those that centred on Lance Armstrong, the US cyclist stripped of his seven Tour de France titles following an extensive probe by the US Anti-Doping Agency which shook the sport to its foundations.
The UCI president said: “We have started the work of establishing a high level dialogue with WADA to plan how we will proceed with the independent investigation into the UCI’s past. We have also been making contact with other key stakeholders in this area, including USADA, other national anti-doping organisations and the French Sports Ministry.”
Cookson also revealed that he had called Paul Kimmage, the Irish journalist who was the subject of a lawsuit served by McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen, the honorary president of the UCI, to tell him that the federation had dropped the legal action against him.
Kimmage was sued after he wrote articles making accusations of corrupt practice at the UCI linked to the Armstrong case.
In a further break with the past, Cookson confirmed that Hubschmid, the UCI director general, and Verbiest, the federation’s legal counsel, both of whom were McQuaid allies, have now left the organisation. Antonio Rigozzi of Swiss law firm Levy Kaufmann-Kohler is now assisting as external legal counsel.
Having previously indicated that Verbruggen, McQuaid’s predecessor as UCI president, would have a diminished role in the organisation under his charge, Cookson was guarded on the Dutchman’s position in future, saying: “Mr Verbruggen being named honorary UCI president was conferred to him by the congress of the UCI and it wasn’t my personal gift to him. Mr Verbruggen wasn’t voted a member of the management committee and doesn’t attend any of the meetings of the UCI any longer and that’s all I can say on the matter.”
In other developments, Cookson said that the UCI had revoked the age limit of 28 for UCI women’s teams and would form a new commission for women’s cycling to help drive its growth.
In addition, the new Women’s Tour of Britain has been granted a 2.1 status ahead of its launch in next year, meaning that it will be amongst the highest-ranked women’s events. The event starts in Northamptonshire on May 7 and runs until May 11, with the full route to be announced in due course.
Cookson is already looking forward to the cycling events at the Rio 2016 Olympics and, having already met with Andrew Ryan, the executive director of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, will meet Bach and Nuzman in the coming weeks.
The UCI had hoped that BMX freestyle and mountain bike elimination races could be added to the Rio 2016 programme but the IOC rejected new disciplines in any sport in July in order to avoid adding to the costs and logistics of the local organising committee, which already faces a race against time to complete preparations.
The Tour of Beijing starts tomorrow and will enjoy live and highlights coverage on television across the world, as well as on the internet via an official channel on YouTube, the live streaming and video-sharing website, available in all countries except USA and New Zealand.
Last year’s race was the fourth-most watched event on the UCI World Tour, behind only the three grand tours (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana), with a cumulated audience of 146.41 million people, according to independent research by IFM Sports.
In China, state-owned channels Beijing TV and CCTV will offer live and highlights coverage respectively of all five days of the Tour of Beijing.
Other broadcasters with rights include Eurosport (Europe), Canal Plus (France), Universal Sports (USA), Sportsnet (Canada), SBS (Australia) and Sky NZ (New Zealand).