We heard yesterday that Brian Cookson, the president of British Cycling, has decided to stand against Pat McQuaid as the present of the UCI (the International Cycling Union). There are a lot of people saying that we should support Cookson on the anyone-but-McQuaid card, and there is a point to that – but Cookson isn’t exactly an uncontroversial character without conflict of interest – the deep and inseparable links between British Cycling and Team Sky are problematic as they are, without adding the UCI into the mix. Of course, McQuaid has actual allegations of corruption against him (around the Lance Armstrong doping issues, for example), and Cookson doesn’t, and the McQuaid presidency has been dogged with issues on many levels, but it’s not as simple as Cookson as a knight in shining armour coming to rescue the sport.
From a women’s cycling perspective, both McQuaid and Cookson seem as bad as each other. McQuaid famously said in 2011 that women cyclists didn’t deserve a minimum wage, because “We have an agreement in men’s sport, but women’s cycling has not developed enough that we are at that level yet”, which was a bit rich, given he is in charge of that development! But last year Cookson said he also didn’t think women deserved a minimum wage because “If you passed a rule tomorrow saying that a women’s pro team had to have a minimum wage, the first result would be you’d lose half the teams, because they couldn’t afford it.” This is more nuanced than McQuaid’s position, but it ignores the fact that a) it might be better for exploitative or badly managed teams to go, b) it’s not that black and white – what a lot of people have been calling for is a second tier of women’s teams, the pro tier of which could have a minimum wage, and be voluntary, and c) as UCI Road Commission president, he’s had a lot of power to help change things.
I have some deep issues with British Cycling – I cancelled my membership last year because I couldn’t carry on supporting them, while they treated women’s cycling so badly (I had asked them questions about this first by email, but BC aren’t very good at replying to member emails). I’ve never seen a good explanation for why, when we have such a well-resourced Federation, there is no UCI-level women’s road race, or cyclocross race, for that matter, in the UK – and when British Cycling has been resourcing Team Sky in so many ways, why they have never had a women’s team – especially when such stars of the sport as Olympic and World champion Nicole Cooke and World Champ and Olympic medallist Emma Pooley had been struggling through multiple team collapses, and both have been very vocal about the challenges they’ve faced. And we all know how badly the UCI has supported women’s racing, with races collapsing by the dozen every year – and the UCI couldn’t even be bothered to make a statement or answer journalists’ questions when races cancel 24 hours before they were due to start! It’s really hard to find how the UCI are helping women, because it’s as though they don’t exist!
But! All people can change! And in an interview with Cyclingnews yesterday, Cookson says he’s changed his mind about women’s racing, and Pat McQuaid says women’s cycling is a priority for him. So when the pair publish their manifestos, here are some specific questions I’d like to see them answer:
- Your statements on women’s cycling are very different to what you were saying last year – that women shouldn’t have a minimum wage etc – what has changed your mind?
- What concrete plans would you implement to support women’s cycling (especially women’s road cycling) in your first year as president, and by the end of five years?
- What will you do about the specific problem of collapsing races in your first year as president, and by the end of five years?
- What will you do to support tv coverage of women’s racing?
- You have both been involved in the UCI for a long time – what have you done to support women’s road racing, in the face of the continual collapse of races? Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
- There are no women’s UCI-level races in either of the countries you represent – why is this the case? As UCI president, how would you persuade your own and other Federations that don’t have races to support women’s elite racing?
- How will you boost women’s participation in the other elite cycling disciplines?
- Other the past years, we have heard about women riders who haven’t been paid according to their legal contracts with their teams, and that there hasn’t been support for them from the UCI, when they’ve asked for it – what actions will you take against teams that break riders’ contracts in future?
Questions about other disciplines
- You seem to be focusing on road cycling – what are your priorities for all the other cycling disciplines? What concrete plans would you implement to support each discipline in your first year as president, and by the end of five years?
- How will you support the internationalisation of the other disciplines, such as MTB and cyclocross?
- In track, how will you narrow the gap between the best-resourced nations, such as the UK and Australia, and those nations that don’t have the resources, or even a velodrome, in their country?
- Given that the countries holding the Olympics have to build a brand-new velodrome, BMX course and MTB course, will you be pushing the IOC to have more cycling events in the Olympics? The IOC’s arguments on number of medals etc don’t seem to apply to other sports (athletics having track & field, marathon, walking etc) and it seems a waste of resources to spend all this money for such a small number of events.
- There are no UCI-level cyclocross races in either of the countries you represent – why is this the case? As UCI president, how would you persuade your own and other Federations that don’t have races to support elite cyclocross?
- The current “riders’ union”, the International Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP), only represents professional men’s road cycling. What will you do to ensure that riders from all disciplines, including women’s professional road cycling, will have proper communication channels with the UCI, and ways to raise issues and influence decision-making?
Specific questions for McQuaid
- You have been in charge of the UCI for a long time – why is it that, under your watch, the number of women’s races has drastically declined, and riders and teams have lurched from crisis to crisis, with no support from the UCI?
- How will you ensure a separation between your own personal statements about your candidacy, and the general UCI press releases? Why hasn’t this happened so far?
Specific questions for Cookson
- You have been in charge of British Cycling for a long time – why is it that, under your watch, there has been no women’s Team Sky, and riders of the calibre of Nicole Cooke, Emma Pooley and Lizzie Armitstead have seemingly had so little support through the troubles with their teams? Why does BC support so few elite women in road racing?
- Please can you tell us if any of your other views on women’s cycling in the Cycling Weekly article last year have changed, and why?
Of course, I’ll also be very interested in their answers to the questions I’m sure everyone else will answer, about doping, conflict of interest, corruption! At this point, I’m not really bothered by the fact they both seem to have changed their minds, and I don’t even care if they’re just saying all the right words in the hope of being elected, as long as they now implement real change. On balance, I’d prefer Cookson over McQuaid, because I think change is important at the moment – but what I’d really like is a bigger range of candidates….. Step forward former racer, President of the UCI Oceania Cycling Confederation and former head of the Amy Gillett Foundation, Tracey Gaudry!
If you have questions you’d like to see answered, put them in the comments, or tell me on twitter. I’m really interested in this! And if you see them answer questions like these anywhere, please let me know, and I’ll pull them together in a post.
You can find out more about Cookson on his website and by following his PR twitter. McQuaid hasn’t got any of that (he’s been using the UCI PR for this) but he has commented on Cookson’s bid. The elections will take place over the World Championships in Florence, in September.
Dan and I have been talking and thinking and writing about what WE’D do to help women’s cycling a lot over the last year. Some simple things I’d implement in my first year? Where men’s races also have women’s races, especially the World Tour races, add a clause that the tv/streaming agreements have to show some of the women’s race and especially the finish, live – and of course, the Four simple ways to develop women’s cycling I wrote for Cyclingnews last year.