Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time has become a bit of a speciality amongst the many political actors in the great drama that is professional road cycling, writes Philip Gomes.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time has
become a bit of a speciality amongst the many political actors in the
great drama that is professional road cycling but none appear to do it
better than International Cycling Union (UCI) President Pat McQuaid.

In a meeting with the AIGCP (Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels), reported in Cyclingnews,
the ever colourful McQuaid laid out the caste system for those who may
have been under the mistaken impression the whole arrangement should
include their input.

"They don't realise what their place is. In
this sport and in most other international sports, you have an
international authority and international federation that is the
government and governance of the sport and regulates the sport.
Organisers in our sport organise events, teams have riders who ride
races," said McQuaid.

"I think what's going on here is the teams
want to take other roles. They want to be in roles of governance as
well. They can't do that. It doesn't happen anywhere. When FIFA changed
the offside rule six or seven yeas ago, they didn't ask the teams. They
did it because they felt it was good for football."

Yep, let 'em
eat cake. Can you imagine any chief executive of any other organisation
showing such open contempt for the people who sustain the sport he/she
governs?

Of course McQuaid is being disingenuous in his 'it doesn't happen anywhere' myopia, because it does. As I've commented on before, there is Professional Tennis, where the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) effectively runs the sport.

Then there is the International Tennis Federation
(ITF), the recognised world governing body - but how often do you hear
from that organisation outside of the Davis Cup, Federation Cup (women),
Olympics and global grassroots development for which it is responsible?


Do most Tennis fans know who runs the ITF?
Are they regularly entertained by the latest thought bubbles to emerge
from its top executives? Of course not. The ITF has a certain role to
play in the sport. One I would strongly argue the UCI should be modelled
after.

Imagine that? A global sporting organisation that takes a
back seat to the athletes and event organisers who run the professional
side of the sport. Impossible in Pat McQuaid's world.

The
problem as I see it is that McQuaid judges himself and his organisation
as the 'star' of professional road cycling, the straw that stirs the
drink, the life of the party - not the riders, who are in fact the real
stars of the sport and whom he places at the bottom of the caste system.


And what of the second most important actors in this ongoing
drama? The sponsors, to whom the teams, and not UCI, are indebted? No
mention.

McQuaid always seeks to place himself at the center of events when his role should be that of quiet governor.

But
McQuaid may have met his match, with men like Jonathan Vaughters and
Johan Bruyneel prepared to stand up and be counted. Love them or loathe
them - and there is a lot of both to go around if you read the forums - Vaughters and Bruyneel
represent some of the future thinking for the sport. On balance both
are serious men, have considered views born of real experience on the
ground and neither like being taken for fools.

And both are point
men in what is clearly a power struggle in the sport, with the
seemingly minor issue of race radios precipitating these regular
meltdowns by McQuaid. I for one hope they continue to agitate for
change.

"The heart of the matter lies in that the UCI
continually pretends that the teams and the riders are not key players
in cycling," said Bruyneel in a recent blog post.

"There
is a serious lack of respect and the teams are treated in an
authoritarian way. It appears as if the UCI's main objective is to take
away any single one of the teams' initiatives. What we see is that the
policy of the UCI is very predictable. In an open letter to the riders,
they have attempted to pit the riders against the management of the
teams. That has been very badly received, both by riders and teams.

"We
have never declared war against the UCI. Those words come only from Pat
McQuaid. In addion, we have never used the words 'break-away league'
either. That term also comes from Pat McQuaid.

"As teams we
advocate for the governance of the UCI. But we do believe that
professional cycling must be a special branch within the UCI. This
includes a structure in which the stakeholders (including organizers,
teams and riders) actually have a say. Currently that is not happening."

It
often seems that every time the sport hits a purple patch, where the
racing is the point of conversation and not side issues, McQuaid steps
up to re-focus everything on him and his style of governance.

As Bicycling's Joe Lindsay points out
in another of his always well argued opinion pieces (if you don't read
him you should) this classics season has been an incredible one for the
sport, with week upon week of exciting racing the norm, not the
exception.

The teams and riders are throwing everything they have
on to the table. Goss, Nuyens, Van Summeren, Cancellara, Gilbert and
more burying themselves for our entertainment. As a result fan interest
is at an all-time high.

It is exactly at this time a wise
governor would allow the sport to flow, step out of the limelight, let
the stars and teams show the way, engage in quiet compromise and
actually listen.

Quoted again in Cyclingnews, McQuaid had
this to say: "We had a real good meeting and other than those guys
walking out at the end, which I think was quite ignorant on their part,
even if it wasn't a surprise to me. Other than that it was a good day's
work."

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