Recently, Pat McQuaid accused Brian Cookson of trying to engineer a “coronation and not an election”. In this report, I ask if the reality of the situation is far, far worse and whether Brian Cookson is even aware of it?
Yesterday saw the first public glimpse at the possible contents of the much anticipated Bergen Dossier. Velonews published a three page summary of what the 54 page dossier is said to contain. In it, there are accusations that McQuaid and former UCI President, Hein Verbruggen sought a bribe from a team owner, allowed Lance Armstrong to flout drug-testing rules and allowed his attorneys to review an independent inquiry into his doping, and attempted to cover up Alberto Contador’s positive drug test for Clenbuterol in 2010.
McQuaid refutes the contents of the document, calling them a “scurrilous and libelous attack” on his character and that they were a “complete fabrication. They are totally untrue and are not supported by a scintilla of evidence”. As Joe Lindsay notes in his latest article for Bicycling.com, “the timing could hardly be worse for McQuaid”. It would be foolhardy and naive to think that this was a coincidence.
In his response to the allegations of corruptions within the UCI, McQuaid’s challenger, Brian Cookson, said the following:
“These allegations, which appear to be similar to those made to the UCI Management Committee in June, are clearly very serious. For the good of the UCI and cycling, they should be immediately and thoroughly investigated by the relevant authorities. I hope that this matter can be fully resolved before the UCI congress on 27 September.
“For my part, I remain totally committed to a democratic election under the Constitution of the UCI and will continue to talk and listen to national federations and voting delegates on how, together, we can grow cycling globally and restore faith and trust in our sport.”
On July 4th this year, Dan Benson of Cyclingnews.com conducted a Q&A with Cookson where, in response to the question of what was in the dossier, he said:
“I want to be clear on this. We’ve not seen an actual dossier. What we’ve been told about is a dossier that has been prepared, and in it are a number of allegations about the conduct of the president. I understand that the Ethics Commission of the UCI are now going to have a look at these allegations and that’s all I can say at this moment in time.”
Dan Benson pushed the question once again: ‘What’s in the dossier?’
“I’ve heard some of the allegations but that’s going to be presented to the Ethics Commission, from what I understand, in the near future.”
Benson countered, ‘As someone that stands up for transparency can you share what the allegations are?’
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say anymore whilst investigations are ongoing. It’s not that I’m not in favour of transparency, it’s just that due process must be followed in a case like this”.
This would appear to be an attempt at clarifying statements made on the 17th June where, on his own website, Brian Cookson said:
“I have to respect the confidentiality of the Management Committee with regards to the contents of the dossier with which we were presented. But what I can say is that I was disturbed by what I heard and I have been assured it will be properly investigated.”
According to a piece written by Duncan MacKay and published the same day at Inside The Games, McQuaid had tried, unsuccessfully, to block discussion of the dossier, at the time thought to have been prepared by Mike Plant and now confirmed as commissioned by Igor Makarov. When McQuaid was overruled it led to “heated discussion among several members” of the Management Committee. If nothing else, it would appear that the full contents of the Bergen Dossier (its name derived from the fact that the UCI Management Committee meeting was held in the Norwegian city) were never properly discussed and debated.
In the statements above, and in others, Cookson says that the dossier was to be investigated. Writing on June 24th, the Around The Rings website said that, “One member of the UCI Management Committee confirmed to ATR on Monday that ‘serious allegations’ had been passed on to UCI’s ethics body”. However, according to statements made by Pat McQuaid today, this investigation stopped when the full dossier could not be obtained by the UCI Ethics Commission, and that both Igor Makarov and Mike Plant had refused to hand it over.
It could be argued that Makarov and Plant have little faith that the Ethics Commission would act as an honest broker in investigating their allegations. There may be some validity in this. Commission President, Pieter Zevenbergen, is a former member of the Management Committee with historic links to Hein Verbruggen. But if this is the reason that Plant and Makarov refused to give the dossier to the Ethics Commission it is, in itself, is troubling.
Mike Plant in ending his support for McQuaid said that, “this isn’t the time for self-interest; this is a time for doing what is in the best interest of the sport”. But is the exact opposite of this exactly what we are seeing? Les Earnest may very well tell you, yes. Les, if you haven’t heard the name before, had detailed what he called Mike Plant’s involvement in US Cycling as “flagrantly crooked takeover by business interests” and no less than a “coup”. Some interesting names to note that weave their way through story Les tells are Thom Weisel, Jim Ochowicz and Lance Armstrong. So it is at least interesting that Mr. Plant claims to be working from a position of what’s best for the sport when his actions in the past have been questionable at best.
And what of Igor Makarov? Is the Russian, billionaire, gas & oil oligarch and owner of Itera acting in the interests of what’s best for the sport? It’s fair to say that any actions won’t be motivated by money – this, he has in abundance.
Igor Makarov, in cycling terms, is the owner of Team Katusha, he sits on the UCI Management Committee, and is the head of the Russian Cycling federation. Speculation that Makarov himself was to run for UCI President have been rife for sometime. Other rumours had him running the show through his one-time protgé, Andrei Tchmil. Tchmil, of course, is a former rider himself. He was also, at one point, the Sports Minister for Moldova and the Team Manager at Katusha. However, he left the squad in 2011 and was recently defeated by David Lappartient in the race to become the President of the European Cycling Union.
Igor Makarov is also mentioned in the Wikileaks documents published by the Guardian newspaper, in which a business rival feared for his life ahead of a meeting with him in 2002. It’s claimed Makarov’s head of security at the time was a former KGB head and also at this meeting was Seymon Mogilevich, believed to be the head of the Russian Mafia. Links also to the Italian Mafia, as well as other controversies, are detailed on the Itera’s Wikipedia page. It was alleged that he bought a €60 million luxury yacht in 2008 for the autocratic ruler of Turkmenistan – a country with one of the world’s worst human rights records. In September 2009, Itera signed an agreement with the Turkmen government to develop a gas block in the Caspian Sea.
One of the best commentators on cycling, the Inner Ring website, detailed some of the history of Makarov, Itera – which not only owns Team Katusha, but also sponsors the European Cycling Union (where Makarov obtained his candidacy to serve on the UCI Management Committee) – and his links to current Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
While his own reputation doesn’t negate the allegations his dossier makes against McQuaid, it’s hugely ironic that corruption and bribery are the sticks that Makarov choose to hit him with. None of this explains why Igor Makarov would want to wrestle control of the UCI from McQuaid, though. Some clarification may be found in looking to Tour of Beijing organisers, Global Cycling Promotion SA; the controversial race organisation company, of which, Pat McQuaid is a director.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly in October 2011, another director of GCP, Alain Rumpf (who worked directly for the UCI from 1994 until 2011 where his roles included Professional Cycling Council Co-Ordinator and Manager of the ProTour), said that the next location for a GCP event would likely be Russia. Rumpf also stated:
“For a project to be successful, you need the full support of the government. Because we had it [in Beijing] we were able to go for the WorldTour [ranking] in year one. There’s a strong governmental support in Russia for sports, they would be behind a Russian WorldTour race.”
Makarov ensured that government support was brought to the table. Three years later he is still waiting for his country’s WorldTour race. To add insult to injury, the UCI Licensing Commission refused to give Makarov’s Katusha squad a World Tour license for the 2013 season on ethical grounds – a decision that went to the Court of Arbitration in Sport to be overturned at the eleventh hour. McQuaid’s race company hasn’t provided the race Russia was promised. McQuaid’s UCI denied Katusha, Russia’s team, an entry to the WorldTour. By the time we reach 2013, Pat McQuaid must appear to Igor Makarov as the devil incarnate.
So what of Brian Cookson? Only he, Mike Plant and Igor Makarov have commented publicly on the dossier. No one should be judged by the company he is printed with. But lets’s go right back to the start of all this. As recently as January this year, the current head of British Cycling told Cycling Weekly,
“There’s not a vacancy and I’m not a candidate. I’m 100% supportive of Pat McQuaid. When you think what the UCI has done in the last few years, pursuing offenders when other sports have let people off on the flimsiest of excuses. I think the UCI has got a good record in anti-doping that Pat can be proud of. I know that’s not a popular line but its true.”
Cookson went on to say that McQuaid was, “misunderstood in many ways”.
When questioned about this volte face by Cyclingnews.com on June 4th, Brian Cookson said:
“When you’re a member of a board or a management committee you are bound by rules of collective responsibility. You express your view as coherently and as forcefully as you can in those meeting and then you decide and agree on what’s going to be the public announcement. I did that at the time. I thought that at the time it was essential to give Pat McQuaid and the UCI some time to resolve some of the issues and clarify things going forward. Things have not improved in the way that I would have hoped. We’re still suffering the same old problems and now we’re in the situation where the deadline is fast approaching for nominations of the presidency and I thought the right thing to do was to say that I am prepared to put my head above the parapet and be a candidate and that’s why I’ve changed my mind.”
Cookson simply changed his mind, decided that Pat didn’t, when all was said and done, have a good record and that he was prepared to have a stab at it himself. But is that the whole story?
Speaking to the Norwegian website, Procycling.no, on the 21st of May, Harald Tiedemann Hansen confirmed that, in his capacity as European Cycling Union vice-president, he had been approached to run for UCI President. Sadly, Tiedemann Hansen doesn’t then go on to say who it was making the approach. It’s worth noting, once again, that Itera is the sponsor of the European Cycling Union and that, unsurprisingly, Mr. Tiedemann Hansen is a known associate of Mr. Makarov; as we’ll see later. The article at Procycling.no also goes on to say that ‘They are working hard in international cycling circles at the moment to find an opposition candidate to run against MacQuaid’. Harald Tiedemann confirms this to be the case and offers:
“I can see that there are several alternatives, so we will see where it goes. A lot of things are going on”
A week earlier, on May 15th, Cookson was at Itera Headquarters in Moscow for a meeting with Igor Makarov. Also attending this meeting were the Vice Chairman of British Cycling, Charlie Jackson, General Manager of the Russian Cycling Federation, Vladimir Vagenleytner and the afore-mentioned Mr. Harald Tiedemann Hansen, the Vice-President of the European Cycling Union.
Less than three weeks later, Brian Cookson announced his candidacy for President of the UCI.
Despite what Cookson said about his president back in January, McQuaid’s terms in office have been a shambles. However, are we witnessing an attempted coup at the UCI, similar to the “”flagrantly crooked takeover by business interests” that Les Earnest witnessed at USAC in 1999 – with Brian Cookson, however unwitting, a part of it? With Andrei Tchmil no longer favoured by Makarov, is Brian Cookson to become the puppet, through whom, the Russian gets his way at the UCI?
In the same interview with Cyclingnews.com in July, Cookson said:
What I think a leader can do is set up a tone for the organisation and the tone that’s been set up in the past and probably going back for the last 20 to 25 years has been one of conflict, argument and trying to force a certain direction, all while not appearing to listen to peoples’ points of views.
Those that have studied British Cycling will know that’s not my style and part of the reason for our success at British Cycling is that we’ve listened to other people and taken on board good ideas.
Was it Makarov’s “good idea” that he run for UCI President? As an explanation for the chain of events, it’s just as credible as a change of mind.
Brian Cookson has repeatedly pointed to his record at British Cycling proof that he is the right man to restore trust and lead change at the UCI. What, then, to make of a senior figures, close to the events across the last 15 years at British Cycling, who say that Cookson was “no more than wallpaper” at all key meetings?
Pat McQuaid isn’t the best person for the job of UCI President. It could be argued that Brian isn’t either, but that he is the best candidate standing. To which we must also ask if Igor Makarov is the candidate who isn’t standing? The reality is that Cookson and McQuaid are the ones who are standing. But to question the events around which Brian Cookson has chosen to stand and to base his campaign on, are not to triumph his opponent. My criticism of McQuaid’s shortcomings as head of the cycling’s governing body are long-standing. But these are, to my mind, valid questions that should be asked of someone who may shortly be running our sport for the next 4 years. To not question simply because the subject is ‘not Pat’ is as derelict as voting for the subject for the same reason – neither provide satisfying answers to what will come next.
There are many questions I’d like Brian Cookson to answer. Some of these are:
- Were you encouraged to stand for UCI President by Mr. Makarov or parties operating on Mr. Makarov’s behalf?
- Do you agree that, as a team owner and team / confederation sponsor, Mr. Makarov’s place on the UCI Management Committee represents a conflict of interest?
- To this end, will you ask Mr. Makarov to stand down from his position on the UCI Management Committee should you become UCI President?
- Why are Mr. Makarov and Mr. Plant unwilling to provide the UCI Ethics Commission with the Bergen Dossier?
- You are, once again, calling for the dossier to be investigated. Given you were so disturbed by its contents, why, in the 3 months from when you were first told that Mr. Makarov’s dossier was to be investigated by the Ethics Commission, did you do nothing to follow-up on its progress?
- Does this inaction suggest you are not, in fact, the safe pair of hands the UCI requires?
- Are you willing to produce minutes of the meetings – redacted if necessary – to support your assertion that you expressed your views “coherently and forcefully” during your time on the UCI’s Management Committee?
- To this end, will you clarify whether you supported or had any part in the decision the UCI, Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen took to sue journalist Paul Kimmage? The case has now been suspended so an answer to this question should not be precluded by legal issues.
- Can you detail how your actions or decisions directly correspond to the success British Cycling has enjoyed in the past 10-15 years?
If Brian Cookson really is his own man, and not dancing to a tune played by others, he needs to start answering questions like these and putting meat on the bones of how he’ll change the UCI – not simply that he wants it to change.