“Without being innovative, embracing new technology, reaching out and being transparent, some sports may struggle to grow in what is becoming an ever more competitive market place” – Brian Cookson, President, Union Cycliste Internationale
It is an honour and pleasure for me to have the opportunity to address you at this Sport Accord Convention. Thank you Mr President and the organisers for this platform.
If someone had told me a year ago that I would be making this keynote speech as UCI President, I would have told them they were dreaming.
That’s because the notion that I should run for President was little more than a seed of an idea this time last year.
Indeed, it was not until very late spring that I decided to stand for the Presidency.
It was a decision that I took after careful, but relatively swift deliberation. I was aware of widespread dissatisfaction with the UCI leadership at the time, but I was also a member of the Management Committee and had a strong sense of loyalty to the organisation.
I didn’t want to make things worse, I wanted to help the UCI move forward.
So I took soundings to get a sense of how much appetite for change there was across the global cycling community.
And yes, I got a clear message back supporting change.
But what ultimately decided it for me was my growing belief that without new leadership, a real vision to grow cycling and a more focused commitment to tackle doping and address cycling’s skeletons, the very future of the UCI and our sport was at stake.
Because a UCI in turmoil – potentially facing implosion – would have been catastrophic for our sport. Was I 100% confident of winning when I announced my intention to stand last June? No I wasn’t.
But I knew – deep down – that if I did not stand, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. Not because of any personal ambition, but because it was clear that the UCI was in crisis and maintaining the status quo could have proved disastrous.
I decided that I had a responsibility to stand as an alternative candidate, to break the status quo. Of course such a decision is not easy and I would like to read you a quote from the Italian political thinker, Niccolo Machiavelli, that, in my view, sums up perfectly the challenge of new leadership.
The quote has a great deal of personal relevance for a number of reasons – not least because my election was decided at the UCI Congress in Florence, the home of Machiavelli, actually in the Palazzio Vecchio where he once operated.
He wrote: “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”
This quote may be 500 years old, but it certainly rings true for me – and even more so six months on since I was elected UCI President.
Difficult, perilous, uncertain – and I must add, not a situation to face alone. So I made
sure that I gathered a great team to help and advise me, both during the campaign and since my election.
Restoring Trust, Leading Change was the title of my election manifesto which I launched in Paris last June.
I chose Paris for a number of reasons. It was the city where the UCI was founded over a hundred years ago, underpinned by the values of integrity and sportsmanship.
These are values dear to my heart. They always have been.
And it was clear to me that the UCI desperately needed to re-embrace these values that so defined our organisation in its earliest days.
My manifesto contained six core pillars:
● To rebuild trust in the UCI
●Transform the way anti-doping is dealt with
●Grow cycling across the world
● Develop women’s cycling
● Overhaul elite road cycling
– And strengthen cycling’s influence within the Olympic Movement.
Since being elected President last September all my energies and those of the UCI team
have been focussed on delivering the essence of my manifesto.
We are making progress – but of course, there is still a huge amount to do.
Let me first address the issue of trust and therefore the issue of doping in cycling.
The dopers and cheats – and those who supported and knowingly managed them – have blighted the sport of cycling for far too long.
Cycling has floundered in waves of damaging historical controversy.
There have been allegations of wrong doing – even complicity – by some at the UCI.
This situation has been deeply damaging to our sport.
It has damaged trust and relations with our commercial and broadcast partners.
With our host cities. With the International Olympic Committee. With fans.
And we had lost the trust of many parents.
To me the morals, the ethics are clear.
We have to have a sport where a parent can bring their child, and know that their son or daughter can go all the way to the top if they have the ability and dedication.
Without having to lie, without having to cheat, without having to do things that will risk their health, without having to spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulder.
If we cannot do that as a governing body, then we have failed our members and our sport.
But we are not going to fail. We are going to succeed.
And there’s a clear message here, a moral to be learned from the downfalls of some of the heroes in our sport.
No matter how clever you are, how good your lawyers, how much you bully, how powerful you become – if you have built your success on cheating and conspiring, the truth will eventually come out.
The fact is – and this goes for all sports – if you are not trusted, if your sport does not have integrity, any good work you do is lost in a sea of questions, cynicism and negativity. It’s a bit like driving a car with the hand-brake on, or to use a cycling analogy, like trying to ride up Alpe d’Huez carrying a sack of potatoes on your back.
So what are we doing to move on from the past?
First, we have established the Cycling Independent Reform Commission which I promised in my election manifesto.
This Commission is investigating historic doping in cycling and allegations that the UCI may have been involved in previous wrong doing.
It’s being led by an impeccable team.
Dick Marty, a senior Swiss politician and state prosecutor is Chairman.
He is supported by two Vice Chairs – Ulrich Haas, a highly respected CAS arbitrator, and Peter Nicholson, a former military officer who specialised in criminal investigations.
The Commission is operating completely independent of the UCI.
It has full access to the computer files and documents of the International Federation and is already receiving testimony from a wide range of people involved in our sport.
The Commission can propose – and in some cases offer – witnesses reduced sanctions in exchange for evidence.
We worked hard to ensure we had the support of WADA in this. And I’m grateful for their wholehearted support.
So the message I would send to anyone with information is to come forward now, tell your side of the story before someone else tells it for you. And help cycling build an exciting and clean future.
The Commission’s report will be published within the next 12 months.
In addition, I expect Dick and his team to also recommend a comprehensive series of
recommendations to help the UCI fight doping in the years ahead – tackling not just riders who cheat, but the people around them … the facilitators.
I don’t want to pre-judge the Commission’s report and findings, but Dick Marty and his team are engaged in a serious and thorough investigation.
Their work is likely to have a very significant impact on the UCI and cycling.
In addition to the CIRC, over the last six months the UCI has also amended its internal regulations on doping to ensure that our overall procedures are as robust as they can be.
That there is absolutely no possibility of me, or anyone else, influencing the course of anti-doping cases.
This work has been guided by a full audit conducted by the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations.
So there has been a significant amount of work taking place to ensure we leave no stone unturned in our fight against doping – and in my quest to rebuild trust in the UCI.
And as we move forward we want to share our lessons and best practice.
Because although I accept that cycling has had a historic doping problem, I’m sure we can all agree that this is not an issue limited to any one sport.
We are all united in the need to ensure clean sport.
But let me stress, tackling doping is just one part of the jigsaw to get the UCI back on track, respected and seen as a trusted partner. We are addressing other issues across the sport.
We have the advantage of a huge grass roots base.
From kids as young as two or three riding their bikes, to the millions across the globe who use a bicycle as a means of transport, as a leisure pursuit or as a way to get fit.
In 2012, bicycles outsold cars in 26 of the European Union’s 28 member states.
More than 132 million bikes were sold globally in 2012 – worth in excess of $50 billion. That’s almost 15% of the entire value of the global consumer sports market.
In China alone well over 400 million people own a bicycle.
In many countries around the world, more people than ever are discovering the joys of
cycling, whether for competition, for health or for transport, or just as plain old-fashioned fun.
The Men’s Road Race at the London Olympic Games drew a one million strong crowd – a record for an Olympic event. In fact all of the Olympic and Paralympic cycling events in London were hugely successful.
All this puts the UCI in a very special position, and I want to see us realise the full potential of this wonderful base to our sport.
To do this we are modernising the way professional road racing is run, building a more
compelling narrative for the season and creating new commercial opportunities for our teams, riders and organisers.
We are making unprecedented investment in women’s cycling – in particular by funding the production of broadcast packages that will be shown by leading broadcasters in a number of key markets.
This investment is helping to break the vicious cycle that has held back the development of women’s cycling for so long.
We are working with partners – broadcasters, sponsors, host cities, governments, race organisers and the teams – to build for the future.
And we need to embrace innovation and sell our sport – in all its disciplines.
Digital and social media is key to this. It’s an efficient and highly effective way, if done right, to build a loyal, engaged and growing global community.
Revamping and enhancing the UCI’s website and social and digital media will be a big focus for us this year – and we plan to re-launch in time for the Tour de France later this summer.
The UCI has almost 100,000 twitter followers, but I know this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can achieve.
Yes, in comparison to many International Federations we are doing very well in terms of social media metrics.
However, when you compare the UCI to an organisation like the XGames, which has well over half a million Twitter followers, you realise how much more we need to do.
And there is absolutely no reason why we can’t radically grow our social media community to these levels and beyond.
Especially when you look at the size of the global cycling community, and the youth appeal of disciplines such as BMX and Mountain Bike.
One of the biggest challenges – not just for cycling, but for many sports – is the need to evolve while staying true to the essence of your sport.
How do you progress and embrace innovation, particularly in sports presentation, in order to make the spectator and viewer feel even more engaged; to be drawn in, and to want more?
In cycling we will look at technology such as cameras on bikes and in team cars to see how they can be used to enhance the viewer experience.
Imagine being able to share the view of Chris Froome as he rose up Mont Ventoux or came up the Champs-Elysees to win last summer’s Tour de France?
Such technology could have the same radical impact right across all our disciplines and events.
And why stop at cameras – what about having microphones on bikes?
Or sharing rider data on screen like speed or the rate at which a rider is ascending a climb? GPS positioning is also possible in this age of satellite navigation.
We need to do all we can to innovate and bring our sport closer to the fans. For example,
during the Track Cycling World Cup in Manchester last year the event twitter handle was branded on the track.
This had a big impact in driving social media traffic.
It was supplemented by a team who reported live via twitter, Facebook, blogs and video uploads via our Youtube channel.
Not every UCI event comes even close to this sort of social media promotion.
But this is the model I want to see all our key event partners embrace.
Cycling, like all sports, is chasing a finite number of fans, broadcasters, sponsors and host partners.
Without being innovative, embracing new technology, reaching out and being transparent, some sports may struggle to grow in what is becoming an ever more competitive market place.
Restoring Trust and Leading Change is my guiding light at the UCI, and I am confident we are making progress and have a positive future ahead of us – if we continue on the path of progress.
For this speech I was also asked to look at the broader picture in the sports world so I’d like to conclude by touching on something that is relevant to all Olympic sports and those seeking a place in the Olympic Games.
And that is President Bach’s Agenda 2020.
As the IOC has signalled, the Olympic Games are now facing an exciting period of change and evolution – a refresh to make them even more relevant – particularly to young people.
For all sports this represents a huge opportunity.
Existing Olympic sports will be vying to keep and grow their disciplines in the Games.
While non-Olympic sports will be campaigning to join the Games Programme.
So this year could prove pivotal for a number of sports and I believe Agenda 2020 is a powerful initiative which the UCI totally supports.
It is right that the Movement has an open debate about the sports and disciplines that currently make up the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.
And Agenda 2020 has provided us with the platform for this debate.
What is said may not always be comfortable and in giving a few of my own initial thoughts, it seems I’ve already raised a few eyebrows.
Of course I’m sorry for any offence I may have caused by mentioning sports other than my own but I hope the debate ahead can be open and positive.
If we, as leaders of our sports, cannot think out of the box and have this kind of discussion in good faith then we certainly run the risk of seeing our sports stagnate. The world changes – and we must change with it.
So in my own sport’s case, I have publically advocated that a discipline like Cyclo Cross would be an ideal addition to the Winter Games.
It takes place during northern hemisphere winter, it offers equal medal opportunities for men and women, infrastructure costs to install a circuit are minimal and the first across the line principle is clear.
And above all, it is a sport that reaches out to an incredibly wide cross-section of the population.
But it’s not just Cyclo Cross that would be a great cycling addition to the Games.
The new ski and snowboard freestyle disciplines have proved popular additions to the
Winter Games, helping to attract younger audiences across the globe.
So, for example in cycling I think we can build on the success of BMX to bring compelling and modern events to the Games.
BMX has many advantages.
It’s inexpensive to participate in and host, the sport works well on TV, its popular with
younger people and its accessibility means that a wide range of countries can develop BMX athletes – not just those with well funded programmes.
Perhaps there are newer, younger, events in your own sports that might fit a similar template?
These discussions fit with Agenda 2020 and I do believe it is right to discuss how we can be creative in looking at both the Summer and Winter sports programmes.
For me this should include whether there is merit in considering sports that traditionally
take place in the winter months being a part of the Winter Games.
Maybe not – but surely it’s good to have the debate at this time.
I hope we can have that discussion and of this course this Convention is an important platform to have a healthy, friendly conversation.
And if this leads to more disciplines and new sports in the Games, more people watching and engaged, then that could be a very good solution to several different challenges.
Now, more than ever, with media and public attention on the Games we need fresh thinking.
That surely is what we are here for as sports administrators.
Certainly for us in cycling it is a time for new thinking and a new approach.
We are facing our challenges head on, acting with conviction and vision.
And by embracing, not hiding from change, we are regaining control and helping to secure a much brighter future for cycling across the world.
We are making progress, but I’m certainly not being complacent about the scale of the challenge we face.
Restoring Trust and Leading Change is a task that requires constant vigilance.
And I hope that my friends and colleagues from other sports can draw some benefit from our experiences in meeting that challenge.
Thank you for listening and my best wishes to all here at Sport Accord for the exciting times ahead.
This article was republished with permission by Karl-Heinz Huba, editor and publisher of The Sport Intern.