It seems like the UCI has the cycling world lined up for what they like to refer as a ‘reform’, in a variety of ways. The goals of this anticipated reform are what they say have always been the goals of the UCI – globalization and sustainability. Part of this is the formation of CIRC – Cycling Independent Reform Commission whose objectives will be to investigate the history of cycling and a look at the UCI’s practices.
The UCI, I feel, has a long way to go in a lot of areas and I am not sure that major reforms of the kind they are suggesting will be the most appropriate way to try to win back fans and the support of teams and stakeholders.
To me, the UCI has always seemed behind the eight ball and when they instigate change within their own structures, it’s on the back of surrounding entities, such as teams, teams’ sponsors and race organizers who have already been leading the way through change. The latest rush, or push, for reform once again seems nothing more than that; aligning with winds of change that are already blowing.
The sudden hard line approach on the investigation into the problems and history of cycling by CIRC, seems to me to be of little or no relevance. Knowing where cycling is now in its modern era I feel that if the UCI had a real handle on the sport, they would not be looking to their past and their own inadequacies but instead talking with those who have been responsible for changing the face of the sport, how they did it and why they took the initiative. The highly publicised appointment of a panel of investigators, CIRC and supposed reform, seems like nothing more than a stunt of the new UCI governance to try and emphasise their importance and stamp their authority. I find it difficult to envisage how it will benefit the sport moving forward. Not to mention the fact that it is probably a highly expensive exercise; one where the money may well be better spent in other areas.
Moving to reform the race calendar and the teams’ structure also seems like an action the teams, race organizers and sponsors have already begun to initiate, one which the UCI have subsequently and belatedly joined. It is clear that the teams and race organizers – particularly in Europe – have been struggling since the global financial crisis, so changes to the teams and race programme have been inevitable. However, it is fair to say that a lack of resources and constrained finance has always been a problem and this has led to some of the problems of the sport and the UCI in the past. So changes of any format need to be primarily aimed at freeing up more resources to assist teams in athlete’s services.
In contrast to this, some of the leaked documents from the UCI actually point to a reduction in the teams’ rosters and an increase in the internationalization of the race programme from World Tour teams. I am not sure how the goal set by teams to increase athlete services to avoid problems of the past, along with reducing team rosters, making athletes travel more and prioritizing races that essentially have less significance, will work in practice.
I believe that there is too much conflict of interests in the UCI; they are trying to run a governance body of a sport, manage its professional entity, endorse its own products and trying to stake claims to cycling’s World and Olympic heritage.
The UCI needs to re-evaluate themselves and their role in the world of modern cycling. They need to move away from their self-image as an enforcer and administrator for all avenues of the sport. They need to return to their original purpose; enforcing the rules of cycle competition.
Professional cycling is now a global business and it needs an entity of its own to run it. The teams now have done the hard work in separating themselves from the past, much of which was due to the inadequacies of the way the sport was governed. It is time for cycling to move in a forward direction guided by an organization that is based on a working and sustainable business model.
The next period for the sport of cycling – as the UCI keeps reiterating – is a highly important period where the sport should be moving forward. I believe the UCI should not be responsible for it. I think the time has come for the UCI to recognise its shortcomings and limitations and allow a third entity to take some level of control over the sport’s evolution and infuse a new level of professionalism.