Brian Cookson’s presidency will face a litmus test on Monday when the UCI publishes the Cycling Independent Reform Commission’s investigation into the sport’s grubby recent past.
The 63-year-old made anti-doping and restoring trust in the UCI the central pillars of his election campaign 18 months ago, when he defeated Pat McQuaid, whose presidency had become mired in conflict with anti-doping authorities and allegations of corruption and complicity with the sport’s doping culture – allegations which he strenuously denies. Such was the turmoil that Cookson’s election victory was greeted with relief in most quarters, rather than with elation. The new president admitted in his acceptance speech that the hard work was about to begin.
On Monday, the first significant fruit of that labour will be borne with the publication of CIRC’s report, though it is important to note that Cookson and the UCI acted as commissioners of the report, rather than its authors. CIRC’s credibility depends largely on its independence from the sport’s governing body, but should its findings prove “uncomfortable” for the UCI, as Cookson has warned, his presidency will gain credence from a resolve to publish in full.
How might Cookson’s tenure be judged thus far? In his commitment to CIRC, formally announced just three months into his presidency, and which began work in January 2014, he has remained true to his pre-election commitment to investigate thoroughly the sport’s past so that its future might be brighter. He has not been afraid to rattle cages during the investigation, calling on Astana head Alexander Vinokourov and Tinkoff-Saxo manager Bjarne Riis to give evidence.
Pursuing those no longer active in the sport, such as Lance Armstrong, who testified to CIRC, is one thing; encouraging those still active within it, and in senior positions, is another. In this regard too, Cookson’s actions can be judged favourably.
He has taken a step further in requesting that the Licence Commission revokes Astana’s ProTeam licence. While CIRC is concerned with the past, Cookson’s pursuit of the Kazakh squad is very much of the present, not least because it is the team of the Tour de France champion.
Does Cookson’s resolve in the matter of Astana represent a president growing in confidence? It contrasts with the UCI’s handling of the two-year ban handed to the retired Denis Menchov last July, when it updated a table of recent sanctions on its website, rather than issue a statement regarding its action towards a three-time Grand Tour winner. The “new way of communicating” described by UCI press officer Louis Chenaille seemed at odds with Cookson’s manifesto commitment to a more open and transparent approach.
Cookson denied that the low-key approach was related to his relationship with Igor Makarov, his former colleague on the UCI management committee and the billionaire financier of the Russian Cycling Project, of which Menchov’s former team Katusha is the jewel in the crown.
In his determination to publish the CIRC report in full – Cookson has made explicit that the UCI will not repeat FIFA’s woeful decision to publish an expedited version of an independent report into the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar – and in his resolve vis-à-vis Astana, the new president has remained true to the spirit of his election pledges.
Monday is unlikely to bring startling new revelations, but by publishing the CIRC report in full, the UCI will take a significant step on the road back to credibility. Cookson, as the man leading the organisation on this long journey, cannot help but gain in credibility too. Sustained goodwill is likely to depend much on his resolve in the expulsion of Vinokorouv and Astana from cycling’s top tier.