Brian Cookson (ATR)
(ATR) The head of UCI, the governing body for cycling, talks initial plans for the 2020 Olympics, the sport’s Olympic future and more.
Cookson assumed the helm of UCI in 2013 after a highly contentious and visible election with embattled president Pat MacQuaid.
Painting himself as a reformer, Cookson has made rooting out the scourge of doping and other institutional ills as his top priorities.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Around the Rings:
Sometimes it takes a bit of effort and patience to steer an organization in a new direction. How’s that going?
For the first few months you find situations and things happen that have roots in the previous months, whether it’s doping cases or awarding major events. Those processes don’t stop and start when a new president comes in. I’m confident that me and my new team have had a good start. We’ve implemented changes that are quite radical into the organization. We’re still dealing with fallout from the Armstrong years as effectively as we can. We’ve established an international commission to analyze that, and we’re doing a lot of work to reestablish the reputation of our sport and to reestablish good relations with people like WADA, the Tour de France, and all of the different aspects of our sport.
We’re really taking steps to make our anti-doping effort independent of the UCI. All I know about anti-doping cases is when they’re ready to go out. We’ve also established a three-member commission that is investigating the years of problems from doping, all of which were very damaging. They’ve agreed to take on the job because we’ve stepped back and given them the freedom to do with the outline and the data what they will. We have progress meetings every month or two. Generally, they tell me they’re making good progress and they will be on target in terms of the budget and the time scale, and they will report back in January with recommendations for the sport so we don’t get into the same situations that arose in the past. We’ll make our findings public – I guarantee it.
Moving to the Olympic Games, there’s a lot going on right now thinking about how the Olympic program is put together, especially in terms of disciplines – something near and dear to cycling. What’s your thinking about how cycling and all the disciplines fit in to Olympic Agenda 2020?
I’m anxious to defend our position to show what we’ve got and make sure we’ll have a range of events. We brought in BMX, so we had to lose some events, and we needed to have gender equality, so we lost some events from the program. All of those things were good things to happen, but it’s regrettable that we had to lose some classic Olympic events. I don’t want to lose anything else, but I do want to see change and enhancement of the cycling program.
A few years ago, there was talk about cycling and skateboarding getting together, because they could share the same venues. Is that no longer operative?
It’s not something I would want to pursue. If skateboarding wants to pursue the Olympics, that’s a matter of the IOC and their federation. Frankly, I would not want the UCI to be involved in that, unless I was given some firm guarantees on the impact it could have on the cycling program.
Now looking at Rio, what’s the scene like there for your preparations for 2016?
Like everyone else, we were concerned on the progress being made, but we received assurances that everything would be on time. We’re looking at work programs and looking at a week-by-week basis, and I’m happy with what I’m being told. The challenge for Rio now is to deliver on their promises. I’m supportive, I want to help them, and we are confident we can help them deliver.
Tokyo is the next stop after Rio. They’re in the process of figuring out what to do about all of their venues. What kind of discussions are on the way there?
Cookson says cycling is good for the Olympics because it allows you to showcase your city (Getty Images)
We just began that process. I was there this week, shown at potential sites for the velodrome and for mountain biking. I believe the road race will start in front of the imperial palace, but the details of where it will go and where it will finish are still to be resolved. I’ve been giving them the same message about using it as a showcase. The one concern I have at the moment is that the initial proposals are for a temporary velodrome. I want to see a permanent velodrome in Tokyo. For me, a temporary facility would be a lost opportunity. The cost is not going to be that much different; the track itself is maybe 20 percent of building a big stadium. To me, the Olympics aren’t just a two week event, they’re about raising the profile of the city around the world and it’s about leaving a legacy for Olympic sports in those host cities. If we can’t do those things, I think we’ve failed as a movement and as a sport.
As you look towards the future of cycling, what do you see on the horizon to spur the future and growth of the sport?
The sport is growing at an incredibly rate already, despite well-publicized problems. Cycling in many countries is more popular than it was before. People have been saying that “cycling is the new golf” so that’s one aspect of it. If you look at the benefits of cycling, all of those things are on the agendas of many governments around the world.
We’re doing a review of elite road racing on the men’s side. For women, we’re trying to boost television coverage. For men, it’s still a work in progress. The heritage of road races is very European. What we’re trying to do is bring coherence to the top level program. We need to expand the sport into North and South America, Australia, Asia, but it’s not easy when you have a strong program of European events.
Working through all that is a difficult diplomatic progress, but that’s what we’re doing at the moment. We will see a coherent calendar emerging, so there is a narrative to the season with a specific sequence of events, leading to less overlap and less demands on the riders.
UCI doesn’t have an IOC member right now.
That’s a work in progress as well. I’ve spoken to Thomas Bach and taken his advice about it and I am very carefully considering if I should put my name forward at the next opportunity.
Interview conducted by Ed Hula transcribed by Andrew Murrell
For general comments or questions, click here.
20 Years at #1: Your best source of news about the Olympics is AroundTheRings.com, for subscribers only.