The Leader: Brian Cookson

UCI (International Cycling Union) Brian Cookson writes for SportBusiness International about setting an example for other sports and making cycling safer for the average Joe.

There are two categories of sports: those that have a doping problem and are trying to do something about it, and those that have a doping problem but are in denial and not doing a proper job confronting the issue.

I would say cycling is part of that first category, and I am proud of what we have done to tackle doping recently. Sooner or later that second category of sports will go through the same problems cycling went through. We are now in a very strong position, though that’s not to say there are not people out there looking to cheat. But what we have been doing is making sure we are ready, with the right people who can work with the likes of WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency), to catch the cheats. This time last year we were at war with WADA, but now we have a very strong relationship with them and the national anti-doping agencies.

We are going to restore our credibility by showing that we are doing all we can to make the sport of cycling as clean as possible. As long as I am president of the UCI we will tackle any problems head on, and if we are a model for other sports, I will be very happy.


Under the Microscope

I always expected that sooner or later someone was going to make an issue out of the fact that my son [Oli] works for Team Sky [as a performance assistant]. However, it’s very odd that certain people chose to do it at a certain time [around Chris Froome being allowed to take a steroid under the Therapeutic Use Exemption].

It’s damaging, it’s not helpful and it’s uncomfortable. What I have done at the UCI is separate myself and the management from any potential conflict of interest, especially around anti-doping monitoring. I don’t get involved with what the CADF (Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation) do: that body decides, in association with WADA and national doping agencies, what sort of testing there is going to be, who is going to get tested and where and when. I don’t ring them up and say, ‘do test him, don’t test him, oh my son is out there so don’t go near his lot’. It wouldn’t even matter if my son was a rider for Team Sky, or even owned them: the whole point of what we are doing with our anti-doping strategy is that we [the UCI] are independent and impartial from that process.

I always expected that sooner or later someone was going to make an issue out of the fact that my son [Oli] works for Team Sky

That’s exactly as it should be and the process and procedure is clear, transparent and out there already. For some reason people choose to ignore that, which I find odd and upsetting sometimes, but it comes with the job and I have developed a thick skin. If there is any potential for conflicts of interest, we already have procedures in place to deal with them.

Capital Interest

I think the sheer volume of numbers of people who came out to support the Grand Départ in Yorkshire surprised me. We always expected it to be a success, but there were more than three or four times the amount of spectators we expected.

What was remarkable for me was the large number of people on the roadside who obviously knew something about the sport and were wearing team kit or carrying banners. They weren’t just random people who had turned up, but people who actually knew something about the sport – there is clearly an interest and a level of support for our sport that I don’t think has been accurately quantified in the past.

How do you capitalise on this peak in interest? I think the only answer is more of the same. British cycling programmes continue to bring people into sport whether they are young or old, get more women in through Breeze and Sky Rides [traffic-free bike events in UK city centres], all of which have been phenomenally successful. I think there is a message for the public authorities and transport bodies here as well, which is that they need to make better provisions for cycling, and to make it safer. If people felt safer on the roads they would take up cycling.

Cycling is not just an elite sport, it’s a way of life, a way of exercising at lunchtime or and a way of getting to work. You don’t have to have a carbon-fibre bike and cover yourself in spandex to do it. Some people just want to occasionally ride their bike to work – even if it is just one day a week they’ll take 20 per cent off their travelling costs.

The point I’m making is that there aren’t many sports that can combine elite sport with the environmental, health and transport benefits you get from something like cycling. That is really unique.

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