The Chinese Challenge

Cycling’s WorldTour will no longer end in Beijing, but Brian Cookson believes a presence in China will continue regardless. Elisha Chauhan reports.

Less than a month before its 2014 edition was due to take place, the UCI (International Cycling Union) announced that the Tour of Beijing had failed to renew its WorldTour hosting rights from 2015. It had spent four years on the calendar since 2011 and was the only Asian stop on the 29-stop WorldTour calendar.

The decision, however, was widely expected in cycling circles after teams criticised Beijing’s pollution, and also following reports that the Beijing Sports Bureau had insufficient funds to continue holding the race, with its budget spent on the Chinese capital’s hosting of the 2015 World Championships in Athletics and its bid for the 2022 winter Olympic Games.

A major factor contributing to the non-renewal of the Tour of Beijing’s hosting contract, though, was the fact it was – in partnership with the local organising committee – managed by GCP (Global Cycling Promotion), which was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the UCI and led by its former president Pat McQuaid. This conflict of interest was lobbied against by UCI president Brian Cookson in the run-up to his election last year.

“I don’t rule out using GCP or something similar to it as a partner of a promoter in the future, however it’s not part of our strategy for the UCI to be a major promoter of events other than our own competitions and championships,” he told SportBusiness International.

“We also haven’t ruled out a return to Beijing, and we’re looking at other options for the future. I would like to see more [UCI] events in China, and we’re open to working with other promoters and other cities. We have a number of ongoing negotiations about how that might happen.”

Despite the Beijing Sports Bureau unwilling to allocate its budget to another cycle of UCI races, Cookson hopes that Chinese governmental bodies will be willing to put up prize money and team appearance fees.

“If we are going to promote or be involved in sanctioning events in China in the future, we’d certainly look for worthwhile financial arrangements to be in place for the teams and riders,” he adds. “We’re working on prize and participation money being similar to that of Beijing’s, but it’s really too early to make any firm predictions on that.”

Teams have voiced concerns about moving away from Asia, a growth continent for nearly every sport, and the sponsorship opportunities it brings. Cookson, however, believes that professional cycling will enjoy an organic growth in the region even without a WorldTour presence.

“I don’t think the non-renewal will impede on the growth of cycling in Asia,” he adds. “There are a number of organisations who are already promoting events that also want to expand into that region, as well as new firms that want to come into our sport.

“Growth should also be led by Chinese cycling organisations, promoters, federations and the country’s Olympic committee. It needs to come from people who want to grow cycling within their country, because it would then have better long-term prospects for success, unlike an event parachuted in by Europeans.

“What the loss of the Tour of Beijing has given us is an opportunity to look at how and where we end the season, and to talk to prospective promoters about how that might fit with the rest of the calendar. That’s a work in progress at the moment.”

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