‘Sport is much more global now’


“The standard of events is growing particularly in Asia,” says UCI President Pat McQuaid to Priyansh.

Controversies and International Cycling Union (UCI) President Pat McQuaid seemingly have an interminable bond. Ever since assuming the responsibility of steering the sport in 2005, the former Irish professional road cyclist has faced a barrage of criticism from players and administrators, past and present. Lately, the Lance Armstrong scandal led to an increased clamour for his resignation.

On a visit to New Delhi during the recently held Hero Cycles Asian Cycling Championship, McQuaid spoke to Sportstar about cycling’s future, India, Armstrong and much more.

Question: Since India is a big market, how does the UCI plan to promote cycling here?

Answer: India is one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa being the others) countries and among the top four economic powers at the moment. The UCI is very interested in developing all disciplines of cycling in India. We would love to have a World Tour race here, which costs a lot of money. So if the government or commercial companies were interested in assisting the organisation of such an event, then we would be very keen to work with them on that.

There have been talks to open a UCI academy in New Delhi. How are those plans coming along?

The UCI would be interested in creating a satellite version of the World Cycling Centre in Switzerland. But that takes a financial commitment from the government to support us and we can provide the technical expertise to make that happen.

You have been the UCI chief since 2005. How do you view your tenure as the sport’s head?

I had two objectives when I came in as the President — the fight against doping and globalisation of the sport. In relation to the first, the UCI has made big advances. With the adoption of the biological passport and ‘No needle policy’, the UCI is now the most advanced international sports federation in the fight against doping. So we’ve achieved a lot and I think there have been big changes in the peloton today, compared to the activities that were around 10-15 years ago.

In relation to globalisation, the sport certainly continues to grow and there is still a lot of potential to grow. For instance, when I became the President in 2005, the Africa tour had only four-five UCI races. Now, there are about 25 or 30. Likewise in Asia, there were 12 or 14 international races and now there are 30 or 35.

The standard of events is growing particularly in Asia. There have been some attempts to run international races in India in the last couple of years but there hasn’t been any follow-up to get them consistently off the ground. The UCI would like to see more events here.

The Lance Armstrong affair has come to a successful end now but it obviously hurt the sport’s reputation. How do you plan to rework cycling’s public image?

The UCI has recently established an online stakeholder consultation with the national federations, sponsors, teams, riders and even fans. Five to six thousand people have given their opinions on it. We will follow-up on them and then the UCI will take decisions in relation to how the sport is viewed and how the people want it to be in the future.

It is true that the Armstrong affair had a negative effect on cycling but one must remember that we are talking about activities that took place 10-15 years ago. The sport and the landscape of the fight against doping have completely changed since then. Most people recognise that. In London last year, we had 1.5 million people on the roadside for the Olympic road race. It was the biggest crowd ever for any event in the Olympic Games’ history.

Doping isn’t restricted to cycling. Make no mistake about that. It exists in all sports, so it’s not particularly a cycling problem. The products that were used in those days were undetectable. There were no tests for them. So, it’s not the fault of UCI that the system hadn’t developed till then.

Since you were a professional cyclist yourself, do you think that the Armstrong controversy is a deterrent for young riders?

No, I don’t think so. There are plenty of role models for the young cyclists of today. Look at Mark Cavendish, the Australian Richie Porte and Bradley Wiggins. It’s a beautiful sport and there’s no reason why any young cyclist shouldn’t come into it now.

But how do you spread awareness of doping practices among the players and officials?

Education is a very important part of the fight against doping. The UCI has an online education programme, ‘True Champion or Cheat’ on its website. The national federations can insure that all their young cyclists fill the questionnaire there. Likewise, they can introduce the ‘No needle policy’. There are a lot of ways in which the federations need to get involved because, remember, all the champions of the world start off as a young rider under them.

Greg Lemond accused the UCI of doping-related corruption in 2006 and still stands by his allegations. FIFA has faced corruption charges in the past too. So, how do global sport governing bodies maintain their integrity in today’s times?

The UCI is open and transparent in relation to its finances. Our annual report goes on the internet every year. We also have to report to the management committee, which reports to the national federations at our congress every year in September. Part of the problem of today’s media is that somebody can make an accusation on the internet and it goes ‘viral’ overnight, without any substance or background.

A lot of the allegations made about the UCI in relation to the Lance Armstrong affair were completely incorrect. There was never a positive doping control. If we informed Armstrong and his team that the testers were on their way, then who informed him when WADA and USADA also tested him? Because the results were always negative.

How much has cycling evolved from your time as a professional rider?

The sport is now much more global due to the media. Things happen a lot quicker in the modern media world. The technology and bikes have developed quite a lot as well. Cycling is in a very good position because it is one of the few sports that are closely associated with some of the society’s problems that governments are facing today, like global warming, climate change, energy issues. So, a lot of local authorities can take advantage by promoting those issues through cycling.

You mentioned that the London Olympics road race last year was a massive success. You missed out on an opportunity to participate in the 1976 Montreal Games because of a visit to Apartheid-ridden South Africa. Do you regret it now?

I was a young cyclist and given an opportunity to ride a very good race at that time. I took it and obviously I regret missing the Olympic Games. But that’s it, you make your decisions. It happened (almost) 40 years ago and things have changed since then. (Laughs)