We’ve had a fair few shock election outcomes over recent times. David Lappartient beating Brian Cookson by 37 votes to 8 to become president of the World Cycling governing body (the UCI) has got tongues wagging. Perhaps the scale of the outcome rather than the actual victory itself the most surprising.
I’ve read a number of reports pointing towards Cookson’s campaign being his weakness. I’m clearly not in possession of all the facts that Cookson has had to deal with during his tenure as president since 2013. With that caveat, here’s my take on why I’m not so sure it’s the election campaign that’s the issue:
- Actions speak louder than words. When already in ‘office’ the campaign is heavily built around what has gone on in the period up to the election. Following the spectacular downfall of Lance Armstrong, Cookson took over the UCI in 2013 at a real low point in its history. In many ways, this is great for a new leader to come in and quickly demonstrate how they will make things different. Cookson decided to play the long-game. Making cautious adjustments. Deferring decisions to new committees – that at best struggled to reach an agreement and at worst made slow implementation progress. I believe the sport needs a more progressive and harder edge strategy to make transformational progress. That doesn’t feel like it aligns with Cookson’s personality or approach.
- Tackling the cheating culture. Cycling more than most sports has had multiple ‘bloody noses’ when it comes to cheats bringing the sport into disrepute. Progress is being made which is great to see. There does, however, appear from the outside to be an over-focus on the easier things to tackle. Perhaps the standout for me is the approach to ‘mechanical doping’. Is this really the biggest plight in the sport? I suspect not.
- Bringing on women’s cycling. When Cookson took over the reigns as UCI president in 2013 he did so with strong aims to improve women’s cycling. Progress has been made. However, compared to the male version there is still a huge gap. It exists at the elite level and only gets amplified the further you go down in the sport. Disappointing for a key aim not to get addressed with gusto.
- Overhaul of elite road cycling. This is perhaps the weakest of all the areas. Bar some relatively modest adjustments to race calendars, team sizes and licenses it’s hard to spot the over-haul evidence. There’s certainly space to go further. For example, elite cycling is still reliant on a relatively small number of ‘sugar daddies’ to fund teams and the ASO has an even bigger grip on the sport today than it did in 2013.
- Promotion and Governance. Perhaps at the heart of the UCI challenges is the potential conflict of interest between promoting the sport and governing it. This must make getting progress to land hard at best. An alternative model which separates these two components could strategically be a game changer.
As I write today I wonder just how we will characterise Cookson’s time at the helm of cycling when we look back in ten-years time. On paper, it looks like he has a better legacy than the two previous presidents. Not really the best accolade to have achieved. Quite what the legacy is I’m not sure. Will Lappartient do any better? Feels like the people voting want to give it ago. I think I’m inclined to agree. Whatever Lappartient does he will need strong leadership to move the sport of cycling forward.
I wish both Cookson and Lappartient the best of luck with their next chapter.