Brian Cookson: The reform of professional cycling is vital for the future of our sport

An exclusive Op-Ed comment from the UCI President

Key stakeholders representing every part of professional cycling will gather in Barcelona on Monday for a two-day seminar to discuss the details of the UCI WorldTour reforms due to be introduced in 2017.

The event has been described as a turning point in the future of professional cycling as the sport tries to make changes that will help it develop globally and grow financially. 

The planned reforms have been discussed at length and approved in a vote by the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council and the UCI Management Committee. However Tour de France organiser ASO has come out against them, setting up a potential conflict and power struggle, if they refuse to follow the democratic process and the accept the reform proposals.

In this exclusive comment, UCI president Brian Cookson gives his opinion on why the reforms to professional cycling are so important. Cyclingnews offered ASO an opportunity to express their opinion on the reforms but Yann Le Moenner –the CEO of ASO, preferred not to comment.

 

The reform of professional cycling is vital for the future of our sport

By Brian Cookson

On Monday and Tuesday I will be in Barcelona for the UCI WorldTour Seminar to discuss the details of the planned reform of professional cycling. I believe the reform of professional cycling is vital for the future of our sport. At the UCI we’ve put a lot of extra time into the reforms, and the UCI Management Committee is unanimously behind the plans. Now there’s a lot of work to do on the details and on their implementation.

I’m not expecting a showdown with anyone in Barcelona; I’m expecting a sensible, adult discussion. I think the UCI’s position is pretty clear. We’ve got to develop and improve the economy of men’s professional cycling. We’ve got to do more to restore the credibility of our sport after years of damage; we’ve got to find a way of globalising the sport while at the same time protecting our heritage and looking after what makes road cycling so special. We’ve also got to find ways to further engage with our fans so people have more opportunities to experience our sport in all its glory.

We’ve made some radical changes to the initial reform proposals. We’ve made them much more positive and expansionist, rather than reductionist. The view amongst the stakeholders was that the original proposals were not good proposals, that they would damage our sport. When they leaked out the fans shared that view too. Together with an ever-growing number of stakeholders, we’ve spent over two years consulting, revising and reviewing those plans. Now I think we have created reforms that will allow our sport to grow sustainably. They won’t make everybody happy but they allow us to defend the heritage of the sport while at the same time opening new opportunities around the world.

A consensus

I hope that everybody comes with us during the reform process, that we all respect each other’s point of view. Not everybody has got everything they perhaps wanted from the reforms and not everyone likes every aspect of the proposals. However the consensus across the stakeholders is that the reforms are the right way to go.

Some people may feel threatened by the reform proposal but I want to appeal to all of them to work together with us. Our sport is too small and too precious to be affected by fractures. We’ve seen too much of that in the past.

It’s been widely reported that ASO is not in favour of some aspects of the reform. But the reform respects the existing rights of all stakeholders, including those of ASO. Looking ahead, we’ve got to find a way to develop and grow our sport. Respecting the rights and history of those who have been part of developing our sport is important, but so is working together for everyone’s benefit. Everyone knows that the current structure has limited development.

There are countries outside the traditional cycling areas that want to host races and want the best teams and the best riders to come to them. This means growth across the world but also in Europe. For example we only have one day of UCI WorldTour racing in Britain, Germany and the USA put together. They are three big countries where we’ve got to find opportunities to grow the sport.

Of course I understand that our heritage is often our strongest selling point. The Classics have always been and always will be special. The Grand Tours have their unique identity and are the cornerstones of the sport. We have some other great stage races too. However around them, we have to build other races to develop and enhance our sport and help the economy of the sport grow. We have to grow globally because there are often challenges and economic difficulties in our traditional heartland. We also have to balance the need to develop while retaining what is brilliant about our sport: the fascination, the excitement, the entertainment and the heritage that attracted me as a boy and has had attracted millions of fans all over the world.

Taking a lead

The UCI is the governing body and I carefully choose the word ‘governing’ rather than ‘controlling’. We know we can’t make the reforms that are needed on our own; we need the support of the organisers, of the teams, and the riders. And we have to do it in a way that pleases the fans too. When I was elected I promised to be a President who listens and takes account of people’s view. But at the same time you eventually have to take a lead.

I think there is a pretty wide consensus amongst the stakeholders who will gather in Barcelona on Monday. Each stakeholder has their own interests and assets to protect but we can all become stronger by working together. We have to remember that there are many other sports out there that have higher profiles, with stronger economic models and many more people watching on television around the world. If we’re going to compete with them, make our sport grow and provide better experiences and rewards for everyone involved, we’ve got to work together.

The alternative of a major dispute amongst stakeholders is not what I want to contemplate. I don’t think the fans want any further arguments either. I think they’ll lose patience with us if we continue to bicker. Women are showing us the way. Look at what’s been achieved in the past two years by all sides working together collaboratively.

Our opportunity is now. Let’s seize the day move forward and work together to create the great opportunities that our sport deserves. I am convinced that we can come out of the UCI WorldTour seminar and the reform process stronger and more united, with a stronger commitment to work together.

 

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