The president of Polish Cycling Federation (PZKol) Dariusz Banaszek resigned on Friday, paving the way forward for the talks between the embattled federation and Poland's Sports and Tourism Ministry (MSiT).
Banaszek, who served as president since January 2017, leaves a federation in financial hardship and with a heavily strained relationship with the national government.
The resignation comes two months after a major scandal shook the federation and the Polish cycling scene. First, media publications uncovered management problems, conflicts between officials, as well as a fallout with the federation's sponsor – shoe manufacturer CCC. Then, in late November, accusations of a cover-up of an audit sparked public outcry as a former vice-president of the federation broke the silence and disclosed the case to the media. He accused Banaszek of mishandling the crisis and said that audit's preliminary results allegedly included evidence of sexual abuse and financial wrongdoings by one of the federation's ex-officials.
Banaszek spent the final days of November and first weeks of December defending his management style and contradictory decisions regarding the audit. Meanwhile, the federation's main backers – Poland's Ministry of Sports and Tourism and petrol refiner PKN Orlen – both suspended their funding. The ministry demanded the resignation of the whole executive board and began auditing federation's finances, at the same time refusing to talk to its representatives.
As board members filed their resignations, Banaszek first promised to resign during a general meeting of the local delegates in late December. However, at the very meeting he refused to step down and in doing so he received strong support from the local structures. With a new board elected, Banaszek vowed to restore talks with the ministry and the federation's image, at the same time hinting that another failure may be his last as the president.
Banaszek's attempts at patching things up with the government proved unsuccessful, however. Witold Banka, Poland's Sports and Tourism minister, declared at the outset of the crisis that the athletes would be supported directly and on January 19 he announced that the ministry reached an agreement with PKN Orlen. For the next three months, Poland's major state-owned company will fund all riders who had earlier been granted ministerial scholarships or are a part of the so-called "Team100" – program for prospective Olympians.
The Olympic success is of concern to the ministry and with 22 sets of medals in cycling disciplines in Tokyo, the sport has seen an increase in support. The governmental funding for PZKol, a sum of 14 to 17 million zlotys (€3.3 – €4.1 million) in 2017 alone, is likely to increase in 2018. However, with Banaszek in office, the ministry had already decided to channel the money directly to riders and clubs through the Polish Olympic Committee.
It is not clear how Banaszek's resignation changes the situation and whether PZKol is capable of managing the funds itself.
The federation is currently barely able to maintain its daily operations. The organisation owes 9.5 million zlotys (€2.3 million) to the construction company Mostostal for the works on the Pruszków velodrome in 2008-2009. The issue has not been tackled for years and constituted the single biggest challenge to past administrations. This time, with problems for the federation mounting, the debt enforcement proceedings have already started. The accounts of the federation are frozen and some of its vehicles were auctioned last week.
The executive board now has 30 days to elect a new leader. Cyclingnews understands that the decision could be made as soon as this week.
All quiet on the audit front
The publication of the interview with Piotr Kosmala first drew attention to an audit of the federation, the contents of which have not yet been publicly confirmed.
Banaszek, while still in office, on multiple occasions explained that the owner of CCC company and CCC Sprandi Polkowice team Dariusz Milek convinced him to start the audit, but then denied having any knowledge of the preliminary results, even going as far as to deny its very existence at the delegates meeting last month, saying "there is no audit, there were only rumours. We said during a board meeting, if there is no audit, there is nothing to talk about. If we received one, we would pass it over to the authorities".
With lack of clarity as to who is to pay for the audit, Banaszek said that no documents were passed on to the federation. Moreover, in January, in a lengthy interview with naszosie.pl, he stated that the federation "received a letter from the audit company [PwC – ed.] informing us that there were no sexual misconduct themes in the audit".
The issue of the sexual abuse remains within the scope of an ongoing investigation conducted by Warsaw's regional prosecutor's office. According to MSiT's earlier statements, PwC representatives had informed the ministry about the audit's preliminary results in mid-November – information which the officials immediately passed on to prosecutors for scrutiny.
According to the official statement from the prosecutor's office, the ministerial report suggested that a number of offences listed in Polish Penal Code may have been committed by individuals in charge of the federation between 2010 and 2017. Exceeding of the granted powers, failing to perform duties and causing the federation to suffer considerable material damage are among them, as are possible acts of corruption and offences against sexual freedom and morality.
It is not clear whether the investigators are already in possession of the audit's results – the statement from early January only mentioned an unsuccessful attempt to recover them.