As the clock ticks down to the UCI Congress election for its next president, candidate Brian Cookson said he is confident that he will bring in the majority of the votes from the 42 delegates, regardless of whether sitting president Pat McQuaid is allowed to stand for re-election.
"Elections can be won or lost in the last few days, I'm very conscious of that. I've been talking to a lot of people, a lot of voting delegates, and I know that there's a movement in my direction. I'm confident I'll have a majority, a clear majority but I don't want to put numbers on it at this stage," Cookson said in a press conference at the UCI road world championships in Florence, Italy on Wednesday.
The Congress will have to first decide whether it will accept the nomination of McQuaid, which did not come from what would normally be interpreted as "the federation of the candidate". Rather than his home, Ireland, or his residence, Switzerland, McQuaid was nominated by Thailand and Morocco, federations to which he holds honorary membership.
While McQuaid has insisted his nomination is valid, the issue has been challenged, with USA Cycling other federations opposing the bid, and McQuaid-friendly countries putting forth amendments to allow an incumbent president to automatically stand for re-election.
Even if he runs unopposed, Cookson has vowed to ask for a vote, saying he does not want "a coronation" as McQuaid insinuated.
"Even if Congress says he doesn't have a valid nomination, I will still ask for a positive vote in favor of me by the Congress. I will not take on the job by default. I don't want a coronation, I want a proper election and I want to take on the role of UCI president with the full support of the Congress."
Truth and transparency for all
Cookson comes to the presidential nomination at what most hope will be the end of an era rife with cheating, not just by individual athletes, but through well-organised, structured programmes of doping first revealed with the Festina scandal and reinforced by the USADA reasoned decision on Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Service team.
Throughout his campaign, Cookson has called for increased transparency in the sport, and part of that process will be establishing a truly independent anti-doping organisation separate from the UCI as well as creating a similarly independent commission to allow those involved in past doping to speak the truth about their activities and put it in the past.
Cookson would like to see any so-called "truth and reconciliation" to go beyond the riders and involve team management, too.
"The kind of doping we've seen in recent generations has not been taking a pill behind the changing rooms. This is organised, structured doping, quasi-medical procedures and so on. Lots of people have been involved in these kinds of conspiracies. I want to spread the net to include those people and include them in the commission process and find out all of the truth, not just part of the truth.
"To do that, we have to have a process that people have trust in and can understand. I want to move forward from that and learn some lessons. Prior to that we have to establish a test of what is a fit and proper person to be involved in running a team, whether it's a manager, directeur sportif, doctor, [soigneur], and so on. There simply hasn't been [a test], and we need to have this as part of the process. This isn't just about riders, this is about the entourage as well."
He sees restoring trust in cycling as a process that will take years, but in the short term he will get the commission process rolling as quickly as possible.
If elected, he said, "The first thing I will do on Monday is put a call to WADA and get an agreement underway to establish the commission. I think we're looking at trying to get that process underway very quickly.
"We have to take the first few steps very quickly, and get a result in months rather than years. Then we can go about establishing the reputation of our sport again."
When asked if the wholesale changes to establish transparency in the sport would extend beyond the UCI to the national federations, he said, "transparency and integrity are not restricted to any one part of an organisation, it should go right through. I would encourage the national federations and the continental confederations to be as transparent as I'd like the UCI to be."
What if he doesn't win?
Although Cookson feels he has a majority of the vote locked up, the ballot is still secret and anonymous. Even if delegates have agreed with their confederation to vote a certain way, there still exists a possibility to stray. McQuaid has strong support in Asia, Africa and some other small nations, and has been spending his time leading up to the election out of the view of the media, likely making rounds with the voting delegates.
"I think it will be a bad day for cycling if I'm not elected," Cookson said of the possibility of losing. "We've had a troublesome era in the past few years, and frankly if we don't have a change that era will continue. I hope, and have every confidence the delegates will vote for change."
Should he be faced with the awkward position on Friday of being on the losing side of the ballot, Cookson promised to continue to pursue his current role on the UCI management committee, and wouldn't wager whether or not there would be a mass exodus from the UCI in protest.
"I can't speak for anyone else. It will be a very difficult time if Pat were to continue as president for some of us. I'm also a candidate for re-election to the management committee, and I've told my European colleagues that I wouldn't let them down. I will still stand for a position, and will still do my best to work for the sport that I've put so much time and effort into over many, many years."
McQuaid has promised to not engage in a legal challenge should be fail to win the nomination, but Cookson was not so clear when asked a question on the same topic, stating, "I think we've all seen far too many legal disputes and issues in our sport. I would hope that after Friday we can put that to bed and move forward whoever wins."
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