Doltcini-Van Eyck director Marc Bracke found guilty of harassment

UCI Continental Women's Team Doltcini-Van Eyck-Proximus
UCI Continental Women's Team Doltcini-Van Eyck-Proximus (Image credit: Getty Images)

The UCI announced Friday that its Ethics Commission has determined that Doltcini-Van Eyck Directeur Marc Bracke is guilty of violations to the Code of Ethics following formal complaints of harassment alleged by two female riders. Marion Sicot and Sara Youmans, separately, filed formal complaints with the Ethics Commission after Bracke requested images of them in their "panties and bra" and "bikini."

"The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) announces that its Ethics Commission has issued its report on the case involving Mr Marc Bracke, general manager of the UCI Continental Women's Team Doltcini-Van Eyck-Proximus Continental Team, concerning allegations of harassment reported by two female riders," read the UCI’s official statement.

"Following the establishment of the facts, the UCI Ethics Commission came to the conclusion that violations of the UCI Code of Ethics had been committed."

On September 24, the UCI sent its official report to the Disciplinary Commission which will now make the decision on the recommended sanctions for Bracke.

"In view of the sanctions recommended by the UCI Ethics Commission, the case was referred on 24 September 2020 to the UCI Disciplinary Commission, which initiated disciplinary proceedings," the UCI stated. "As the procedure is ongoing, the UCI, the Disciplinary Commission and the Ethics Commission will not make any further comments at this stage."

Cyclingnews has reached out to Bracke by telephone, and subsequent email, for a comment regarding Youmans’ and Sicot's allegations. However, he has not responded to our detailed messages before publishing this story. Cyclingnews also reached out to the Doltcini-Van Eyck team for a statement, however, they have not responded before publishing this story.

In March, the Ethics Commission opened its investigation into Doltcini-Van Eyck and Bracke after two riders – Youmans and Sicot – alleged Bracke requested photos of them in their "panties and bra" and "bikini." 

Youmans alleged inappropriate conduct by the team directeur during her contract negotiations in 2019. She filed her formal complaint with the UCI Ethics Commission last October. She alleged that during her negotiations to join the Doltcini-Van Eyck Sport women's team, Bracke requested that she send him images of herself "in panties and bras," and that he told her, "Don't be shy ... This is the start of a relationship of trust."

Youmans was offered an unpaid contract but she said in an interview with Le Monde that, "I didn't want to put myself in a dangerous situation, having no friends or family in Europe. If he was ready to behave like that on the Internet, I was afraid of being in a training camp, where the balance of power would have been in his favor."

Youmans told Cyclingnews that the exchange of messages between her and Bracke took place on October 1, 2019, and that she filed a complaint with the UCI Ethics Commission that same month, citing the UCI Code of Ethics: Appendix 1 that covers protection of physical and mental integrity – sexual harassment and abuse. 

Bracke denied Youmans’ allegations and said that he requested images of riders' legs for professional reasons only. 

"For professional reasons, yes, but only the legs. I am not interested in pictures of women in underwear," he said.

Sicot filed a formal complaint against Bracke with the UCI Ethics Commission on March 18, alleging six rule violations concerning sexual harassment, discrimination, violating contract rules and fraud. In an interview with Cyclingnews, the former rider also confirmed that she filed a separate criminal complaint alleging sexual harassment with her local authorities in France on May 12.

Sicot’s attorney, Madalina Diaconu, who is handling the case at the UCI Ethics Commission, confirmed to Cyclingnews in August that Sicot's allegations are centred around the UCI Code of Ethics Article 6.4: Protection of physical and mental integrity, in conjunction with Appendix 1: protection of physical and mental integrity – sexual harassment and abuse, and citing Article 2.3: Sexual harassment, Article 2.5: Neglect, and Article 2.6: Minors and other dependant persons.

According to Diaconu, the range of complaints allege sexual harassment under aggravated circumstances and recidivism, including over 20 written demands by Bracke for nudity photos from Sicot wearing a "small bikini" or a "string bikini," taken from the front and rear angles. The allegations also include examples of sexist or allusive comments such as if she is married, has a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and if she sleeps alone, and embarrassing invitations to spend the night at his house while at a competition nearby.

Sicot also alleged three violations of the UCI Regulations - section 12.4.004: Discrimination, along with sections 2.17.030 and 12.4.008: Violation of contract rules and fraud. According to Sicot's attorney, Bracke forced Sicot to sign a "secret" agreement, contrary to the UCI Regulations, by which she was responsible for bearing all costs related to her training and competition activities.

In August, however, the UCI told Cyclingnews, "the Ethics Commission determines which allegations and reports are relevant for the proceedings, which may therefore include statements provided by various witnesses or alleged victims."

In its official statement, the UCI did not indicate specifically which of its Code of Ethics had been violated but only that violations had occurred regarding the complaints of harassment.

Following the UCI's statement on Friday, Diaconu provided Cyclingnews with a statement saying they were satisfied with the decision but that they regretted that there is limited communication between the UCI and the riders who file complaints during the procedures. 

Cyclingnews understands that the person who files a complaint at the UCI Ethics Commission is not a party to the case.

"We have received this news with satisfaction and hope that the disciplinary procedure can be concluded and that justice is finally done. Harassment and abuse against athletes, especially women, must stop," Diaconu said.

"However, we regret the fact that the UCI is not cooperating and communicating more with the victims, who are, for the moment, totally left out of these internal procedures and are only informed of the outcome of these procedures through press releases."

Sicot spent two seasons with Doltcini-Van Eyck in 2018 and 2019. She tested positive for EPO in a test carried out by the Agence Française de Lutte contre le Dopage (AFLD) at the French time trial championships on June 27, 2019. She has requested a reduced suspension from anti-doping authorities, alleging that her decision to purchase and use EPO happened after she experienced months of psychological abuse by Bracke.

The anti-doping rule violations fall under the jurisdiction of the AFLD and she is currently waiting for the decision of the AFLD regarding her request for a reduced suspension.

Cyclingnews has reached out to Bracke by telephone, and subsequent email, for a comment regarding Youmans’ and Sicot's allegations. However, he has not responded to our detailed messages before publishing this story.

Following Sicot’s allegations, in March, Doltcini-Van Eyck team released a statement admitting that Bracke had demanded regular photos of Sicot in a bikini, but argued: "This is a practice that was normal in earlier times – many people inside cycling know that." At that time, the team also accused Sicot of pretending to be depressed and "making use of the actual #MeToo-mood" to get a shorter doping suspension.

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