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Dossier one of many reasons behind USA Cycling's support of Cookson

USA Cycling president Steve Johnson speaks at the press conference announcing the new European training base in the Limburg province of the Netherlands.

USA Cycling president Steve Johnson speaks at the press conference announcing the new European training base in the Limburg province of the Netherlands. (Image credit: USA Cycling)

The as-yet unreleased compilation of alleged evidence of wrongdoing by the UCI was just one consideration in USA Cycling's decision to back Pat McQuaid's opponent Brian Cookson in the upcoming election for UCI president, according to CEO Steve Johnson.

Speaking to Cyclingnews prior to the organisation's announcement that it would back Cookson, Johnson made it clear that while ideally the dossier would be reviewed by an independent panel prior to the election, there are enough reasons to vote for a change in UCI leadership even if the dossier were not taken into consideration.

Immediate issues, such as McQuaid's "questionable politics," and his push for creative interpretations of the UCI's constitution in order to secure a nomination for the post, are serious enough in Johnson's mind to outweigh the dossier's allegations.

"The information in the dossier notwithstanding, the behavior of the organisation, the criticism that the UCI has had over the years for being secretive, closed, inflexible - those are important issues for the delegates to consider. [There is an] opportunity to take a hard look at where [we] want the organisation to go and where [we] want the sport to go in the future. I've seen a lot of questionable behavior surrounding the reinterpretation of the rules, and I think that weighs on the delegates' minds."

Johnson is looking for Cookson to overhaul the UCI's governance of the sport, bring it into the 21st century and create a more businesslike organisation. "Brian's platform is the governance, the reorganisation of the UCI. The governance documents are old and outdated, they've been modified over time, and they have been in inconsistent and sometimes conflicting language. There's a great opportunity to consider a candidate who is open to reviewing the constitution and perhaps considering appropriate changes.

"Under the current structure, the president is the de facto CEO. I think is very strange. In our model, the president of the board is the chairman of the board and has a very specific responsibility, a fiduciary responsibility to the corporation. We try to run it like a business, with professional staff that develop a plan with the board's input."

Johnson himself became embroiled in a contentious election to his current post when, around the dawn of the 21st century, he was accused of staging a coup, taking away the governance of US cycling from its members and handing it over to rich benefactors, notably Thom Weisel, owner of the US Postal Service team and close friend of Lance Armstrong.

Contrary to that impression, Weisel and his band of wealthy businessmen turned around an organisation that was on the brink of collapse. "It's an historical fact that this organisation was run by a small group of people who had a lot of power, they hid behind a veil of democracy, but in those days you had to vote by mail and only 1% voted. The election process wasn't what I would call representative.

"At the end of the day it wasn't good for the company. In 2000-2001, it resulted in a $1.7m loss. We were almost bankrupt, the company was borrowing money to make payroll, and the people who were making the decisions had no real understanding of the finances of the company. We're a nonprofit, but you can't not at least break even."

USA Cycling underwent sweeping changes, carving out clear roles and responsibilities for the elected members, the board, the staff and the volunteers, implementing procedures to identify and manage any conflicts of interest. Johnson sees the need for the UCI to undergo the same painful procedure.

"They're going to have to go through something similar if they're going to evolve into a 21st century sport business. It's a $20 million business with marketing opportunities and responsibilities, and in order to take advantage of those it has to operate in a businesslike manner."

The first step is the reorganisation of how the UCI is governed, and then Johnson says that "a complete overhaul of the pro model is needed".

"You can't just flip a switch," he said, but given the stakeholder survey of last year, it shows there are many people thinking about changing the sport, and they are "on the same page".

"From our perspective the only way we're going to get out of the current spiral we're in is to take a hard look at these pro models. Get the men where they need to be, get the women on the track where they need to be. ... It's all opportunities, but until someone decides to take a look at the business of the sport, and look at the structure that allows everyone to participate and benefit, nobody will win. Everyone will keep fighting for the same sized piece of the pie."

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