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Marc Bracke handed three-year suspension for sexual harassment

Doltcini-Van Eyck
Doltcini-Van Eyck (Image credit: Getty Images)

The UCI announced Wednesday that its Disciplinary Commission has suspended Doltcini-Van Eyck manager and director Marc Bracke for three years following the highly-publicised sexual harassment case involving two female cyclists. Bracke’s sanction is effective immediately and he will not be eligible to return to the sport until June of 2024. In a statement sent to Cyclingnews via the team, Bracke stated that he will appeal the decision, claiming that his evidence had been 'minimized' and his right to defend himself had not been respected.

Bracke will be eligible to apply for a licence, following his suspension, on the condition that he take part in a harassment awareness programme delivered by a recognised professional institution, according to a statement issued by the UCI.

The decision comes more than nine months after the Ethics Commission determined that Bracke had violated the sport governing body’s Code of Ethics after formal complaints of harassment alleged by Marion Sicot and Sara Youmans. The two cyclists separately filed formal complaints with the Ethics Commission after Bracke requested images of them in their "panties and bra" and "bikini."

"The Disciplinary Commission confirmed the Ethics Commission’s analysis that Mr Bracke’s conduct constituted sexual harassment according to article 6.4 of the UCI Code of Ethics and article 2.3 of Appendix 1," read an official statement from the UCI.

"The Disciplinary Commission has therefore ordered the suspension of Mr Bracke from any role in cycling for a period of three years. As an additional measure and a condition of being granted a new licence after the period of suspension, Mr Bracke must take part in a harassment awareness programme delivered by a recognised professional institution."

Last September, following an extensive investigation into the harassment allegations, the UCI sent its official report to the Disciplinary Commission, which is the body responsible for making the decision on the recommended sanctions for Bracke. 

At that time, 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. However, the sport governing body has now stated that the decision to suspend Bracke for three years is based on the violations of Article 6.4 of the UCI Code of Ethics and article 2.3 of Appendix 1.

Article 6.4 - Protection of physical and mental integrity:

The persons bound by the Code shall respect the integrity of all persons with whom they interact in the context of their cycling-related activity. The personal rights of every individual whom they contact and who are affected by their actions shall be protected and respected. In particular, sexual  harassment in any form is forbidden and the welfare of young people under the age of 18 is paramount so as to give them protection from poor practice, abuse and bullying.

Article 2.3 of Appendix 1 - Sexual Harassment:

Any unwanted and unwelcome behaviour of a sexual nature, whether verbal, non-verbal or physical, with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person, in particular, when creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

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

Youmans alleged inappropriate conduct by the team manager during her contract negotiations in October of 2019. She filed her formal complaint with the UCI Ethics Commission alleging that during her negotiations to join the Doltcini-Van Eyck 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 told Cyclingnews that the exchange of messages between her and Bracke took place on October of 2019 after which Bracke offered Youmans a contract that she did not sign.

Cyclingnews has obtained a copy of the messages exchanged between Bracke and Youmans.

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

Sicot, who was officially a rider on the Doltcini-Van Eyck team, filed a formal complaint against Bracke with the UCI Ethics Commission in March of 2020. Sicot’s attorney, Madalina Diaconu, who is handling her case at the UCI Ethics Commission, confirmed to Cyclingnews that Sicot's allegations were centered around the UCI Code of Ethics Article 6.4 and in conjunction with Appendix 1.

According to Diaconu, at that time, the range of complaints allege sexual harassment under aggravated circumstances and recidivism, including over 20 written demands by Bracke for photos from Sicot wearing a "small bikini" or a "string bikini," taken from the front and rear angles. 

Cyclingnews has obtained a copy of the messages exchanged between Bracke and Sicot.

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 requested a reduced two-year suspension from anti-doping authorities, alleging that her decision to purchase and use EPO happened after she experienced months of psychological abuse by Bracke.

Following Sicot’s harassment allegations, last 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.

Following the UCI's announcement of Bracke's suspension, a representative of Doltcini-Van Eyck (VZW Women Cycling Team) provide Cyclingnews with a statement noting Bracke's intent to appeal the decision.

"The management of the Women Cycling Team vzw has been informed yesterday evening by the UCI that the UCI Disciplinary Commission has suspended team manager Marc Bracke for 3 years in the sexual harassment case against him," the team statement read. 

"Marc Bracke has never been heard in this case and not one of his universal human rights, including the rights to defend himself, have in no way been respected. UCI does not stand above the law. Marc Bracke has at all times respected the secrecy of the investigation, in contrast to Marion Sicot who was campaigning continuously and several times leaking information from the investigation. 

"In the complete dossier there is not one act by and not one word from Marc Bracke that suggest he had any sexual intention towards Marion Sicot. 

"It’s clear that this is not a fair trial. For that reason Marc Bracke will appeal at TAS [CAS]," the statement read. 

The full team statement is below.

Major flaws prompt changes to abuse complaint process

It is the second high-profile sexual harassment case in the last two years after the UCI announced in February that its Disciplinary Commission handed Patrick Van Gansen a partially retroactive suspension of two years and seven months following a guilty verdict in the Health Mate-Cyclelive abuse case that shocked the professional cycling world in 2019.

Van Gansen and Bracke were not provisionally suspended from the sport of cycling following the multiple formal complaints of sexual harassment lodged against them while the Ethics Commission conducted its investigation. They were also not provisionally suspended after the Ethics Commission determined that both team managers had violated the Code of Ethics. 

The Ethics Commission found Van Gansen guilty of ethics violations in the Health Mate abuse case in April 2020 and it took 10 months for the Disciplinary Commission to hand down the suspension in February 2021. 

Likewise, the Ethics Commission found Bracke guilty of ethics violations in September 2020 and he has now been suspended, nearly 10 months later, by the Disciplinary Commission. 

The lengthy time between Ethics and Disciplinary Commissions decisions and the lack of provisional suspensions was flagged as a major flaw in the complaint process.

On June 3, the UCI announced that it has adopted more preventive measures to fight against abuse in cycling to promote integrity in its regulations and processes, along with new education initiatives. These steps help address a series of flaws in the process that victims face when filing complaints with the Ethics Commission. 

To accelerate procedural timelines, the UCI has now given its Ethics Commission full sanctioning powers, without having to refer the cases to the Disciplinary Commission (effective on June 3, 2021). It also now has the authority to impose provisional measures, to provisionally suspend alleged perpetrator while the case is being treated and investigated. The UCI will also appoint an Integrity Manager in September, who will be in charge of establishing education and awareness courses for all cycling’s families, and managing a reporting system for harassment and abuse.

"This decision sets an important precedent when it comes to the fight against sexual harassment. It is essential for the well-being of athletes that they can have confidence in the institutions and feel free to report any form of abuse," the UCI wrote in its statement regarding Bracke’s suspension. "The UCI supports all people wishing to denounce such acts, whether they are victims or witnesses of conduct that does not conform to our Federation’s rules of conduct."

A lack of transparency with the victims has also been flagged as a major flaw in the Ethics Commission’s complaint process. In fact, Sicot has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over the UCI’s lack of transparency with the victims in the two separate highly publicised harassment and abuse cases surrounding former managers Van Gansen and Bracke. 

Sicot is asking, in the appeal filed on January 27, that the UCI better communicates its decisions to the victims involved in both cases, and in future, to make the victims party to the procedure after they have filed formal complaints with its Ethics Commission.

In its series of changes to its complaint process, the Ethics Commission is now obliged to inform the victims on the procedure and its reasoning on all decisions, insofar as the complainants are directly concerned by the relevant facts. However, the upgrade falls short of making victims party to the proceedings.

The UCI confirmed to Cyclingnews that the improved communication does not mean that victims (complainants) will be party to the proceedings, but rather they will only be given dedicated rights to information.

"An obligation for the Ethics Commission to inform complainants has also been approved. This obligation means complainants and any other person who is directly concerned and has a legitimate interest will be informed of the opening of proceedings, the end of the investigation phase as well as the decision and its considerations linked to factual elements that concern them directly," wrote the UCI in its statement concerning the suspension of Bracke.

"Although the current case was submitted to the Disciplinary Commission before the recent modifications to the Code of Ethics, the UCI has decided to inform the complainants in line with the new requirements of the Code recognising their legitimate interest in receiving information concerning the decision and its considerations linked to factual elements that concern them directly."

Team statement and Bracke's intent to appeal

In a statement sent to Cyclingnews by the Women Cycling Team VZW, both the team and Bracke disagreed with the verdict, going so far as to suggest that Bracke's human rights had not been respected during the proceedings.

"Marc Bracke has never been heard in this case and not one of his universal human rights, including the rights to defend himself, have in no way been respected. UCI does not stand above the law," the statement read.

"Marc Bracke has at all times respected the secrecy of the investigation, in contrast to Marion Sicot who was campaigning continuously and several times leaking information from the investigation. In the complete dossier, there is not one act by and not one word from Marc Bracke that suggests he had any sexual intention towards Marion Sicot.

"A court case against Marion Sicot for false allegations and her actions in social and other media to support these has been started up for French justice. We stay convinced that Marion Sicot’s accusations against Marc Bracke have no other intention than to obtain a reduced suspension for her use of doping, in which she has succeeded. Not only Marc Bracke but the complete team, its’ riders, sponsors and staff and women cycling itself are her victims.

"We remark that Marion Sicot’s complaint against Marc Bracke was made only 8 months after she was informed to be caught for doping and after she had denied her use of doping for months with a series of the most unbelievable explanations.

"In this case all evidence supplied by many parties, including 20 riders, in favor of Marc Bracke has been minimized while facts against Marion Sicot – such as her escape from the hotel in Pau to avoid another doping test after being alerted by UCI and AFLD and another case of fraud - are ignored completely. It’s clear that this is not a fair trial. For that reason, Marc Bracke will appeal at TAS. We remember the fact that an investigation by Cycling Vlaanderen for the same accusations, and in which Marc Bracke has been heard, has resulted in the dismissal of the case."

Cyclingnews reached out to Belgian Cycling Federation and Cycling Vlaanderen to confirm an additional investigation outside of the UCI Ethic Commission. Cycling Vlaanderen did not respond to a request for more information via email, however, the team has stated that inquires into a complaint had been dismissed. Belgian Cycling Federation stated that there was no other investigation at its federation. "The file is in the hands of the UCI and can therefore not be handled at the same time by Belgian Cycling," wrote Jos Smets, director at Belgian Cycling, in January.

The UCI clarified in a response to the statement released by Doltcini-Van Eyck that Bracke was given the opportunity to submit his defence before both the Ethics and Disciplinary Commissions.

"The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) would like to clarify that Mr Bracke’s due process rights had been fully complied with. He was in fact given the opportunity to submit his defence before both the UCI Ethics Commission and the UCI Disciplinary Commission. The fact that neither commission deemed it necessary to conduct an oral hearing does not mean that his right to be heard was not respected," the statement read.

The UCI also stated that it recognised Bracke's right to appeal to the CAS, but that it deemed the team's statement to be defamatory in nature.

"The UCI absolutely recognises Mr Bracke’s right to appeal the decision of the UCI Disciplinary Commission to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but must state its regret regarding the announcement published by the team in reaction to the decision of the Disciplinary Commission due to the defamatory nature of the text," the UCI stated. 

"The UCI has a responsibility to ensure a respectful environment for stakeholders and must condemn such damage to the reputation of the rider Marion Sicot. The UCI Disciplinary Commission made it very clear in its decision that the matter concerned the behaviour of Mr Bracke towards the complainants and any references to the reputation of the riders who denounced his conduct or the context in which such denunciations were made are of no relevance for the assessment of the fact." 

Kirsten Frattini

Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.