Sara Youmans and Marion Sicot, two cyclists who filed formal complaints against Doltcini-Van Eyck’s team manager Marc Bracke, have reacted to the UCI Disciplinary Commission’s decision to hand Bracke a three-year suspension for sexual harassment. The riders have stated they felt that some justice has been done, but that there is still room for improvement.
"A lot of people think it should be longer," said Youmans, who was the first to file her formal complaint against Bracke at the UCI Ethics Commission in October of 2019.
The UCI announced on Wednesday that its Disciplinary Commission, which was responsible for determining a sanction, suspended Bracke for three years following the sexual harassment case involving two female cyclists. It based its decision on Bracke's violations of Article 6.4 of the UCI Code of Ethics and article 2.3 of Appendix 1.
Bracke’s sanction is effective immediately and he will not be eligible to return to the sport until June of 2024. He 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.
In a statement sent to Cyclingnews via the team, Bracke stated that he will appeal the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), claiming that his evidence had been 'minimized' and his right to defend himself had not been respected.
"I don’t know. I would like to think that people could be reformed and I would like to think that if [Bracke] takes a class or if this ban is a wake-up call … But I also feel that a lifetime ban is beneficial to protect women who are in positions where there are power imbalances," Youmans said.
"If [the perpetrator] shows that they can’t handle the power imbalances, for whatever reason, then I feel that the lifetime ban should be on the table. I would like to think [Bracke] could come back after three years and run a team in an ethical fashion, but I don’t think a lifetime ban is unreasonable."
Youmans alleged inappropriate conduct by Bracke during her contract negotiations in October of 2019. She confirmed to Cyclingnews that she filed a formal complaint the same month, alleging that Bracke had requested that she send him images of herself "in panties and bras". Bracke denied Youmans’ allegations and said that he requested images of riders' legs for professional reasons only.
Youmans said that compared to the retroactive two years and seven months suspension handed to former team manager Patrick Van Gansen in the Health Mate-Cycelive abuse case, Bracke’s three-year and non-retroactive ban is a step in the right direction.
"I feel like compared to the Health Mate's [Van Gansen's] retroactive suspension, this is a really good step in the right direction," Youmans said. "The suspension plus the fact that the UCI had decided to inform the [complainant] going forward, I feel like both of those are big steps and important for the procedure going forward."
The UCI recently upgraded its ethical standards in an effort to promote integrity in its regulations and processes. A lack of transparency with the victims has been flagged as a major flaw in the Ethics Commission’s complaint process. 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.
Complainants are not, however, party to the proceedings, but Youmans said she appreciated that the sport governing body kept her informed as to the final decision on Wednesday and that it intends to send her a summary of the findings.
"[The UCI] have been nice enough to inform me of their findings and they will be sending me a report, which I know that they are not required to do, since I filed my complaint before they ruled that they were going [to start] better informing the complainants. I appreciate that they will let me know and share the report."
Marion Sicot moved forward with her allegations and filed a formal complaint against Doltcini-Van Eyck manager Bracke with the UCI Ethics Commission almost five months after Youmans in March of 2020.
Sicot’s attorney, Madalina Diaconu, who is handling her case, 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.
Sicot was handed a reduced two-year suspension by the Agence Française de Lutte contre le Dopage (AFLD) after testing positive for EPO in a test taken in June of 2019. Sicot initially denied using EPO but later stated in an interview with Stade 2 that her decision to use the drug happened after she experienced months of psychological harassment and abuse by Bracke. Her reduced suspension was made by the AFLD's Sanctions Commission on December 16, according to a report in L'Equipe, following its consideration of her harassment case.
"Ms. Sicot received this morning [Wednesday] a short email from the UCI, informing her that the Disciplinary Commission decided to sanction Mr. Bracke for sexual harassment and handed him a 3-year suspension. At this point, we have no further information about the decision, which was not communicated to us," Diaconu wrote on behalf of Sicot in an email to Cyclingnews.
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 harassment and abuse cases surrounding former team managers Van Gansen (Health Mate-Cyclelive) and Bracke (Doltcini-Van Eyck). 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.
"Ms. Sicot is relieved to see that some justice is being done for survivors of sexual abuse and harassment. However, she believes there are still several points on which the UCI needs to improve, the first being the need to better consider victims' rights, among others to communicate them a copy of the official decision taken against their aggressor."
A statement from the Doltcini-Van Eyck team stated that Bracke will appeal the Disciplinary Commission’s sanctioning decision, claiming an unfair trial and that his evidence had been 'minimized' and his right to defend himself had not been respected. The team's statement also claimed that "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" and he accused Sicot of "campaigning and continuously and several times leaking information from the investigation." The team has also claimed in two previous statements that Sicot's allegations against Bracke "have no other intention than to obtain a reduced suspension for her use of doping."
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 sport governing body 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.
In her response to Cyclingnews, Diaconu stated that Sicot will not comment on Bracke’s potential appeal at the CAS and stated that Sicot was disappointed that Bracke showed no remorse.
"On the other hand, Ms. Sicot read the Doltcini Van Eyck's statement of today, related to the UCI decision. She takes note of Mr. Bracke's intention to appeal the UCI decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and will not comment on such potential appeal," Diaconu wrote.
"However, she would like to underline that this statement undoubtedly expresses Mr. Bracke's own view on the case. Moreover, Ms. Sicot is disappointed to see that Mr. Bracke, far from expressing the slightest respect or consideration for his victims, let alone remorse, continues to tarnish his victims, and even dares to openly parade himself as a victim."
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.
"Ms. Sicot hopes that the harassment awareness programme, to which Mr. Bracke will have to participate as part of his rehabilitation, will offer him the necessary tools to improve his behaviour in the future."
Youmans stated that the final decision has offered her some closure after what has been well over a year-long process.
"Yes, I do feel that there’s closure and that this case has had an impact on women’s cycling going forward. I also see the procedures at the Ethics Commission moving forward in a positive way, and I feel that is closure. There are still improvements to be made but I feel like things are moving in the right direction."
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.
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