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AJACCIO, France (VN) — British Cycling president Brian Cookson is pressing the flesh and putting faces to names as he brings his UCI presidential campaign to the Tour de France.
Cookson, who presented his candidacy against incumbent president Pat McQuaid last month, is visiting the opening stages of the Tour, quietly meeting movers and shakers of the sport to build support for his bid to topple the embattled Irishman.
“I am trying to talk to as many people as possible, and listen. I think of the things that the UCI has been really bad at is listening to people,” Cookson told VeloNews. “I think it’s important to get around, to get to know people better. It’s been encouraging.”
Cookson has been meeting with several key players during his stay at the Tour, riding in the Garmin-Sharp car with Jonathan Vaughters one day, then with Tour owner ASO the next.
On Monday morning, he fielded questions from journalists and chatted with representatives from teams. When VeloNews was waiting for a moment with Cookson, a representative from Movistar was setting a time to meet with the president of the British cycling federation.
There’s no doubt; Cookson is mounting a serious challenge to McQuaid and the Irishman’s eight-year grip on power at the sport’s global governing body.
“There is a real appetite for change, there’s no doubt about that,” Cookson said. “I believe it’s absolutely critical now that we have change. The UCI’s own consultation process gave that message loud and clear. We’ve got to take notice of that; otherwise, the UCI will continue to spiral downwards, and we’ll end up in a mess.”
Cookson said he was quietly biding his time before throwing his hat in the ring to challenge McQuaid at the UCI election on September 27.
Cookson said he was closely watching as the UCI stumbled in the wake of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s reasoned decision against Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service doping ring before making the decision to throw his hat into the ring.
“I’ve been unhappy about what the UCI has been doing for quite awhile. As a member of the Management Committee, you try to voice your opinion as forcibly as you can. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t,” he continued. “It became clear that Pat was not able to solve things, things were getting worse. My reaction was, when we came to the deadline of the nominations, I thought I would be a candidate for change. I talked to a few people around the world, I was encouraged to do so, so I put my name forward.”
Cookson strongly backs calls for some sort of truth and reconciliation process that would include amnesty as well as inquiries into allegations that the UCI might have been complicit during the Armstrong doping era.
“There is still a lot to be resolved. Lance has told some of the truth. I would encourage him to come out with all the truth, because the sooner that happens, the better,” he said. “My concern is, we’ve got to put to bed these allegations in the UCI’s involvement in cover-ups and conspiracies. We really do need to get that, if anyone has been involved, we have to find that out, and we take action accordingly. Because if there have been, then that’s totally appalling and utterly unacceptable.”
He said some sort of reconciliation was necessary, but cautioned that the process could become complicated due to legal issues, and cited the Mitchell Report, which examined Major League Baseball in 2007, as an example to follow.
“We still have to have some sort of review of what happened in the past. Not so much so that we can draw a line in the sand, but so that we can learn lessons, and move forward,” he said. “As part of that, you have to have some sort of amnesty, but that’s not as simple as some people imagine it.
“You can have a sporting amnesty, but some of the activities, doping is a criminal offense in some countries. Once you link that into supplying of products, you start getting into murky waters, supplying of drugs, money laundering — those sorts of questions. There is a lot of nasty stuff out there.”
Cookson said he was “disappointed” by reactions from McQuaid following his decision to challenge for the UCI presidency.
McQuaid fired back last month with statements challenging not only Cookson’s credibility but also his motivation, suggesting that he is a puppet for more powerful figures.
“Pat’s reactions have been a bit disappointing to me. He has said some things that are completely wrong. My proposal to have a completely independent anti-doping body, he said was not possible, within 24 hours, WADA said it is,” said Cookson. “It’s clear what I want to do if elected. It’s in the manifesto. There is no funding from anybody else. There have not been any promises or commitments made to anyone else. All I’ve been doing is go around and talking to people, and listening.”
Cookson promised to continue his campaign at all levels, both via the Internet, through the media, as well as meeting with key cycling figures. Last week, he released his “manifesto,” which outlined his agenda if he were to be elected.
Cookson’s campaign will be global. So far, he’s met with officials from Europe and Africa, and plans to travel to Asia and the Americans soon to press his candidacy.