The sport of cycling is on the rebound, and its ability to attract greater financial investment is also growing, according to UCI president Brian Cookson.
“We are seeing people willing to invest in our sport again,” Cookson said to the Association Internationale de la Press Sportive (AIPS), an organization that supports and accredits the international sporting press.
Cycling’s tough economic times are no secret. Shuttered races and teams across Europe and a tenuous sponsorship market are proof enough. The situation is nothing new, but Cookson sees reason to be optimistic. He pointed to rising interest from the German public, which seemed to all but have given up on the sport, following a string of doping scandals.
“German television [is] coming back to Tour de France coverage, and we now see German teams competing again now,” he said.
Cookson and the UCI have maintained that restoring integrity is a vital part of that forward progress. The report produced by the Cycling Independent Reform Commmission (CIRC), released in March and intended to air cycling’s dirty laundry and provide recommendations for governance and anti-doping improvements, was supposed to be a step toward restoring confidence. But parts of the report were anything but uplifting.
Cookson addressed questions surrounding a statement, from an unattributed source, that 90 percent of the pro peloton is doping. He implied that the quote might have come from someone who had doped or continued to dope.
“Well I think there is a bit of self-justification in that comment,” he said.
“So I think that the CIRC report was not an exercise in public relations, we did not interfere with it the way it appears the De Morgen report was interfered with by Verbruggen, McQuaid, and Lance Armstrong’s lawyers. It was a genuinely independent report, and I think no other sports federation has thrown itself open to scrutiny in that way.”
Cycling’s reputation as a sport more likely to generate scandal than inspiration has long preceded it, through talks with potential sponsors, television broadcasters, and other stakeholders. Doping scandals, and governance scandals within the UCI, have unquestionably slowed the growth of the sport. Cookson believes he is reversing that tide, albeit slowly.
“I think that since I was elected president, my administration has done many of the things we said we would try to do in the process of restoring the integrity,” he said.
“Changing leadership in itself is a big message to the outside world. Now we’ve published our Independent Commission’s [CIRC] report, and there were some things in it that were uncomfortable for members of our sport, and I acknowledge that. But equally, there have been some things that show progress.”