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Cookson will press Verbruggen to vacate honorary UCI presidency

Hein Verbruggen is the honorary UCI president, but current president Cookson wants that to change after CIRC doping revelations

AIGLE, Switzerland (VN) — Hein Verbruggen’s role as honorary president at the UCI looks to be on its last legs, at least if Brian Cookson has his way.

UCI president Cookson confirmed Monday he will press to have Verbruggen permanently removed from the cycling governing body.

“I am very concerned about what I have seen in the report about Hein’s actions, and I will be writing to him, and asking him to reconsider his position as honorary president,” Cookson told reporters at the UCI headquarters Monday. “It would be better for the sport if Hein were to resign, and that’s what I will tell him when I write him.”

The UCI Congress named Verbruggen honorary president of the cycling governing body when he officially left office in 2005 to take a post with the International Olympic Committee at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Pat McQuaid took over as president, but Verbruggen cast a long shadow, both as honorary president, as well as behind the scenes.

When Cookson won the highly contentious election battle against McQuaid in 2013, many were surprised to see Verbruggen’s name remaining on the UCI masthead. On the heels of the CIRC report release on Monday, Cookson confirmed he would press for Verbruggen’s complete removal from the UCI.

Verbruggen’s time at the helm of the UCI was a prominent storyline in the report released Monday by the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC), and much of it paints the Dutchman’s conduct in a negative light.

In a terse public statement released Monday, Verbruggen defended his tenure at the UCI, which ran from 1992 through 2005.

On Monday, Cookson acknowledged that Verbruggen was a powerful and sometimes effective UCI president, but said there were too many “bad decisions” during his tenure to allow him to remain as the cycling governing body’s honorary president.

“Not everything that Hein did was wrong; far from it, he built [the UCI] into a very strong organization. This building we’re sitting in here today is a wonderful achievement,” Cookson said. “As it’s shown in the report, when EPO came into the peloton, there was no direct test for it, so decisions were made on a very pragmatic basis, but the underlying foundation of that decision-making process was always about protecting the image and business aspects of the sport, rather than the integrity of the sport. Those were serious errors of judgments, and for that, Hein should really reconsider his position.”

It will be interesting to see if Verbruggen would resign on his own accord, or if he will call his adversary’s bluff, and force Cookson to take more forceful action.

“He can, of course, resign, yes,” Cookson said. “The UCI Congress is the body that awarded him honorary president status, and it may well be they will reconsider that in September. I don’t want to spend too much time on the past in that sense, and people should look at their own responsibilities for the sport.”

Cookson didn’t have much to say about his immediate predecessor, McQuaid, who currently holds no position within the UCI, only saying, “He has no role at the UCI. When one looks at the report about Pat’s conduct in the past, there are some things in there that give me great cause for concern.”

Cookson also suggested, without specifying whom, that there could still be some further fallout, and perhaps even legal ramifications, from the report.

“Some of the actions revealed in the report give me very serious concern,” he said. “It could well be that disciplinary actions follow from the UCI, or other agencies. It may well be that some of these matters may have to be referred to authorities outside the sport. Without naming names, but there are things in that report that [are] above and beyond the remit of sporting authorities.”