The bitter battle to lead cycling took another dramatic twist today when Pat McQuaid’s hopes of re-election as president of the UCI, the sport’s governing body, suffered a potentially fatal blow when Swiss Cycling withdrew their nomination of the Irishman.
It leaves McQuaid relying on a back-dated change in the election legislation if he is to be able to stand against Brian Cookson, the head of British Cycling since 1996, in Florence in September. Cycling Ireland has not nominated McQuaid and now the Swiss, his country of residence, have changed their minds too just hours before facing a legal challenge to their nomination.
A motion backed by the Asian cycling confederation and the Malaysian national body proposing candidates be nominated by any two federations – not just their domestic one – will be debated in Florence and it if approved will be back-dated to include the current presidential race. Thailand and Morocco have already said they will back McQuaid. But without that change, as it stands McQuaid cannot run.
“This latest development is of real significance to the Presidential election process,” said Cookson in a statement this morning. “It leaves Mr McQuaid in a very difficult position, particularly when viewed alongside his failure to receive a nomination from his own national federation as required under the constitution of the UCI.
“It also places further question marks against his other ‘nominations’ whose validity is in serious doubt and remain a matter of genuine concern to many in the cycling world. No attempts at manipulation and legal bluster can take away the doubts and questions.
“The important principle in any democracy is that you must respect the rules as they are, not how you'd like them to be. My hope remains that we have a democratic process based on the rules of the race when it started rather than those made up half way through.”
The Swiss nomination was due to be challenged in a court in Zurich today but that has been cancelled. The Swiss reportedly feared the cost of losing the case – some £70,000 – would leave the body facing possible bankruptcy.
A statement from Swiss Cycling read: “The director of the Swiss Cycling committee returned to the decision of May 13, 2013 concerning the appointment of Pat McQuaid and yesterday decided to withdraw the nomination of Pat McQuaid for his re-election as president of the UCI. Consequently, the arbitration requested by the three members of Swiss Cycling is cancelled, since there is no reason.”
McQuaid had first sought the backing of his home federation, who have supported him over his previous two terms as president, but Cycling Ireland reversed its original decision to back him after an outcry from grass-root members.
As a long-term resident of Switzerland, where the UCI’s HQ is based, McQuaid then looked for Swiss support, which again he at first received. McQuaid believes the legal challenge to the Swiss nomination was instigated by Jamie Fuller, owner of sportswear firm Skins who helped set up and funds the Change Cycling Now pressure group.
McQuaid told the Press Association yesterday: “[Fuller] actually canvassed Switzerland, looking for three Swiss Cycling members that he would fund and he would pay for to bring this process against Swiss Cycling and their decision to support me.”
Fuller today welcomed the Swiss decision. He said: “This should finally signal an end to Mr McQuaid’s quest for re-election. Mr McQuaid should now accept that the writing is on the wall and stop this ridiculous charade. His latest stunt of attempting to introduce retrospective changes to the UCI constitution reflect a man who is both delusional and despotic; his arrogance knows no bounds.
“His fellow countrymen in Ireland had second thoughts when they withdrew their endorsement and now the Swiss have done the same. I would hope that, by now, Mr McQuaid is getting the message.”
The election campaign has been marked by a series of angry exchanges between the two candidates. Cookson and his supporters, including the US and Russians, were incensed over what they considered a blatant attempt to change the rules of the election in McQuaid's favour with the tabling of the proposed motion to be voted on before September's election. McQuaid has been criticised for the governing body's ultra-defensive response to the Lance Armstring affair and a failure to deal effectively with cycling's troubled past.