Cycing: Why the shadow of Lance Armstrong still hangs over Pat McQuaid
Will Ireland turn against its own as he bids for third term as UCI chief?
Sunday 31 March 2013
To mark its 25th anniversary later this year, Cycling Ireland will inaugurate a Hall of Fame. They are seeking nominations for those who have made a significant impact on the sport in Ireland, whether as riders or administrators. As a former Irish champion and past president of Cycling Ireland, Pat McQuaid could no doubt make a case for inclusion.
To some he is considered a champion of the sport, in Ireland and around the world. To others he is seen as an embarrassment to the sport that has been his life, a figurehead for a global governing body universally lambasted for their, at best, clumsy handling of the fallout from the Lance Armstrong affair and their lax stewardship of the sport throughout the Armstrong era. There is one thing that unites Armstrong and those who pursued the Texan to last year's bitter end – a belief that McQuaid failed in his duty as cycling's leader.
Yet for all the sound and fury that accompanied the finale of the US Anti-Doping Agency's investigation – and direct criticisms of his leadership by senior members of the World Anti-Doping Agency – McQuaid's tenure as president of the Union Cycliste Internationale may well continue beyond this year's elections in Florence. He has no plans to step aside. He will ride on. Unless…
McQuaid himself has spotted one possible trap on his road to re-election in September. This week Cycling Ireland will confirm whether their man will return home to Dublin to address the board before they decide on their nomination for the presidency. This is McQuaid's power-base: Cycling Ireland nominated McQuaid in 2005 and 2009. On 12 April the seven board members will make their choice for 2013, and there have been rumblings of discontent.
There has been talk of a split in the board, talk of unrest at the grass roots. If McQuaid does not get the nomination, his own kind may have delivered a blow that inflicts a fatal wound on his presidency. This week will give an indication of how much of a fight he has on his hands – if he comes to talk, then he clearly feels there are doubters to convince.
McQuaid could still be nominated by the Swiss federation – he lives in Switzerland – but an Irish rejection would be the first open sign of resistance from within the sport's ruling classes, and that could be the spark for others to break cover. So far the process has been notable for suggested alternatives distancing themselves from running: British Cycling's Brian Cookson was touted but ruled himself out, as did the Russian Igor Makarov, a vocal critic of the UCI, and David Lappartient, the young head of French cycling. Who will be the first to take a stand?
"It's not a black-and-white issue," says Tommy Lamb, the chairman of Cycling Ulster. "It's not just about doping. You have to look at all the benefits for cycling in his time as president." And there is the rub. Cycling in Ireland is booming – Cycling Ireland membership has quadrupled in four years, last month the nation had their first track world champion for more than a century, last week they had the winner of the Tour of Catalunya – and, in terms of numbers getting on bikes, cycling is booming around the world.
"People should remember what he has done for cycling around the world," suggests Jack Watson, honorary secretary of Cycling Ireland and a board member. "It's booming in Ireland, in Britain, in Asia, in South Africa, and that is in no small measure down to Pat McQuaid. He has done an awful lot of good."
While several on the board go back a long way with the 63-year-old McQuaid, who was president of Cycling Ireland in the late Nineties, there are two recently installed independents – Vern Power, an Australian, and Senan Turnbull, a former civil servant. McQuaid, it is suggested, is not supported by all. At last year's AGM there were dissenting voices, led by Dr Conor McGrane, Cycling Ireland's medical officer, but moves to call an EGM and force a vote of confidence in McQuaid were rejected. One option for the board if they cannot decide among themselves is then to hold an EGM and put the nomination to a vote of the full membership.
Watson, a senior figure in Irish cycling, dismissed the idea that there is a swell of grass-roots feeling against McQuaid. He claims there is no evidence of any significant movement against him outside a vocal few. "Why is no one else coming forward to run against him?" asks Watson. "If he is such a bad man, why is no one running against him?"
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