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Can David Lappartient have it all?

The UCI president is facing media scrutiny for his 10 simultaneous roles, and proximity to three investigations into suspected corruption.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 22.06.2023 Photography by
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Over the course of his working life, UCI President David Lappartient has made no secret of either his ambition and work ethic. His career has long run on two tracks simultaneously – sports governance and politics – with a thirteen-year stint as mayor of his hometown, Sarzeau, overlapping with his presidency of the French Cycling Federation (FFC), European Cycling Union (UEC), and finally, UCI. 

When re-elected as UCI President for a second term in 2021, Lappartient kept his promise to stand down as mayor, only to take a step up by becoming president of the Department of Morbihan Council – the region that Sarzeau is part of. The next year, he advanced his career in sports as well, becoming a member of the International Olympic Committee. As of this week, his next step seems clear: he is widely tipped as the next president of the French National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF) after infighting, corruption allegations, and “psychological violence” forced the shock resignation of the incumbent, Brigitte Henriques, in May. On her way out, Henriques has asked for an internal audit.

The election will take place on June 29, with Lappartient enjoying the support of his three fellow French IOC members, and standing against just one challenger. Assuming the role would see Lappartient take on the most important position in French sport at its most important point in decades – the lead-up to the Paris Olympics – splitting his time between multiple mandates.

Thomas Bach, IOC President (L) and David Lappartient in 2020.

Is there conflict in that? Not according to Lappartient, who characterises his overlapping roles as “in fact, complementary”, and has told l’Equipe that he would continue to work the two full-time jobs of UCI and CNOSF president in tandem, along with multiple other positions.  “I will not resign from the presidency of the UCI. I will not resign from the presidency of the department [of Morbihan],” Lappartient said, conceding only that he will “probably” give up two of his more minor roles. He claims to work “85 hours a week” – or, 12 hours a day, every day, across three locations in two countries, while also being a father of three – to balance all of those competing professional priorities. 

A CV that would break LinkedIn

You want a list of them all? Of course you do. 

In total, Lappartient holds five roles in sports governance: 

In local governance and politics, he is:

What drives him to take on so many roles? Money is one interpretation. His package at the UCI last financial year was around €400,000, including a €100,000 bonus for steering the sport through the COVID pandemic; the CNOSF presidency paycheck could plausibly be in a similar ballpark, although there is no direct disclosure of it in annual reports. Public documents are less forthcoming for the other positions, although when Lappartient was mayor of Sarzeau he was on a salary of €25,752, and he’s now effectively overseeing multiple municipalities, represented by multiple mayors.

Perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s about power, with a drive to be at the top in any role. Lappartient has addressed the question of ‘power’ directly, saying that “in government I would have less power than as president of the UCI … I like executive positions when I’m on the job. I always prefer to make the decision than to contribute to it.”

Either way, he’s making decisions in 10 different roles.

The Agent Smith of sports governance.

Walking the tightrope

The feasibility of maintaining such a workload and still being effective is one issue, but there are higher stakes than mere workplace performance. Many of the roles in each sphere appear to overlap: like, leading the plausibly contradictory interests of natural parks and commercial ports, in a gulf that is overseen by two different levels of government that Lappartient is prominently involved in. Or, say, being managing director of both Atout Ports – a semi-public company – and the private entity Ports du Morbihan, which controls and awards contracts related to those ports.

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that Lappartient has attracted the attention of the government-accredited anti-corruption NGO, Anticor, whose local chapter has filed a report against him with the public prosecutor for Vannes. From 2015–2020, while Lappartient was president of the regional natural park (PNR), €30,000 in contracts were awarded to the husband of the PNR’s director at the time, with no conflicts of interest declared. In the scheme of institutional corruption that’s small fry, and Lappartient may not have been aware of it at all – although it’s reasonable to wonder whether a more attentive oversight might have been possible if he wasn’t simultaneously doing half a dozen other things. [Lappartient has told Le Monde that he was “not informed of this family link”; an Anticor representative told Escape Collective that they have their doubts about that.] 

With Lappartient’s increasingly prominent role in French sport has come renewed attention from the nation’s media – l’Equipe and Le Monde have both taken an increasingly interrogatory tone. Le Monde recently published a series of articles probing the subjects of Lappartient’s relationship with sanctioned Russian oligarch, Igor Makarov; Lappartient’s relationship with notorious Turkmen dictator, Gurbanguly Burdimuhamedov; and Lappartient’s involvement in a contentious series of cyclist evacuations from Afghanistan. Most of those stories were first broken by cycling media (?), but the continued rumbles in mainstream press are proving problematic for the Frenchman. Lappartient has characterised it as a campaign of “stink bombs” designed to destabilise his CNOSF ambitions – another example of his combative relationship with critical media. 

Lappartient at the 2022 UCI Congress in Wollongong.

Blurred lines

Those sordid episodes are not the only thing to have come under scrutiny in French media, with Lappartient’s many (many, many) mandates also raising eyebrows. Reporting from Le Monde yesterday pointed to several instances where roles became muddled and lines became blurred. Like the time in 2010 – when Lappartient was both mayor of Sarzeau and president of the French Cycling Federation – and he ran up an €11,000 phone bill at the Geelong Road World Championships, invoicing it to the Sarzeau town hall. This was not rectified until a rival councillor – Marie-Cécile Riedi, who memorably described him in 2021 as “a bit [of a] megalomaniac” on a “quest for power” – started pushing for Lappartient to reimburse the town, a year later.

[Lappartient told Le Monde that “I thought I was connected to Wi-Fi and, in fact, I was connected to the 3G network and did not realise it … I was not aware of the elements and as soon as [I] was, I reimbursed the town hall immediately.” Council documents are less definitive, showing that Lappartient in fact took seven months to remedy the finances after he was pressed on the issue, and apparently had thought nothing of an €11,000 phone bill until that point.]

In 2019, another blurring of lines occurred when the Grand Prix du Morbihan cycling race (of which Lappartient was president, and his brother vice-president) was awarded ProSeries categorisation by the UCI (of which Lappartient was president), despite having attracted no WorldTour teams from outside of France. This led to a spat with the riders association, the AIGCP, who said the races were “not classified ProSeries on the basis of objective criteria,  but rather for political reasons and/or personal preferences.” Lappartient denies any impropriety, attributing the AIGCP’s complaint to its “stormy” relations at the time with the UCI.

Lappartient’s run for presidency of the French Olympic Commitee has seen more than a few fireworks.

Lappartient’s close ties to Morbihan also raised questions when his small hometown Sarzeau – of which he was mayor at the time – was awarded a prestigious stage start at the 2018 Tour de France, the year after he became UCI president. Since then he has run up the UCI tab on organising two management committee meetings at a five-star hotel in the region, a fact explained away by Lappartient as advocacy for his “beautiful” home region.

For anti-corruption body Anticor, however, there are clear lines of concern. Lappartient’s bid for the CNOSF presidency “raises many questions in terms of ethics, which must be answered before the election,” Anticor told Le Monde. There are seven days until then, but a tangled web to unpack – with fuel to the fire arriving late Tuesday.

Across Paris, a series of police raids were conducted as part of two separate investigations into suspected corruption within the Paris 2024 organising committee – making Paris the third consecutive Olympics with a corruption cloud over it. Two French Anti-Corruption Agency (AFA) reports have hinted at “conflicts of interest” and “risks to breaches of probity”. Also under scrutiny are possible irregularities in use of public funds, with France’s Economic Crime Squad investigating favouritism, the concealment of favouritism, illegal taking of interest, and suspected embezzlement.

You’ll never guess who’s on the Paris 2024 board of directors.

In a letter written Wednesday to CNOSF members, Lappartient offered rebuttals to each of Le Monde’s areas of inquiry, saying:

“I have always worked in strict compliance with the rules and I think I am recognised for my uprightness and scrupulous respect for the rules of ethics. Anyone who has worked with me can attest to that. It is heartbreaking to see oneself presented from an angle that absolutely does not correspond to one’s actions and which is even the opposite. This will not deviate from my wish to serve the French Olympic movement.”

The UCI was contacted for comment by Escape Collective, but did not immediately provide a response. This story will be updated should they do so.

Update 22 June: The previous sub-title of this article initially referred to two investigations into suspected corruption. This has now been updated to reflect the fact that there are actually three investigations: the two separate Paris 2024 investigations and the local Anticor complaint. Escape Collective regrets the error.

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