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Notes from a UCI Congress

Well, that's nine hours gainfully spent.

Photo: @CyclingWorlds

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 04.08.2023 Photography by
UCI
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas. Not even Paris-Roubaix. I am talking, of course, about the UCI Congress: the Annual General Meeting of international cycling, held in conjunction this year with the multi-disciplinary Super World Championships in Glasgow. 

As is usually the case, the UCI has livestreamed the whole thing on YouTube. That means that non-attending delegates can watch along from the comfort of home; the same applies to any particularly masochistic punters who don’t have anything better to do with nine hours of their time. 

This year, that includes me. Allow me to present Escape Collective’s Notes from the 2023 UCI Congress. 

I feel the same way.

How boring is it? 

Profoundly. We are dealing, friends, with a nine-hour YouTube video of people talking about sports administration. 

Who’s in attendance?

A record turnout this year in Glasgow: of the more than 200 UCI-affiliated cycling federations, there are 151 countries represented, thanks in part to the UCI providing financial assistance for some delegates to attend. 

Positioned on stage at the big conference centre are the UCI Management Committee – the big fish of international cycling – with UCI President David Lappartient at the centre of the front row, flanked by a trio of vice presidents. The lesser committee members form a larger line behind. 

There are some plants on the side (maybe real, maybe fake, but high-end fake, ya know?).

Any notable absentees?

But of course!  

-Igor Makarov – who after being sanctioned out of attendance at the 2022 Worlds due to the hosting government’s belief that he is “engaging in an activity or performing a function that is of economic or strategic significance to Russia,” has also been sanctioned out of attending this year too. Oh well, there’s always next year!

-UCI Vice President Osama Al Shafar, who could still be on his reconciliation tour of Turkmenistan for all we know.

Any fresh faces?

Big shout-out to the newly-created National Federation of American Samoa. There’s so much talk about cycling, guys. You’ll love it.  

It’s also fun to imagine the levels of institutional gore that lead to the unanimously voted-upon dissolution of the Seychelles Cycling Association and the immediate creation of the Union Cycliste des Seychelles to replace them. Sounds like a real mess.

Can we get a David Lappartient vibe-check? 

In good spirits, I would say (although sadly not wearing his tartan suit on the day). The question of divided loyalties between his UCI Presidency and his simultaneous Presidency of the French National Olympic Committee were addressed 45 minutes in (the other 10 jobs don’t get a mention), with an assurance that he “remains fully committed to my role as UCI President. This election was not planned, but it’s very good news for our sport. It means that our solid link between our federation and the Olympic movement is even stronger.” 

Elsewhere we get thoughts on COVID (“now behind us”, apparently, which I’m sure Remco Evenepoel would be surprised to hear) and the Russian invasion of Ukraine (“condemned”, while following the International Olympic Committee’s stance of not using sport “as a tool for political sanction.”) 

Lappartient’s recent stern remarks to the UK’s Sports Minister, threatening to withhold future events over the country’s anti-Russia stance, did not rate a mention. 

Any fun musical moments? 

God, I wish. Last year – despite being an enormously frustrating Congress on a personal level – had a standout moment with the unveiling of the UCI Anthem, a rousing composition that is “reflective of the passion” of the sport. 

This year we just get a pair of accordionists from Haute-Savoie playing Amazing Grace, Lappartient trying to start a singalong (quote: “it’s not forbidden to sing!”) and a few seconds of timid on-mic humming. 

OK, now tell us about some legitimate wins for the UCI this congress. 

In the interests of providing a reasonable and unbiased report on this event, that seems only fair.

-There is a new designation of Refugee Athlete Status created by the UCI, with a number of athletes from Afghanistan, Syria and Iran competing in Glasgow on this team.  

-UCI VP Katerina Nash – herself a beam of light in these stuffy proceedings – provided a report on gender equity, which showed that since 2020 Women’s WorldTour average salaries have increased 80%, with minimum salaries and median salaries both doubling. 

-A collective UCI Merit Award was handed out to the female cyclists of Afghanistan, several of whom were evacuated by the UCI in the wake of the Taliban’s return to that country. 

-There’s a new sustainability impact tracker to be rolled out across all cycling disciplines to “contribute to the global climate and sustainable development agenda”, “measure environmental, social and economic impacts in a sustainable way”. Sounds good if it works, and there was appropriately strong language from Lappartient and the organisation about the existential threat of climate change. 

Good to know: the UCI Merit Award looks like it costs much more than 50 euros.

This whole report is sounding surprisingly upbeat …

Oh, don’t worry. Some spicy moments:

-The anti-doping section of the presentation reveals that tramadol and codeine use has been increasing over the past three years.

-The organisation suffered a deficit of 4 million Swiss francs (CHF) in 2022, has budgeted a 6.9 million CHF deficit in 2023, and expects to be 6.7 million CHF in the red in 2024 as well (and that’s after a 14 million CHF cash injection from the IOC due to it being an Olympic year). 

-There’s a new concussion protocol that has been rolled out by the medical team, complete with a fun video, but the entire process relies on team staff being incentivised to pull their riders out of the race. Which they aren’t. 

Who’s in the naughty books of the Ethics Commission? 

The Ethics Commission report is always one of the more intriguing portions of the Congress, even if it’s delivered in French and requires me to find a translator. That due diligence out of the way, some highlights:

-A complaint about governance issues within an unnamed National Federation were not investigated by the Ethics Commission due to – and I quote – “lack of competence of the Ethics Commission”. 

-There was “an attempted agreement between two riders at the last World Championships” that led to a “reprimand and educational measures” being imposed. 

-The President of the Ukrainian Cycling Federation has been provisionally suspended based on governance and ethical issues, as well as defamatory or malicious comments on social media. Seems bad!

-Finally, for those who’ve followed the Afghan cyclist evacuation saga, I’m happy to report that those harrowing allegations haven’t been brushed under the rug completely. For the second Congress in a row, 15 months since a complaint against the Afghan Cycling Federation president Fazli Ahmad Fazli was first filed, the Ethics Commission has it listed as an ‘in progress’ investigation. According to the head of the commission, they are continuing to look into whether certain athletes were preferenced, and whether Fazli has a “hostile attitude” towards whistleblowers. The case is currently awaiting a response from the defense. 

What’s for lunch?

Crushingly, this was not revealed. Only that there was an hour and 15 minute break scheduled, and they took closer to an hour and a half.

We do know where it was (over there, on Lappartient’s left): 

Random question not at all prompted by a slide in the presentation: is it easy to become a rider agent? 

Apparently not! Four out of 23 applicants passed the World Cycling Centre-approved training course in 2022 (a 17.39% pass rate) and in 2023, there were again more failing than passing (48.15% pass rate from 27 applicants). And there was us thinking all there was to it was seeding fake news about transfers to drive up salaries and increase the cut. 

Who was our Caffeinated Hero of the Day?

Big kudos to Yuan Yuan of China (Management Committee member, seated behind Lappartient) who was on a two-big-coffee day and managed to look upbeat throughout.

A truly remarkable feat, seeing as by this point I was feeling more like the concussion video guy …

Who’s paid a lot of money to the UCI to host future World Championships? 

The one that you’ll probably be most interested in is buried down the list – a 2028 Road Worlds, to be held in Abu Dhabi – but if you want to know when you should head to Argentina to watch some people ride around a pump track, this was an outstanding Congress.

Do the African Federations have questions?

Boy do they! A whole continent of federations that have spent a year preparing pointy questions. You love to see it.  

-The Ugandan Federation wants the Tour of the Nile to be a UCI level race (the Federation’s president also describes himself as a “poet who has been writing about the rhythm of the Nile” for many years, so he’s clearly got a thing for that particular river).

-The head of the Nigerian Federation thinks that UCI rules about international track competitions are biased against African countries. Lappartient agrees with him. Responsive governance in action!  

-Cameroon says that they don’t have any anti-doping agents sent to their country, and the last time they did it cost 25% of the budget of an entire event. 

-Ethiopia chooses violence, saying that efforts in infrastructure in Africa are actively being “undermined” by the African Cycling Confederation and the UCI. 

-Nothing is getting past Zambia, who have spotted that despite all the upbeat talk about how great everything’s going there’s less money coming in year-on-year for media rights and distribution, indicating problems with the commercialisation and sustainability of the UCI.

-Rwanda is mostly just looking forward to the 2025 Road Worlds. 

-And finally, the tiny island nation of Cabo Verde wins the award for most annoying journey to Worlds, with the revelation that they had to fly to Senegal to get a visa for Glasgow, go home, go to Senegal again to collect those visas, go home again, and then come to Glasgow. Phew!

Was all of this worth the time?

As nice as it was to watch nine hours of UCI Congress … probably not.

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