Recently, the most telling statements from McQuaid may not be about his opponent Cookson (I’m surprised Pat hasn’t made a freudian “Crookson” slip of the tongue yet). It may be about himself. Every chance he gets, he states some version of (this one from his “secret” letter to the national federations):
“Judging from the many letters I have received urging me to stand, it is clear I have an enormous amount of support from the great majority of national federations and cycling officials all around the world to continue the work I am doing.”
Now, I don’t pretend to have any idea what really goes on inside McQuaid’s brain, but who would constantly hammer about all the support he is receiving unless he is actually receiving very little? To me, this looks more like a president in trouble than one certain of victory.
But first, let’s take a step back. Running for UCI president is a tough project. The voters are all over the world, a lot of them in countries far and away with hardly any cycling activity. In order to win, you need to secure votes from those countries, you can’t rely on the countries where cycling actually matters.
Note that it is not exactly one country one vote, it is more complicated than that but the fact remains you need to be able to get support from all over to attract the votes from a region. As Article 36 of the UCI Constitution states:
1. Members shall exercise their voting rights through the agency of voting delegates appointed among each continental confederation. Each delegate must be a member of a federation of the continental confederation concerned.
2. The total number of voting delegates shall be 42 distributed among continental confederations as follows:
Africa: 7 delegates
America: 9 delegates
Asia: 9 delegates
Europe: 14 delegates
Oceania: 3 delegates
3. Each voting delegate shall have one vote.
This system overwhelmingly favors the incumbent, or in case the incumbent steps down (or sorta, kinda steps down but keeps pulling the strings), it favors the successor from the incumbent’s camp. The incumbent knows the delegates of all the federations, meets with them regularly and gets to wine and dine them at Olympic Games and World Championships on the UCI’s dime.
For this reason, a candidacy from somebody like Greg LeMond as was floated at the beginning of the year is a non-starter. It has nothing to do with whether or not he is capable of running the UCI, the fact is he would not be capable of winning any election. He wouldn’t know 95% of the delegates. Even somebody quite involved in cycling wouldn’t know most of them – he or she might know the delegates of the federations representing 90% of the world’s cyclists, but that wouldn’t make much of a dent in the above-listed voters.
As such, McQuaid has very little to fear and a “revolution” is simply not in the cards for the UCI. Note that this is not specific to the UCI, you see the same in other federations (and hence why a guy like Blatter is still president of FIFA despite stacking scandal upon scandal). In effect, FIFA is just like the UCI, except they have money, success and the ability to hide their doping problem.
That is, unless a challenger comes from within the ranks. A fellow UCI board member would also have had access to the various delegates for years. Maybe they wouldn’t have been able to wine and dine them to the same extent, nor would they be seen as the “host” of such large events, but having any form of personal relationship is a start on which to build a platform.
Is it enough for Cookson? Against him speak the facts that the incumbent has the natural edge. But he wouldn’t jump in if he didn’t think he had a good chance. Additionally, he is working with Vero as his strategists, and they’re not in the habit of losing. Finally, as we saw at the top of this article, McQuaid’s comments seem to indicate he’s panicking a bit. So this contest may be a lot closer than initially thought.