Why McQuaid had to go
It might have been tempting from an Irish perspective to don a green jersey in support of Pat McQuaid in his bid for a third term as president of cycling’s governing body, the UCI. It is the top post in a sport that has given Ireland much to cheer, from the heydays of Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche to the current success of Roche’s son Nicholas and nephew Dan Martin. A constant presence through the years has been former Irish road champion McQuaid who went on to find his real metier as a race promoter and then an administrator.
With power, prestige and rewards in abundance, the politics of sport is a notoriously treacherous business, even when times are good. But times have been bad for cycling and the sport is now indelibly linked in the public mind with cheating. Depending on your perspective, McQuaid was either part of the solution or part of the problem. In reality, however, the credibility of the UCI’s leadership – as personified by former president Hein Verbruggen and McQuaid as his chosen successor – was fatally undermined when the US Anti Doping Agency (USADA) exposed Lance Armstrong last year as probably the most notorious cheat in the history of all sport. USADA highlighted the UCI’s cosy relationship with the Texan and accused it of disinterest in its response to whistle-blowers. McQuaid’s formal response was at best disingenuous. And an independent review set up by him descended into farce.
McQuaid’s greatest shortcoming has been his failure – or inability – to confront the past. He wanted to move on. But his attempt to let bygones be bygones was shown to be a hopelessly inadequate response once the scale of the Armstrong affair emerged. Typical of the man, he continued to fight and the battle with British Cycling’s Brian Cookson for the UCI top job has been bitter and nasty. In rejecting McQuaid yesterday in a highly politicised voting process that reflected so much of what is wrong with the UCI, the organisation made the right call. Though as it begins the task of rebuilding, it has a mountain to climb.