Dear Mr McQuaid,
I am writing to you today to express my concerns with the way the UCI is perceived within the broader community of cycling fans worldwide.
Firstly though, I would like to offer my sincere support to the UCI’s goals of growing the sport internationally and to providing long-term stability in the sport. I believe that these are worthy goals, and that while they may be difficult to achieve, they are shared between teams, owners/managers/sponsors, race organisers, and fans.
My question to you though is this; If these goals enjoy such widespread support, why is it that the broader cycling community seems to feel that the UCI is not providing adequate or (more importantly) relevant leadership in these areas? Just a brief review of these interested parties highlights a great many things to be concerned about:
- Riders often feel that their safety is often not treated with the paramount concern that it should be.
- Teams struggle to maintain financial stability and remain in the sport over the long-term.
- Sponsors are not readily attracted to the sport, and it appears that stability (along with doping scandals) are big issues in this regard.
- Race organisers struggle to keep their races alive.
- Fans struggle to see any practical action from the UCI on these issues and more.
I understand that these are complex issues and that there are a lot of competing viewpoints and interests involved. I’m not suggesting that any of the above are necessarily easy to fix. “Fixing” might not even be possible. Rather, an ongoing process of change may be the only realistic way forward for the sport. I’m also aware that the UCI is not a wealthy organisation, and that this places some constraints on what it is able to do.
All of that said, the UCI has a very serious public relations problem. It’s difficult to state how large this problem is and I urge you in the strongest possible terms to think carefully about the impact this is having on the sport of cycling as a whole.
I am not going to pretend that I could do the UCI’s job better. Instead I would like to provide you with some insight into the way that many fans view UCI and the sport of cycling.
- Cycling already IS a global sport. So while adding races in China and the Middle East is cool and we’ll watch them, we already watch from all over the world and get up or stay up across ridiculous time-zone differences to do so. Growing the audience of cycling is well worth doing, but we’d prefer to do it without losing teams and races that we already have.
- We care much more about women’s racing than we do the angle of saddles. Too often the UCI seems to focus its attention on minor details whilst ignoring issues that actually affect the ability of the sport to grow and survive.
- We actually care about women’s racing quite a bit and many of us would like to see a lot more advocacy from the UCI for broadcasting women’s races and laying out a roadmap to introducing a minimum wage for women into the sport. Achieving this will take time and nobody wants to hurt the sport or the teams in the process, but that doesn’t mean that real leadership and direction shouldn’t be provided now.
- The sport in general has a big problem with sustainability in terms of teams and races. We need to see proactive and collaborative efforts to ensure there is stability and growth in the sport across the board. The dependence of the sport on sponsorship and broadcast rights is a 20th Century way of viewing sports revenue. Collectively we need to move beyond this (note I am not suggesting we discard these) mindset and open up new revenue streams. The UCI may not be in a position to act on this directly, but it can certainly facilitate conversation and strategy, acting as a top-level advocate.
In addition to all of this, maybe the most important thing that I can tell you is that the internet and social media like Twitter have already changed the sport dramatically for everyone involved in it… except the UCI.
Here’s the really sad thing for the UCI – we’re talking about cycling every day. We’re coming up with interesting and great ideas on how to grow our sport and how to make it safer and better for all involved. Fans talk directly to riders and riders answer them, straight away. We talk to team managers and race organisers. All of us are in this together, except for the UCI. If you pay attention to nothing else I say, please remember this: This conversation is already happening and it is happening without you!
You need to change this as quickly as possible.
Cycling is OUR sport. We own it, not you, not the teams, not the race organisers. We, the fans, do. We fuel it, providing the eyeballs for sponsors, teams and riders, the dollars in revenue come from our pockets. Engage with us, we come from all parts of the globe and all walks of life. We’re the ones on the front lines of the sport, defending it against accusations of systemic doping and advocating for it to our friends, colleagues and families. We’re the ones who spend millions of dollars each year travelling to races and supporting the sport in any way that we can. For us, this isn’t a job – it’s a passion. It’s something that we believe in deeply and care very much about.
We’re worth listening to. We’d love to have the UCI in the conversation.
Let me leave you with a link to a clip from comedian Chris Rock about his problems with being a fan of rap music. His argument is eerily similar to what it’s like being a cycling fan today and trying to defend/promote our sport. This is what it’s like to be on the real front lines of cycling, and we’re still here. Still advocating, still defending, still riding and still loving cycling and investing in its future.
It’s fun, exciting and difficult out here on the frontline. You should join us out here, we’re in the break and we’re looking good for the win.