Cycling: Pat McQuaid’s position as head of the UCI increasingly under the microscope
BRIAN Cookson, the man who helped transform the fortunes of British Cycling, has emerged as a strong contender to become president of the International Cycling Union (UCI) should the Lance Armstrong doping scandal force the resignation of the current leadership.
Senior figures within the International Olympic Committee and cycling believe Cookson, 61, could be the man to restore the reputation of the sport which is at crisis point, with some IOC members even questioning whether it should remain in the Games.
The current UCI president is Pat McQuaid, a 63-year-old Dubliner who has been in power since 2006, but who is facing calls for his resignation after it was revealed the governing body had accepted a 100,000 US dollar donation from Armstrong in 2007.
Armstrong also referred to "shady" dealings with the UCI during his interview with Oprah Winfrey last week, and there has also been criticism that the governing body were aware of the doping problem in cycling but were reluctant to tackle it.
The UCI have appointed an independent commission to report on the body's handling of the Armstrong doping scandal, and if it is critical of McQuaid that could spell the end of the Irishman's tenure.
That would put Cookson firmly in the frame.
One senior IOC figure told the Press Association: "His name is already well-known within the IOC and he would be trusted by the Olympic Movement, given that some people are questioning cycling's future in the Olympics."
Cookson has transformed British Cycling from the verge of bankruptcy in 1997, when he and a group of others including former performance director Peter Keen took over, to a position now where it is the most successful national governing body in the world.
Not only do British cyclists dominate both on the track and on the road, but British Cycling's stance on doping has been put forward as an example of best practice among sports bodies.
Cookson can also point to his record in boosting participation among grassroots, and attracting major events - most recently the Tour de France announced the Grand Depart in 2014 to take place in Yorkshire.
Cookson is already a member of the UCI management committee, and has praised McQuaid's efforts in pursuing drugs cheats in recent years but has criticised the body for accepting money from Armstrong.
He told the Press Association last week: "I know Pat McQuaid very well and I think he has done a good job in the last few years in pursuing dope cheats, and cycling has a far better record now.
"I think mistakes were made during the Lance Armstrong era but it was a difficult time because EPO [the blood-boosting agent] was undetectable."
On the Armstrong donation, however, Cookson added: "The idea they accepted money from Lance for anti-doping education and equipment was certainly an error of judgement and I cannot imagine what they were thinking at the time."
The new pressure group Change Cycling Now is in no doubt that McQuaid has to go, especially after IOC member Dick Pound questioned its Olympic future.
The group's founder Jaimie Fuller, owner of the sportswear company Skins, said today: "Cycling runs the risk of being dumped from the Olympics with the UCI continuing to obfuscate.
"The sport has to be open and honest and not afraid of truth. That is, quite simply, the best way of ensuring it keeps IOC status.
"Any change that reflects a positive move towards restoring cycling's reputation would be welcomed."
Change Cycling Now have also called for former UCI president Hein Verbruggen to resign from the positions he still holds on the governing body.
Cookson today issued a personal message to British Cycling members insisting the sport can recover from the damage caused by Armstrong's admissions.
He said: "Cycling remains a great sport, in my view the greatest. Although the current troubles should not be underestimated, it will emerge stronger."
Cookson described Armstrong's admission as "partial and insincere", and said calls for the sport to be removed from the Olympics could "unfairly harm the careers of thousands of BMXers, mountain bikers, track and road cyclists around the world".
He added: "However, I have been reassured that such calls are unlikely to be heeded - cycling is of course not the only sport to have been disfigured by doping."
In relation to the UCI, Cookson said: "If there are flaws in the administration and procedures of cycling, or indeed of the anti-doping authorities, which enabled doping to flourish, these must be identified and corrected."