Sunday 17 December 2017

Irish chief of governing body is no stranger to controversy

ddddd dddGerard Cromwell

The head of cycling's world governing body, the UCI, Pat McQuaid was born in Dublin in 1949 to a Catholic father and a Protestant mother, their differing religions having forced the northerners across the border after they married.

He was the first of 10 children, seven of whom were boys, and would follow their father Jim into the sport of cycling, having watched him become a prolific winner on the Irish domestic circuit.

Having raced at junior level, Pat opted for a career in teaching and in the late 1960s went to Strawberry Hill College in London to become a PE and maths teacher while continuing to race and train.

While his younger brother Keiron was selected for the 1972 Olympics in Munich, the eldest McQuaid was overlooked and immediately set his sights on a place on the Irish team for Montreal 1976.

He staked his claim with victory in the amateur Tour of Ireland in 1975. But McQuaid had a problem. There was a six-month break until the start of the 1976 season in Ireland, so in an effort to get a head start on Olympic year he would help Scottish rider John Curran muster up a few Irish riders to make up a team to ride the Rapport Tour in South Africa.

The apartheid regime meant that cycling in South Africa was no longer recognised by the UCI or the International Olympic Committee, but it didn't stop the race from attracting riders from all over the globe.

Riding under false names, alongside his brother Keiron, Kelly and two Scots, and under the banner of Great Britain, McQuaid may never have been caught if it hadn't been for Elizabeth Taylor and her second honeymoon with Richard Burton.

An English journalist following Taylor thought it would be a good idea to have her photographed with the team but became suspicious when the 'Great Britain' riders appeared for photos looking overweight and speaking with strong South African accents.

The journalist hung around the next day, took photos of the real team and sent them back to England, where they were identified.

The Irish trio were hit with a six-month suspension and a lifetime Olympic ban.

After his ban, McQuaid raced professionally in the UK in 1978 and 1979 before managing the Irish national team from 1983 to 1986.

He was Olympic team manager in Los Angeles 1984 and at the world championships in 1985 when Paul Kimmage took Ireland's best ever placing of sixth in the amateur race.

In recent years, McQuaid and the UCI have successfully brought defamation lawsuits against various people who accused them of covering up doping in the sport and corruption within the organisation.

On December 12, McQuaid and former president Hein Verbruggen's current defamation case against Irish journalist and McQuaid's former national team rider Paul Kimmage will be heard in a Swiss court.

Now 63, McQuaid lives in Aigle, Switzerland, home of the UCI headquarters.

Irish Independent

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