UCI’s Lappartient: Organisers can increase cycling’s value by packaging rights
By Callum Murray in Lausanne
The UCI is in talks with race organisers to encourage them to group the media rights for their events together into packages, in a bid to raise the commercial value of the sport, according to David Lappartient, the recently-elected president of cycling's world governing body.
Meanwhile, once every four years, Lappartient hopes to aggregate the UCI’s own annual world championships in cycling’s top disciplines into a ‘World Cycling Games’, to take place in a single location, in a concept borrowed from the inaugural multi-sport European Championships which is due to take place this summer in Glasgow and Berlin.
At present, the world championships for cycling's many disciplines take place separately, in different locations, each year.
In an interview with Sportcal today at the UCI’s headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, Lappartient said: “Professional cycling is a big sport for the number of people engaged in it, but the economy of cycling is poor: a global budget of around €600 million ($743 million). That’s just two and half times the price of Neymar [Paris St Germain’s Brazilian soccer superstar], so not huge. We need to strengthen the long-term vision for how to bring stability to the sport. We need a strong economy within cycling and we’re now discussing with key stakeholders to know their vision.”
At present, race organisers such as ASO, which owns the Tour de France and a range of other top cycling races, work in isolation, both from one another and from the UCI.
Lappartient said: “Each organiser is working a little bit alone. For the teams, stability is an issue. I have in mind to strengthen links with the organisers to promote a global vision: why not by pooling some rights, including TV rights? They’re not our rights, but for cycling it could be good. If there are more revenues in cycling globally, it’s good for the organisers and the teams. It’s not something we have to sell as a package. It will be easier to do first with one-day races, that could be the first step.”
The governing body is also in talks with stakeholders about taking a lead in developing and exploiting digital opportunities for the sport. Lappartient said that the UCI wants to “build a strong digital platform for our sport. Teams and organisers are trying to do it by themselves, but it’s not well-organised and fans don’t want as many platforms as there are races. This is something the UCI must deliver.”
Asked how the UCI will be able to generate significant digital revenues, an area in which some other sports have struggled, Lappartient said: “What is true is that to monetise a digital platform is not so easy. It’s easy to engage, but to transform that into money is not so easy. But to follow the races, teams and riders, a first version could be available for everyone, and then there could be a premium version with data. This is, I think, a way to have more revenues for cycling.”
Ownership of digital and data rights remains a vexed issue, with organisers, teams and riders all laying claim to them, but, in a significant development, Lappartient said that the various interest groups have “agreed in principle to centralise” the rights through the UCI.
He added: “Regarding digital rights, it’s true that one part belongs to the riders and others to the teams and organisers. But the UCI is probably the only one to have an agreement with all of them
“I think they need leadership from the UCI. One part of the revenues must go to the UCI, but most will go to the rest of cycling. The percentage is under discussion, but perhaps 10 per cent for the UCI. I think we will be able to find agreements in 2018, not only for this, but also for the [overall] reform. The digital platform is part of a global project to be introduced in 2019 or 2020.”
The UCI has struggled to find a host for its flagship Road World Championships in 2020 (Innsbruck in Austria will host this year’s edition, with Yorkshire in England to stage the 2019 edition, and various bidders are interested in 2021 and 2022, including Flanders in Belgium, Australia and various Swiss cities).
However, for 2020, Lappartient said that the UCI is now in exclusive negotiations with a location in Europe (he would not be more specific), adding: We’re very close to agreement. I hope we’ll be able to award it in the next committee meeting in June.”
Potential bidders to host Road World Championships might have been deterred by the experience of Bergen in Norway, which was the host last year, and which made a financial loss on the event.
Lappartient said: “We don’t want to put organisers in trouble. They are still determining the level of deficit, but it’s probably around €3 million. In future we can help a little bit, but it’s up to them [local organisers] to build their own budget. Rebuilding roads wasn’t in the [Bergen] budget and was not discussed between organisers and the region. The same with the police. They must discuss all those points in advance.”
Despite the difficulties, Lappartient said: “We want to work on an opportunity for the world championships of every discipline to come together in the same location every four years. The first occasion could be 2023, a sort of ‘World Cycling Games’ every four years. We will aggregate all the disciplines together. For the media and fans this could be something wonderful, and national federations will be happy to have all their athletes together.”
A blueprint for such an event has been created by this summer’s European Championships (Lappartient was president of the European Cycling Union and worked on cycling’s participation in the championships before his election as UCI president). The championships involve aggregating an existing European athletics competition in Berlin and the remaining six competitions – aquatics, cycling, gymnastics, rowing, triathlon and a new golf team championships – in Glasgow, all under a common brand.
Lappartient said of his ‘World Cycling Games’ concept: “It will not be easy to find hosts for sure, but when I prepared the programme I had in mind what we will do this year in Glasgow. It’s the first time all the Olympic disciplines for the European Championships will be together at the same time. This will be a great event, and I can see that the national federations are fully behind this. We can use this as an example: take lessons and see if we can implement it.”
The Sky issue Lappartient was speaking as a storm continues to rage over a UK parliamentary sub committee report into doping in British sport, especially cycling, which found that team Sky and Bradley Wiggins, its star rider ahead of the 2012 Tour de France, which he won, “crossed an ethical line” by using banned drugs allowed under anti-doping rules to enhance performance instead of for medical reasons, under the so-called ‘therapeutic use exemption’ system.
Asked what can be done to prevent such abuse of TUEs, Lappartient replied: “First of all, I have to say we have new rules from Wiggins’ time. Then they were more flexible. It was one person; now three independent experts must all agree [to prescribe a TUE].”
The report, ‘Combatting Doping in Sport’, claimed that Team Sky used the anti-inflammatory drug triamcinolone to prepare Wiggins for the race, saying: “From the evidence that has been received by the committee, we believe that this powerful corticosteroid [triamcinolone] was being used to prepare Bradley Wiggins, and possibly other riders supporting him, for the Tour de France.
"The purpose of this was not to treat medical need, but to improve his power-to-weight ratio ahead of the race. The application for the TUE for the triamcinolone for Bradley Wiggins, ahead of the 2012 Tour de France, also meant that he benefited from the performance-enhancing properties of this drug during the race.
“This does not constitute a violation of the World Anti-Doping Agency code, but it does cross the ethical line that [team principal] David Brailsford says he himself drew for Team Sky. In this case, and contrary to the testimony of David Brailsford in front of the committee, we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the Wada rules, to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need.”
Wiggins claimed to have obtained the TUE legitimately to treat asthma, but Lappartient said: “I want to have corticosteroids and tramadol [an opioid pain medication that is also suspected of being abused by athletes] on the list of forbidden substances. That will result in fewer TUEs.
"Fans say, ‘How can they [riders] have asthma when they’re riding at the top level?’ But it’s linked to the top level. If you ride seven hours a day you will develop asthma. Of course, they can have a TUE, but you have to have limits, so they have to follow the rules. If they follow the rules, it’s not doping.”
Wiggins, Team Sky and some observers have questioned the quasi-legal status of a parliamentary committee sitting in judgement over such an issue, but Lappartient said: “We welcome the report from MPs and Damian Collins [the committee’s chair]. In a normal democracy, MPs must have the power to look after different items. It brings to our face what was probably some bad behaviour in the past, even if it was not a violation of anti-doping rules. We need to take lessons to improve.”
Team Sky has also come under fire, from Lappartient among others, for not suspending another of its Tour de France champions, Chris Froome, while doping allegations against him are investigated. Lappartient said in January: “Sky should suspend Froome. It’s what I hope for and it would be logical. It would be wise for him not to race. It’s up to Dave Brailsford to take responsibility.”
Froome failed a doping test on the way to winning last year’s Vuelta a Espana, but has said that the UCI was “absolutely right” to request information about his use of asthma medication at the race.
The rider is reported to have had double the allowed level of the asthma drug Salbutamol in his system, but claimed that he was within the limit. The use of Salbutamol is permitted, but within certain doses, without a TUE.
Asked if Brailsford should resign, after such a succession of scandals, especially in view of the team’s publicly-professed anti-doping stance, Lappartient said: “It’s up to him to decide about this. My philosophy is you can’t be chief and not be responsible. The chief has to assume responsibility. But it’s up to the sponsors and Brailsford.”
Cycling is the third-largest sport in the Olympic Games in terms of the number of athletes involved and medals awarded, yet it has had no direct representation at the International Olympic Committee since Lappartient’s predecessor but one, Ireland’s Pat McQuaid, was defeated in an election by Great Britain’s Brian Cookson, who in turn was succeeded by Lappartient after just one term.
Asked if he has ambitions to see cycling represented in the IOC through his own membership of the organisation, Lappartient said: “It’s important to be part of the IOC family, when your sport is number three. It’s an issue for the UCI but we have to concentrate first on what we will deliver and if the IOC think it’s important for us to be a part of the organisation, we’ll be happy to consider it.”