POSTED: March 10th 2015

NEIL WILSON: Cycling's spoke in football's election

Sepp Blatter is running for another term in May / FIFA
Sepp Blatter is running for another term in May / FIFA

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Sepp Blatter celebrated his 79th birthday this week so he was probably too busy opening his cards to read too deeply into the Cycling Independent Reform Commission's report.

He should at least find the time after blowing out all those candles to delve as far as page eight. Or at least those with a vote to cast in the forthcoming FIFA presidential election should.

The words are directed at Hein Verbruggen, the president of cycling's world governing body for 14 years and of its world professional cycling body for seven years before that. So top dog for 21 years, the number Blatter will serve if he is re-elected for another term in May.

Verbruggen, says the Commission report, presided in "an autocratic manner without appropriate checks and balances."

Internal management bodies appear to have been devoid of any real influence, it says. "If the president wanted to take a particular direction he would be able to do so almost unchallenged."

Recognize the scenario, Mr Blatter? CIRC certainly did.  It is "not uncommon in sporting governing bodies," it says.

Verbruggen had a "somewhat forceful manner with a lack of transparency and in breach of certain sporting requirements."

He was, one witness to the Commission said, "patron absolu" who controlled every aspect of the federation. He did not accept opposition.

Even when it came to his successor as president - an Irishman Pat McQuaid - Verbruggen made the choice, directing funds to national federations to facilitate the election.

And after McQuaid's election, Verbruggen retained an office at UCI headquarters, was physically present "a lot of the time" and even drafted McQuaid's reply to some emails. "He was a strong influence," it concludes.

CIRC was set up by McQuaid's successor as president, Brian Cookson, as an attempt at truth and reconciliation from cycling's Dark Ages of doping. It concludes with nothing more than anecdotal evidence that 90% of road cycling's pelaton are still doping and 95% refuse to allow their doping samples to be kept for research purposes.

So while its recommendations on doping will help the fight against cycling's cheaters, its prime lesson for the wider world of sport concerns governance. Too much power concentrated in the hands of a single individual is dangerous. Now where, I ask you, is that happening?

Blatter's three rivals for the FIFA presidency should have Page Eight and the others I have quoted from copied and distributed to its 209 member federation. It might just make them think longer before signing their voting forms than they did before dashing off those birthday cards.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · FIFA · UCI · Sepp Blatter · Hein Verbruggen

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