Australian cycling bosses believe Brian Cookson’s election as head of the sport’s world governing body can prompt a positive, global impact.
Cookson was elected president of the International Cycling Union (UCI) on Friday after beating embattled incumbent Pat McQuaid at the end of a protracted and chaotic election process.
It capped a long and frustrating day in Florence’s Palazio Vecchio, where McQuaid, in power since 2005, had initially failed to gain nomination, but forced his way through by relying on loopholes in the UCI constitution.
In the end Cookson called McQuaid’s bluff by calling for a quickfire vote and was rewarded by gaining 24 votes to McQuaid’s 18.
A year after cycling suffered a hammer blow due to Lance Armstrong’s spectacular fall from grace following a lifetime doping ban, the UCI still has damage to repair.
With plans to run the UCI differently, and hand anti-doping tasks to an independent body, Cookson is hopeful cycling can still reach its “enormous potential.”
“I have said throughout my campaign that we must embrace a new style of governance and a collegiate way of working, so that a new era of growth and commercial success for the UCI and our sport can begin,” the Englishman said.
“Ultimately that’s how we are going to grow our sport worldwide and get fans into cycling,” he added.
Leighton said Australia had been the first federation to publicly endorse Cookson because of the need for change.
While the Scots-born administrator does not expect a direct impact on the sport Down Under, he believes Cookson can be the “catalyst” that will pull the sport forward.
“We took the decision to come out and publicly support Brian Cookson’s candidacy four weeks ago, because we felt he represented the change that was required,” Leighton said on Friday.
“Rather than wait for a secret ballot, we started that trend,” he added.
It was a protracted and at times dramatic election at Florence’s Palazio Vecchio, where McQuaid fought tooth and nail to hang on to the job he took from predecessor Hein Verbruggen eight years ago.
Without endorsements from his home federation as well as Switzerland, where the UCI is based, McQuaid desperately tried to amend article 51.1 of the UCI constitution to allow him to be nominated by another federation.
However, when the vote was put to the 42 delegates, McQuaid missed out when a secret ballot returned a 21-21 draw.
Determined, the Irishman then presented two Swiss lawyers who said article 51.1 was open to interpretation, allowing him to be nominated by the Thai and Moroccan federations, and claiming the Swiss federation’s previous withdrawal of his nomination had no legal standing in the country.
Cookson ultimately called the Irishman’s bluff, a move he later admitted probably gave him the edge.
While Leighton played down the drama, he acknowledged McQuaid had been in a fight to the death.
“He was fighting for his skin, for his job. That’s what Irishmen do,” he said.
Turning to Cookson, the Australian added: “There was a vote and he won the vote. Now hopefully there will be some change for the better.”
“There’s a chance to create a better environment for cycling globally. It’s not about one person. It’s about an attitude. With any team, you have to have the will to develop and progress your objectives,” Leighton said.
“I don’t think it will have a massive effect on Australiana cycling ... but cycling is a global phenomenon and it requires constant development,” he added.
“Change is a positive thing, but hopefully it will create momentum for more change and that will feed upon itself,” he said.