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News feature , September 28, 2007
UCI guarantees Bettini a start
McQuaid questions Stuttgart mayor of sport's motives
By Shane Stokes in Stuttgart
The UCI have hit back with a strongly worded response to the announcement on Thursday morning by Stuttgart Mayor of Sport Susanne Eisenmann that a court injunction has been taken out by the race organisers to try to block the participation of Paolo Bettini and Danilo di Luca in the Elite road race on Sunday.
On Thursday evening President Pat McQuaid read a statement to the assembled media which seems certain to further increase the tension between Eisenmann and the UCI.
After explaining the reasons why the UCI did not have the power to exclude riders for non-signature of the Riders's Commitment for a New Cycling, he went on to question Eisenmann's motives for her statement this morning and the court case started today.
"The UCI would very much like to denounce the actions of Doctor Eisenmann in this situation, because it seems to us that she is following a strategy which is political and commercial," he said. After explaining the reasons why the UCI did not have the power to exclude riders for non-signature of the Riders's Commitment for a New Cycling, he went on to question Eisenmann's motives for her statement this morning and the court case started today.
"The UCI would very much like to denounce the actions of Doctor Eisenmann in this situation, because it seems to us that she is following a strategy which is political and commercial," he said.
"From the political point of view, she has her own political ambitions and she is following a certain strategy in using these events for that purpose. From a commercial point of view, it is important that you know that the organisation here has still not paid a substantial sum of money to the UCI in relation to the contract for this event. It would seem to the UCI that she is trying to use certain actions here to attempt to find a way out of that commitment."
"It would seem also to us that Ms. Eisenmann is very much using the problems of doping - which is a very, very complex problem in the sport - to advance her own personal political strategy. From the point of the view of the UCI, an attitude such as this is very dangerous and I think that everybody should bear that in mind."
McQuaid admitted that the pre-race contract with the organisers stated that one of the steering group's tasks would be to oversee the collection of signed charters by the riders involved. However he said that at no time did the UCI guarantee that non-signature by one or more riders would see them excluded, stressing that the governing body is not able to take such actions under the current rules.
"She hasn't spoken he truth today when she spoke about the signatures of the riders in the pledge of the Riders Commitment to a New Cycling, that that constituted a regulation and that the signature or non-signature meant the a rider would ride or would not ride the world championships," he stated.
"This document offered to the cyclists an opportunity to give their personal engagement against doping. Whether they signed it or not did not at the end of the day matter [as regards their participation]. But from the point of view of the UCI, we are obviously very concerned that some riders have not signed it."
McQuaid himself was one of those who was critical of the defending champion earlier this week, on the grounds that the Italian had not signed the Riders's Commitment for a New Cycling. Bettini sent his own version of the agreement to the UCI in July, stating that he was not involved in Operación Puerto and offered to provide his DNA if so required. However he objected to the provision that a positive test by riders would lead to a fine representing a year's salary, and so did not sign the official document. McQuaid said this week that the UCI would not allow riders to pick and choose parts of the charter to sign.
However McQuaid said on Thursday evening that the UCI did not have the power to exclude riders for this, and as a result, the Italian would be present at the start of the race. "Concerning the participation of Paolo Bettini in the world championship road race on Sunday, the UCI would like to formally guarantee here that he will take the start. Nothing will go against that, but at the same time we regret that he has not signed the pledge. But he can still take the start."
Bettini, Belgians and Bugno
He also slammed the events of recent days, where the organisers have put pressure on to try to exclude Paolo Bettini from the race, along with former champions Eddy Merckx, Rudy Altig and Gianni Bugno.
"I think this is completely unacceptable from the UCI's point of view. These champions have done great work and added great honour to the history and tradition of cycling and as I said yesterday, I think that such an action is against the spirit of fair play, the spirit of the sport and is working against the possible success of this world championships.
"I made the point yesterday about the thousands of Belgians who will not travel here this weekend because they feel that their great champion has been insulted. I think it is complete wrong and counter productive. I can tell you that from the point of view of the UCI, these champions are very much welcome here."
Eisenmann's response was not known at the time of writing, but the day's events will certainly not have improved relations between the UCI and the minister. McQuaid said that he had heard reports that Bettini was required to present himself at one of Stuttgart's police stations today for interview, and said that he is unimpressed that the defending world champion should be in that situation in the run up to his title defence.
Bettini's spokesman issued a statement denying that the World Champion had been questioned by police, stating, "We'd like to make it quite clear that the athlete in question returned immediately to his hotel and remained there at the end of his training session without undergoing any type of interrogation/questioning whatsoever."
While some will agree that these championships have taken a very unusual path, the German media is likely to react strongly to suggestions that there could be repercussions for Stuttgart if all these measures continue.
"From the point of view of sport, this sort of behaviour from a city which is supposed to be a sporting city does not do it any good either. The UCI will certainly be in a position to communicate to many of my colleagues in the international sporting arena of the problems we faced here in Stuttgart," McQuaid continued, "and that can have a very damaging effect on this city.
"I regret very much the fact that while the local organisers have put in a huge amount of work from the structural and organisational point of view to guarantee the success of these championships, that has been undermined by the actions of these politicians.
"I also regret very much that having put in place a very strong anti-doping programme for this event, that is likewise being undermined by the actions of the politicians."
McQuaid concluded by stating that he hoped the final three days of the world championship would be run off on a sporting basis, with politics moving aside to let that happen.
Cyclingnews will continue to monitor this story as it unfolds.
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Images by AFP Photo
Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net