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An interview with Sylvia Schenk, August 10, 2005

Strong-minded Sylvia Schenk continues quest for Law & Order - Part I

Sylvia Schenk

Photo ©: Stefan Schwenke
Click for larger image


Sylvia Schenk (*June 1, 1952) was an 800 m Track runner and achieved 9th at the Olympics in Munich 1972 as German champion. She then studied law, graduated in 1978 and was the first woman in a commission in the International Federation of University Sport (1979-1987). A member of the German Olympic Society for over 30 years, Schenk was also an Executive member of the German National Olympic Committee (NOC).

Professionally, she worked as a judge in a labour court for 10 years in Offenbach (1979-1989) and 12 years as a City Counsellor for Sports, Law, Housing and Women's Affairs in Frankfurt (1989-2001) - that's where she got involved in cycling.

Responsible for the Internationale Hessen-Rundfahrt event, she became Chairman of its organising association in 1997. She took care of that "very intensively", which is why former BDR president Manfred Böhmer became aware of her involvement.

Former German Cycling Federation (BDR) president and current member of the Union Cycliste International (UCI) Management Committee, Sylvia Schenk believes that the upcoming UCI election has been seriously compromised and filed a complaint with the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Ethics Commission in June 2005. Schenk complained about the UCI's financial support of Pat McQuaid, Road Commission President and UCI president-elect, and is about to file another complaint with the UCI Appeals Board before eventually taking the case all the way up to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), as she told Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner in an exclusive interview. (See also: Part II)

Schenk, a Frankfurt attorney, alleges that McQuaid's cost of living in Switzerland has been entirely paid for by the UCI since February 2005, and that it violates Article 52 of the UCI Constitution. "Pat McQuaid obviously lives in Switzerland at the expense of the UCI since February - and Verbruggen doesn't deny that," she said. "So one has to conclude that there is either a contract existing or if there isn't a contract, it represents a by-pass of the Constitution which stipulates that no member of the Management Committee may have a contract with the UCI at the same time."

Schenk also questions the UCI's - or more personally, its president Hein Verbruggen's - involvement and handling of the upcoming election for presidency. Verbruggen, who is already Chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission, is leaving the UCI for an as-yet unknown position with the IOC, after the vote for presidency at the UCI Congress is held during the World Road Championships in Madrid on September 23, 2005.

The 42 voting delegates will determine which candidate of the three - Irishman Pat McQuaid, Malay Darshan Singh or Spaniard Gregorio Moreno - will become Verbruggen's successor.

But Schenk claims that neither Singh or Moreno were given the contact details of the delegates for their electoral campaign, whereas McQuaid is being supported by the UCI and Verbruggen.

"It just cannot be that a Federation finances one of the candidates to the presidency, when there are in fact three candidates," Schenk told us. "That never happens anywhere. The other two candidates were not even given the addresses of the electoral delegates (for lobbying) whereas Verbruggen mailed all of them saying they should vote for McQuaid," she alleges.

Schenk is clearly not intimidated by the UCI, even after it issued an extraordinary press release in late July that was widely reported. The statement pointed to her "forced resignation" from the German Cycling Federation because of the "numerous controversies which have characterised her mandate", yet the UCI didn't offer any specific incidents to support its claims.

Unperturbed, Schenk is determined to shed some light on the UCI’s electoral processes and wasn't afraid to tell Cyclingnews about the numerous heated exchanges with Verbruggen during her time at the UCI.

CN: Mrs Schenk, how did your BDR presidency come about?

S.S.: The former BDR president (Manfred) Böhmer, whom I knew also from the NOC, asked me if I wanted to become his successor in spring 2000. I said yes immediately, and was co-opted by the UCI in their Management Committee in the same year. Verbruggen needed a woman in there as the IOC was putting pressure on him - and still is. Every Commission has to have at least one woman in it, and Verbruggen saw that as a good opportunity to co-opt me - Germany as a cycling nation and me as its federation's future president.

In 2001 I was elected president of the BDR. I stopped working for the municipality Frankfurt then (after 12 years of community politics it was enough). So the next three years saw me exclusively working for cycling, in an honorary capacity of course. I received a pension for my time as City Counsellor so I wasn't dependent on a job at the time. Since September 2004, I've started to work again as an attorney in Frankfurt.

CN: Why did you resign from the BDR presidency?

"Because [Verbruggen] didn't want to decide on it with a single vote against it, he didn't make the matter subject to a vote in the first place."

- Sylvia Schenk questions democratic processes within the UCI

S.S.: There were several reasons. The difficulties I'm experiencing with Verbruggen have lasted for two years now. My feeling of uneasiness in the cycling scene grew as it was a difficult situation for me. After the Olympics in Athens, it got made public that one German track rider who had participated in the Team Pursuit [Christian Lademann] had in fact had a suspicious doping test result in June. His values were just under the limit. Our team doctor then told the directeur sportif [Burckhardt Bremer] of our national team that there was a suspicion of EPO use. The rider was then controlled constantly before the Olympics but the two did not tell anyone. I only found out about this in September, when I asked about this particular rider's future prospects, and Bremer told me that we couldn't take him into our national team anymore because of these problems. I think I should have been informed right away to follow it up with WADA etc., but I wasn't, so that incident started my resignation.

CN: Why weren't you informed right away?

S.S.: They said it wasn't necessary. The blood values were just under the critical mark. But our team doctor had the medical record of the athletes over years so he can evaluate unusual results. And he did say that there was a suspicion of EPO use, so that should have rang the alarm bells. So I told them that they should have informed me, that the Federation's reaction should have been different because it resulted in the public impression that we wanted to hide the result. But I didn't get the support of the Regional Federations at the time, and without that... [In a Committee meeting, the representatives of the Regional Federations took Bremer's side, so Schenk decided to resign - ed.]

CN: Let's move on to the current affair - why did you file a complaint against UCI with the IOC?

Sylvia's no dummy
Photo ©: Stefan Schwenke
Click for larger image

S.S.: There are several complaints right now, not only from me, but also from the Asian candidate to the presidency [Darshan Singh]. He just filed his complaint because the Asian delegates have been replaced by others. As for my point of view, the first point is that we have three candidates, and the situation that one of these candidates lives in Switzerland at the expense of the UCI. He attends all sorts of meetings on behalf of the UCI, which have nothing to do with his function within the Management Committee. And that's not a way to proceed in an electoral campaign: it's unfair. In my opinion, it's against the Code of Ethics.

The second point is: This electoral candidate and Management Committee member, Pat McQuaid, obviously lives in Switzerland at the expense of the UCI since February - and Verbruggen doesn't deny that. So one has to conclude that there is either a contract existing - who would leave Ireland for Switzerland without having the security of a contract? An apartment has to be paid for on the long term too - or if there isn't a contract, it represents a by-pass of the Constitution that stipulates that no member of the Management Committee may have a contract with the UCI at the same time. That's why Pat McQuaid should have resigned his position within the Management Committee in February, as he's obviously getting paid.

CN: Verbruggen doesn't deny the payments?

S.S.: No, he doesn't, not as such. However, in his letters, he says that the payments made to McQuaid are merely expenses allowances and have no contractual foundation. But this is still questionable: it is hard to believe that McQuaid left his country for Switzerland without some sort of security of a contract, especially as his whole living must be paid for. If his payments are this high, which is undisputed, and you don't verbalise it in a contract, it represents a by-pass. As if saying: OK, you won't get a contract as the Constitution doesn't allow it but you'll get enough money to make a living - that's a breach of the Constitution, too!

Verbruggen says it's OK if it's an expense allowance - I don't think so - and he moreover claims that this had been subject of a vote, but he never said when that supposedly was, nor how it was voted, with what wording. His version always changes: he now said that 'it was accepted' and then he says it was decided in the Executive board, everybody knew about it and so on. But there was never any decision, there is no protocol where it would be written down. It's simply not true. We did talk about it, but it was clear - that was part of our conflict over the last two years - that I wouldn't consent with that sort of a decision. And because he didn't want to decide on it with a single vote against it, he didn't make the matter subject to a vote in the first place. The Management Committee wouldn't have annulled the Constitution for that vote.

Click here for Part II of our interview with Sylvia Schenk, where she goes into depth about the legal procedure, her battle with Hein Verbruggen, her opinion on the ProTour, and what she believes her chances are against the UCI.

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