Today, the UCI oversees all cycling disciplines, including road, track, mountain bike, BMX and cyclocross racing. It also manages more obscure cycling flavors like trials riding, artistic cycling and cycle ball. Further, the UCI governs masters racing, para-cycling for challenged athletes and has its hand in sportif rides with its Cycling for All program, meant to encourage recreational cycling. Finally, the UCI organizes all cycling events at the Olympics.
Compared to American professional sports, the breadth of the UCI’s responsibilities is unusual. After all, Major League Baseball does not also oversee Little League, collegiate baseball and the local after-work softball league. Yet at some level the UCI does govern races from the Tour de France all the way down to your local USA Cycling-sanctioned weekend industrial park crit. McQuaid says the umbrella is not too broad.
McQuaid sees two structural models for the organization of sports, a European model and an American model. “The European model would more or less be the worldwide model with the exception of North America. North America has its own model for sport, and that is the private leagues.” With the European, pyramid model the UCI follows, a structure is put in place that helps athletes transfer from the novice level in any of its multiple sporting disciplines then progress upward until they might reach the pinnacle of their sport as a professional rider. In a sense, the structure attempts to connect the 17-year veteran pro with the eight-year-old tyro on a BMX track.
“If you actually study the two models,” McQuaid claims, what you find in America is that “below the private leagues in their respective sports there is absolutely nothing, no structure, no nothing; it’s the private leagues up there on their own and that’s that. And then you see the problems that that brings about with lockouts and walkouts and all this type of thing that’s been going on in recent years.”
In comparison to America’s privately held pro sports leagues, which largely depend on athletes’ individual volition and college programs to feed them talent, McQuaid argues that the UCI structure “is the more common, worldwide model of sport.” He explains the UCI’s pyramid arrangement where professionals are at the top and are “connected all the way down to the base.” This system, which, at least in theory, builds upon a wide base of grassroots national cycling organizations with their own amateur and professional events and training programs, McQuaid feels is “a much better model.”
This is a clash of sporting structural models. One, very American, is designed with the interest of a tranche of owners and very elite players first—and meant to deliver a more compelling experience to fans than what people get from today’s sprawling, murky cycling calendar. The other, European, is at least theoretically organized around a perhaps more nurturing vision of global outreach to cyclists of every stripe.
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