Over the past twelve months two cases of harassment in women’s cycling have been brought to light — the first resulting in what many would consider an unsatisfactory outcome, the other as yet unresolved. Both cases concerned the managers of Continental women’s teams and were dealt with by the UCI Ethics Commission.
The first concerned complaints of harassment by Patrick van Gansen, the erstwhile manager of the Health Mate Cycle Live team. After multiple complaints were made by former riders about van Gansen’s conduct the UCI Ethics Commission found him guilty of violating the Code of Ethics. However, per UCI regulations at the time, it was the Disciplinary Commission who gave the former manager a paltry — and retroactive — 21-month suspension and an order to undertake “a course addressing the matter of workplace sexual harassment to be provided by a recognized professional institute” should he wish to obtain a license after that period.
Van Gansen is suspended from the sport until December 2022 but looks unlikely to make a return having said “I have chosen myself not to go anymore in women cycling because women cycling doesn't deserve me,” — which will come as a relief to his victims.
The second case involves Marc Bracke, current manager of team Doltcini Van Eyck who in early October 2020 was found guilty of violating the UCI Code of Ethics for harassment of two female riders. At the time of writing the UCI Disciplinary Commission has yet to make a decision on what Bracke’s sanction should be and he continues to work in the sport.
Photo credit: Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com
Following the slow and confusing handling of these cases, the women’s cycling union The Cyclists’ Alliance (TCA) put forward a series of recommendations to the UCI in February. The union had worked with riders on these and other similar cases and saw room for improvement. “As a result of our experience with the process and with riders, we identified some major flaws in the Ethics code and the procedure that comes with it,” a statement on TCA website said. TCA also shared these recommendations with the UCI-recognised union, the CPA.
Within the context of these two cases and the lobbying from TCA, the latest update from the UCI’s Management Committee issued last Friday (3rd June) provided a welcome review of both the complaints procedure and the powers of the Ethics Commission.
In a press release heralding new “preventive measures to fight against abuse in cycling” the governing body detailed plans to empower the Ethics Commission with the capability to decide sanctions “to reduce the length and complexity of proceedings opened for violations of its Code of Ethics.” These include “measures that are preventive, educative or punitive, depending on the nature of the case.” Crucially, this includes provisional sanctions.
There has been no indication from the UCI as to whether the Ethics Commission’s new sanctioning powers apply to the ongoing Bracke case.
In addition to these powers the Commission will be required to inform those who lodge complaints on the progress of the proceedings where, up to this point, victims were left in the dark while the accused was kept informed. Thankfully, after some signposting from TCA, the UCI have now identified the injustice in this policy and given the Ethics Commission an “obligation to provide information,” that includes “information concerning the decision and its considerations, insofar as the complainants are directly concerned by the relevant facts.”
As well as dealing with cases of abuse, the UCI committed to working on preventing them from taking place indicating that “several actions will be rolled out very soon”. These actions include a new website to be launched in September which will feature “pages dedicated to the protection of athletes and everyone working in cycling,” and “general awareness information” including videos. Crucially, the website will feature an anonymous reporting system for inappropriate conduct.
Photo credit: Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com
The September rollout will also incorporate the appointment of a new ‘Integrity and Education Manager’ who will be in charge of “establishing education and awareness courses for all cycling’s families, and managing the reporting system for harassment and abuse.”
Although the UCI’s press release did not recognise the role of TCA there is a clear link between their petitioning and the new changes. Yet another example of the importance of independent bodies working in the interests of riders and their safety.
In a statement on their website responding to the UCI’s new plans TCA said: “We are appreciative that the UCI responded to this request and the TCA, together with the UCI and CPA, had two dialogue sessions in which we collectively discussed the current Ethics code and recommendations to change this procedure and process.”
“Not all, but many of the TCA recommendations have been incorporated, or mitigated by the proposed changes and the TCA is of the view that a more equitable process will follow as a result.”
The union followed up this optimistic stance by adding: “We will continue to hold the UCI and all stakeholders accountable for their responsibilities until the culture in our sport has changed for the better, and to ensure that rider safety is paramount.”
The hope for all is that these changes go some way towards making the sport safer. Time will tell whether the new measures are effective in catching those guilty of harassment, while also supporting victims, and keeping perpetrators out of the sport, but it’s a start.