All is not well in Iranian cycling. An ill-considered reshuffle within the nation’s cycling federation, invoked at the highest level by The Islamic Republic of Iran’s government, ultimately triggered a breach of the UCI’s Constitution and led to a suspension of the federation by cycling’s governing body. The casualty, as always, was cycling.
In May this year, Mohammad Abbasi, Iran’s Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, removed incumbent ICF president Ali Zangiabadi and installed a former provincial Head of Sports and Youth Affairs, Khosro Ghamari. Prima facie, it seemed Zangiabadi was the unfortunate victim of a political power play, and the year would roll on. Oddly though, the news didn’t warrant publicity by the Asian Cycling Confederation; nor did the UCI send a congratulatory message. Even more unexpected – at least by outsiders – was the cancellation of Iran’s UCI2.2-ranked ‘Tour de Persian Gulf’, scheduled to take place from 20-24 May.
It turns out the reason the UCI didn’t send a letter of warm welcome to Mr Ghamari was simple; his election was unconstitutional. In a meeting of UCI officials at Melbourne’s World Road Cycling Championships in September 2010, the UCI Constitution had been updated to include the following articles:
UCI Constitution, Chapter II, Article 6.4
The federations must manage their internal affairs with total independence and ensure that no third party interferes in their operations. They must remain autonomous and resist all political, religious and financial pressure which may infringe their commitment to abide by the Constitution of the UCI. Any external form of interference or attempt to interfere must be reported to the UCI. [Comment: This provision does not prevent, for instance, the government from controlling the appropriate use of allowances granted to a federation but under no circumstances should the government interfere with the strategy or the operations of the federation.]
UCI Constitution, Chapter II, Article 6.5
In particular, the federations shall not allow governments and other public authorities to appoint members of the governing bodies of a federation.
UCI Constitution, Chapter II, Article 6.7
Any federation’s decisions, elections and bodies that are not in compliance with paragraphs 4 and 5 shall not be recognized by the UCI. If the situation is not regularized within the time limit granted by the president of the UCI, the national federation may be suspended.
Which, in brief, is why Iran’s entry on the UCI’s national federations list is today accompanied by a neat little * and also explains why Ali Zangiabadi is still listed as ICF president.
However, in the period of time that passed between Ghamari’s installation and the UCI’s suspension of the ICF [Note: in mid-June], the new president made contact with former ICF Secretary General, Asghar Khaleghi, and offered him his old job back. As with Ghamari, Khaleghi’s appointment would later not be recognised by the UCI. Even so, the new Secretary General had a job to do. Three weeks after his appointment, he sent an email to a select group of UCI AsiaTour teams and National Federations:
Tehran, Aug 7th, 2012
We regret to inform you that despite all efforts of the Cycling Federation of Iran, Kerman Tour and Milad De Nour Tour are cancelled due to financial matters and internal issues.
We are deeply sorry for the inconvenience caused and hope you all understand that this has caused a big loss for us too. Hopefully we will meet you in Iran for the future races when we resolve all of the problems.
Once again, we apologize for the inconvenience and hope to see you in Iran in the future.
Cycling Federation of Iran
Though the email understandably didn’t go into detail about the “internal issues”, the externalities were exposed for all to see. Iran had lost 75% of its UCI AsiaTour racing days due to not keeping abreast of amendments to the UCI Constitution. [Note: mercifully, alongside its decision to suspend the ICF, the UCI stated Iranian cyclists Alireza Haghi, Mehdi Sohrabi and Amir Zargari would still be permitted to line up at the 2012 London Olympic road race.]
Remarkably, for a nation with one sanctioned race to its name in 2012, Iran still sits fourth in the UCI’s AsiaTour national rankings; though this is substantially bolstered by Tabriz Petrochemical Team’s Hossein Alizadeh, who leads the individual rankings. Even if Iran were to continue its historical dominance of the UCI AsiaTour rankings, sanctions on oil exports, devaluation of the Iranian Rial and high inflation may still undermine the efforts of Alizadeh and his peers, as sponsorship money threatens to dry up. The UCI Constitution may be the least of Iranian Cycling’s concerns.