UCI denies Japanese payments were payback for Olympics favors

[from The Japan Times, 29.07.2008]
more on BBC news

AIGLE, Switzerland — Cycling’s world governing body on Monday denied claims it was involved in an Olympics corruption scandal.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) said money received from Japanese cycling organizations in the 1990s was not payback for promoting the keirin track discipline as an Olympic event.

An investigation by the British Broadcasting Corp alleged that $3 million was paid to the UCI, including to cover marketing costs and some travel expenses of then-president and International Olympic Committee member Hein Verbruggen.

“A thorough examination of our records and interviews with those involved has turned up no evidence that this was anything other than a straightforward, completely proper arrangement to promote track cycling,” the UCI said in a statement. “The agreement did not include any provision regarding keirin’s acceptance as an Olympic sport or even a commitment by UCI to seek its inclusion in the Olympic program.

“As UCI exists to promote cycling, it is perfectly logical that UCI would cooperate with Japanese national cycling groups to encourage international interest in track cycling.”

The keirin discipline involves riders being paced around the track by a motorcycle before sprinting to the finish. It is popular in Japan as a betting event.

Keirin was included on the UCI world championships program in the 1980s after strong lobbying from Japan but was expected to be dropped in 1992.

However, it was granted Olympic status in 1996 following a promotion campaign led by the UCI, and debuted as a medal sport at the 2000 Sydney Games.

The BBC produced documents it said showed that Japanese cycling interests began paying some UCI expenses in 1997.

It reported that Verbruggen said the payments were received in “total transparency.”

The 67-year-old Dutchman was a member of the IOC from 1996-2005 in his role as head of an international federation.

Verbruggen was re-elected to the IOC after stepping down as UCI president and is chairman of the coordination commission for the Beijing Games. He retains an active role with cycling’s governing body as a vice president and member of its management committee.

The UCI said Monday there was nothing incorrect in the payments.

“The agreement produced clear benefits for all track cycling disciplines as evidenced by the superb progression of track cycling over the past 10 years. In addition, all expenses related to the agreement were reviewed by an independent auditor and deemed proper.”

The governing body said that Japanese money helped fund the hiring of a full-time cycling coordinator and contributed to building a world cycling center at UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, which includes an indoor velodrome.

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