Opinion: The UCI is failing on climate change that's why vague promises are all it can offer

A promising start from the world governing body, although pledges still feel a little weak

Tour de france caravan
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Just like Sepp Blatter’s admission that awarding the FIFA World Cup to Qatar was a mistake, the climate action charter that emerged from the UCI last week is a much welcome step, but also rather long-overdue. 

Blatter has had more than 10 years to admit that his and his cronies decision to permit Qatar to host the tournament was absurd, just like the UCI has had ample time to start to take on board professional cycling's shocking impact on the environment, and what it's going to do about it. 

With all that time that it has had, you would hope that the charter could go further than its eight vague and obscure aims, but apparently not. Clearly banning a journalist from the recent world championships in Wollongong is a far more pressing issue. 

We've all known for some time that the sport of cycling, particularly the grand tours, are riddled with huge, complex and costly issues when it comes to impact on the environment. Diesel guzzling publicity caravans, air-miles accruing foreign starts, lengthy stage transfers and TV helicopters careering around the sky are all problems that need addressing.

The most egregious example is the foreign starts in Denmark, Hungary and the Netherlands in recent years. I mean really? All for the sake of a quick cash injection. Surely the wider long-term benefits to the environment of keeping race starts in the host country outweigh the quick handful of euros that a foreign grand depart provides. 

The UCI has told all three grand tours that only one of them will be permitted a foreign start each year starting in 2023. Mention of a ruling of that significance is something, which should have been essential to the charter but was seemingly neglected.

Point number six in the charter is a pledge to “reduce waste and accelerate the transition to a circular economy.” In that case, state on record that you intend to have a conversation with ASO about the long term sustainability of the Tour de France caravan. Great for young fans and entertainment, yes, but also full of rubbish that litters roadsides around France and ends up in landfills worldwide. 

There surely must be a more sustainable way of doing things instead of lobbing a few plastic keyrings, polka dot caps and pens at people each July? There's still some of those Mark Cavendish NFTs kicking about (not without some environmental concerns I know), maybe they could give those away.

Another point on the charter reads “we will prioritise low-carbon transport”. In that case, perhaps the entire fleet of vehicles associated with the Giro d’Italia will be making the absurd 700 kilometre plus transfer from Monte Lussari to Rome for the last stage of the 2023 edition by e-bikes and electric cars. 

Somehow I don’t think so. 

RCS are one of a stack of high-profile entities to have signed up to the charter yet they still manage to factor in that transfer to next year’s edition. Baffling. 

As Cycling Weekly pointed out in our eight achievable proposals to tackle the sport's appalling impact on the environment, ridiculously excessive transfers between stages need to go, and now. Yet the UCI have failed to lay that out in its charter. 

The Giro isn’t the sole race guilty of this, the Tour and Vuelta have all had plenty of equally ridiculous transfers in their history. However, the 2023 Tour route features some of its shortest transfers in recent history, welcome progress that should be wholeheartedly applauded. 

When RCS signed the charter, perhaps the UCI could have suggested that they adjust the route if they wanted to align with their wider aims. 

Essentially though, the biggest issue with the charter is the vagueness, ambiguity and timeframe set out by the UCI. 

One line in the press release that came with the charter read: “The UCI Climate Action Charter is an important stepping-stone before sustainability obligations are formalised over the coming years.” 

Coming years? It shouldn’t take years to visualise and nail down something that is glaringly clear now. Not in 2023, not in 2024, not in 2030, now. 

Just like Blatter’s admission on Qatar, it’s simply not acceptable that a global sports governing body can wait years to fess up to an issue that’s been staring them in the face for far too long. 

It’s certainly refreshing to see the 80 signatories within cycling that have signed up to the pledges, but if I was within one of the organisations that have committed to the charter, I would be asking what exactly it is that I’ve signed up to committing to. 

Come on UCI, you can do better.

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