FIFA.com chats with Union Cycliste International (UCI) President Brian Cookson about the similarities between cycling and football, his tip for Brazil 2014 and the benefits of sport on two wheels.
FIFA.com: What commonalities do you see between football and cycling?
Brian Cookson: I think both football and cycling are both very popular sports worldwide. They're quite easy to get into seriously and on an amateur basis. There's lots of commonality between us.
Do you follow football?
I do. I don't have a lot of time to follow football, but I'm a big fan of the (English) Premier League, obviously. My hometown is Preston, in the north of England, so Preston North End which is a very historic club that's been there for many, many years, would be my first team.
Will you be following the FIFA World Cup™?
Of course, of course! I'm always interested in the World Cup and being an Englishman I hope England do very well. But it's wonderful to see the nations from around the world, particularly the smaller, developing nations. I love to see them play.
How did your passion for cycling start?
I've been cycling all of my life. My very first memories are of riding my tricycle around the garden at home. Cycling is a sport that I got into in my teenage years. I joined a local club and had a small amount of success. I was never good enough to be a professional or anything like that, but I really enjoyed it. As I became older and had a profession and a family, I began to realise I didn't really have the time to keep training as much as you need to do to compete. I then began to move more into the organising and administering of the sport. This is something I worked hard at behind the scenes and ultimately became president of the British Cycling Federation for 16 years. I put a lot of time and effort in there and worked with a lot of great people and we managed to make the sport quite a big and successful sport in Great Britain.
Did you have a cycling role model when you were growing up?
I had a lot of idols. Some of the great riders from that era. One of my idols was Tom Simpson who sadly died as a result of the exhaustion and doping in the Tour de France. This was something that informed my view of the sport. But over those years I also used to follow the greats like Eddie Merckx. He was the king, of course. I also followed some of the other great Italian, French, and Belgian riders. It's a wonderful sport and it's great to follow.
What are some of your goals with the sport?
One of the things I feel we really need to do with our sport is to restore the reputational damage that's been done by the controversies of recent years. Obviously most noticeably around doping. We're trying to work very hard, carrying on the work that my predecessors have done in that. But I think we're trying to expand and improve the anti-doping processes. We're looking at proper independent investigation into the allegations of the past and we're looking at trying to learn the lessons from that past, so we don't fall into the same traps again as a sport.
As you mentioned, obviously doping is a topic in your sport. FIFA is following the steps in the sense that a biological passport is used in football, which has also been the case in cycling. Do you think this is the way forward to fight against doping?
Absolutely. Cycling is a sport that's been blighted and had many problems as a result of doping. But I don't believe cycling is the only sport. If there are sports out there that think they don't have a doping problem, then they are deluding themselves. Frankly, there will always be people who try and find ways of cheating. We have to keep fighting against that. We are doing a lot in our sport. I think other sports are doing quite a bit as well. I'm sure football is trying very hard as well, from what I hear. I want to extend that and work with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), work with our partners to make sure that we learn any lessons from other sports and other sports can learn lessons from us as well.
Are you satisfied with what you have achieved so far in your six months of presidency?
Governance of sport, administration, leading sport is not a 24-hour thing, there's no magic switch you can flick and everything will be okay from then on. But I'm pleased with the progress that we've made. I think we have a good setup at the UCI now, we have some good vice presidents, good management, good committee. We have excellent members of staff working really hard behind the scenes. I think most of the things that we've done in the first six months of my presidency have been very well received. And I think we are rebuilding the image of our sport. We've got a beautiful sport and pastime that is very, very popular despite all of the problems that we've had, and it's a great sport that anyone can take part in. You don't have to have carbon fiber. You don't have to have Lycra clothing. You can go out and buy a bike at your local bike shop and really enjoy yourself riding around the countryside and wherever you live. If you want to take part in it at a serious level then you can do that as well. It's a wonderful sport and pastime, it's good for your health, it's good for the environment, it's good for transport, and I think the future for our sport is very bright.
Is it not strange for you as a Lancastrian to see the first Tour de France of your era starting in fact in Yorkshire?
Yes, I think it's fair to say there's always been strong rivalry between Lancashire and Yorkshire. But you know the Wars of the Roses were about 500 years ago, and we've stopped fighting now, so it's a friendly rivalry and that's good to see.
Who will win the FIFA World Cup?
I don't like to predict too much, but it will be delightful if my home country of England could do well. But who knows. The beauty of sport is that it's always unpredictable.