BMX icon Mat Hoffman slams UCI’s power grab of the sport in open letter

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BMX Hall of Fame legend Mat Hoffman has penned an open letter heavily criticising the UCI this week, going as far to encourage athletes and event organisers to turn their back on cycling’s governing body as it begins to formulate an event calendar. 

A long-term representative of the sport and president of the IBMXFF (International BMX Freestyle Federation), Hoffman details a 15-year back and forth with UCI Presidents past and present, accusing the world governing body of deliberately moving to push those with the sport’s best interests at heart to the side. This includes barring representatives, including IBMXFF vice president Dennis McCoy, from key meetings.

Set to become an Olympic sport from the Tokyo 2020 games, freestyle BMX follows BMX race, which made its debut in 2008’s Beijing event.

Hoffman’s open letter reads:

I need to express my experience with the UCI and the IOC over the past 15 years and why they have shut out myself and other leaders of our community for upholding our vow to our sport to protect the uniqueness we have built and cherish.

As the president of the IBMXFF, I’ve been asked to fight to keep the progression and independence of our sport driven by the ones who live it and love it and to ever-evolve who we are. I’ve been persistent to not sell our sport out while discussing Olympic involvement with the UCI. These discussions arose due to the IOC’s interest in action sports and their desire to add them to the Olympics under IOC-recognized federations like the UCI and FIRS, instead of recognizing action sports independently. To protect it, we created and utilized a nonprofit BMX freestyle federation with members representing 17 countries: the International BMX Freestyle Federation (IBMXFF), which was officially established in 2005. The IBMXFF was formed to keep our community’s influence and control over our sport at all levels. It is a non-profit organization formed by individuals who have shaped BMX Freestyle worldwide for decades, providing direction as it grows and evolves.

The IBMXFF mission is:

“Cultivate participation and progression by promoting BMX Freestyle around the globe. Provide direction and guidelines rooted in BMX Freestyle’s unique lifestyle and culture. Encourage cooperation between riders, organizers, industry and events. Protect and maintain BMX Freestyle’s multiple disciplines with authenticity and integrity, for the benefit of all.”

Formative members of the IBMXFF originally met with the UCI and Hein Verbruggen in Dec 2003. We were accompanied by Johan Lindstrom of the UCI. They seemed to understand the uniqueness of our sport and were accepting to forge a good working relationship that would allow BMX Freestyle some options that were unique to the international federation structure, so we all started working on a “Cooperation Agreement.” The important thing was that BMX Freestyle would not become a part of the National Cycling Federation and it could retain its independence.

This accord was agreed to with a formal signing that took place during a press conference at a big event at the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland on June 17, 2005. We brought a vert ramp out into the UCI Velodrome where Jay Miron, John Parker and Jamie Bestwick did a demo.

Then, I met with the UCI at its headquarters in Aigle in 2006. Now there was another plan that was being executed at the same time, all with the approval and direction coming from the UCI and the IOC. The fact that Skateboarding would use the same venue as BMX Freestyle, it seemed appropriate and logical that Skateboarding might also be able to enter into a relationship with the UCI in order for Skateboarding to both enter the Games and allow it to also retain its integrity and protect itself. These discussions were ongoing and all seemed in order. The final meeting regarding this idea was conducted at the IOC headquarters on June 4, 2007 in Lausanne, Switzerland, where myself and ISF President Gary Ream attended with Patrick McQuaid, President of the UCI, numerous UCI staff and three representatives from the IOC, including the IOC Sports Director. The IBMXFF representatives were told that as long as the UCI was in approval of the structural relationship between the IBMXFF and the UCI, the IOC would accept this. If the UCI could reach an agreement with the International Skateboarding Federation (ISF) and bring on skateboarding as a discipline of the UCI, the IOC would also approve this. There was no designated international federation for skateboarding recognized by the IOC, so a structure was designed that would allow BMX Freestyle and Skateboarding to independently manage their sports under one international federation called the Action Sports International Federation (ASIF).

The plan was that both sports would be added as new sports at the Games in London in 2012.

Then, there were some significant political issues with the IOC, and Skateboarding changed their plans and all this work was put aside.

I continued to stand up for the independence of our sport. I believe the International Olympic Committee (IOC) became interested in our sport because our independence kept it authentic and the youth could relate to and identify with it. It was felt the Olympic sports became too governed and controlled and stopped appealing to current generations. So, if they wanted our sports to continue to appeal to the current and future generations, we should be sure we influenced and changed the relationship between their government and sport to keep it authentic. My goal was to keep the IBMXFF as an independent voice within the UCI that would ever-evolve as our tool for the core of BMX Freestyle to influence the purity of our sport, even when we are all gone. If we conform to being represented by them with no independent jurisdiction and management responsibilities from us, the IBMXFF, to keep it real, then it contradicts the IOC’s interest in our sport and our sport’s overall contribution to the Olympics.

In past negotiations, I’ve been asked to sign over the rights, including intellectual property rights of our sport, the World Championships, World Cup and to refrain from undertaking any actions that might have an impact on BMX Freestyle without the prior written approval from the UCI BMX Freestyle Committee. I was asked to dissolve the IBMXFF with all assets to fall to the UCI. I could not agree to this.

In short, I would not sell out our sport to a governing body that has never been involved in it and had no genuine interest in it and I insisted on creating a direct seat at the table for the IBMXFF and our community (Athletes and Industry leaders) within the committee with majority vote.

This current aggressive push for the UCI to control our sport now is being forced by the IOC. The IOC demanded that BMX Freestyle be added to the games to appeal to the youth. I communicated with the IOC regarding these issues in August 2017 and again in January 2018 and they claimed we would be in agreement when the new president was elected. Since Mr. Lappartient was elected president of the UCI, I’ve reached out and explained our situation and history which was ignored. I then got in communications with the IOC who didn’t care to get involved. With the UCI forced to accommodate BMX Freestyle, they have allocated the minimum: 9 spots for Men, and 9 spots for Women.

Earlier last year, in February 2017, I flew to Lisbon to discuss this. I proposed Dennis McCoy (IBMXFF Vice President) and I to meet with them to share our concerns. They would not allow Dennis to join the meeting because of the speech he made when USABMX inducted him into their Hall of Fame. He spoke how he was not in favor of the UCI’s announcement that made a claim to one of our disciplines without consulting with or involving the IBMXFF. Instead of respecting his position and trying to learn from their mistakes, the UCI barred Dennis from attending their meeting in Lisbon, despite his legendary contributions to building our sport to what it is today. I, then, was very concerned for the disrespect they had for the oldest legend of our sport, still actively competing, simply because he disagreed with their impetuous claim.

I let them know we created BMX Freestyle as our own definition of sport. BMX Freestyle is “sport as art” and a lifestyle. The IBMXFF was formed with our veteran athletes and industry leaders to help direct our sport to keep it authentic and genuine.

In the Lisbon meeting, we discussed the commission is the most important element to influence the UCI to genuinely represent BMX Freestyle, as we had on many other occasions. I added how important it is that this commission is well-rounded, with pure opinions, to mold the future of BMX Freestyle in a way that is legitimate to the sport and its roots. 
I asked how one would become a member of the commission and how they keep it pure with the right intent. They said there is no nomination process and that anyone could be on it. It’s just who you know. I said, if this is the most important part, we need to create a system to ensure the right people are on the committee. BMX Freestyle has many opinions in the sport, making it what it is, and that needs to be embraced and protected. I proposed they should take advantage of the tremendous resources of the IBMXFF to organize and select the best people to guide our sport for the BMX Freestyle Commission.

Now, as you may have witnessed, this commission was formed recently by the UCI without the IBMXFF. The UCI is taking the next step in their goal to take over the rights to our sport without establishing a way for our community to manage its future direction through the IBMXFF within the UCI. They are working around the IBMXFF and initiating individuals in the community because they know there is power and support within the IBMXFF and they can manipulate individuals. As well, engaging the IBMXFF ensures a more unified voice and fair process for the BMX Freestyle community.

The UCI has ceased contact with me and has not invited me to be a part of this BMX Freestyle commission that we discussed forming as early as 2003. It seems they are more or less trying to exile me from this movement, like they have with Dennis, because I’ve proposed over and over the IBMXFF be a part of the BMX Freestyle commission to establish an independent element within the UCI to represent the core of our sport, to keep it authentic.

I proposed a very simple way I can endorse this movement with the UCI by including our community (industry leaders and athletes) to help manage our sport for the better good for all involved. As our past Co-Operation Agreement stated: 

The BMX Freestyle Committee will be 5 members. Three (3) members, from the IBMXFF and two (2) members from the UCI. IBMXFF and UCI will submit their members for election to UCI’s Management Committee. Each member of the BMX Freestyle Committee shall have an equal right to vote. The quorum for a valid meeting of the BMX Freestyle Committee shall be set at three members comprising at least two (2) members from the IBMXFF and one (1) member from the UCI.

This has been abandoned. I have proposed this several times, and it has been ignored. I guess this is a message to me that I am not respected enough by the UCI to be involved with BMX Freestyle and the Olympic movement. Maybe it’s because they know I only have what’s best for our sport’s independence in mind.

So, if a division is forced, the faction of our sport I represent will continue to be the one that represents BMX Freestyle independently by the riders for the riders.

I have kept hopeful that the IOC’s stated goal of “adapting and further strengthening the principles of good governance and ethics to changing demands” would lead to the direct involvement of myself and the IBMXFF in the planning and decision-making for the BMX Freestyle Park event in Tokyo in 2020. But my past and most recent experience tells me this is bogus and they are to stay the same.

For those who support the Olympic movement as it is, BMX Freestyle athletes will pay the UCI an annual membership fee to be involved in a part of our sport they (UCI) control and that we named FREEstyle.

DON’T ADD YOUR EVENT TO THE UCI CALENDAR IF YOU WANT TO KEEP OUR SPORT FREE.

I will continue to work to find the best hosts for our sport’s independent IBMXFF World Championships and associate the IBMXFF with other like-minded competitions who share and want to give back to what’s best for our sport. If you’re hosting a BMX Freestyle event feel free to get in touch with IBMXFF to become a part keeping our sport independent. http://ibmxff.org

We have also formed our own independent Freestyle “Hall of Fame” that will be housed at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame new venue downtown Oklahoma City at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, 2 S Mickey Mantle Dr, Oklahoma City, OK.

I’m looking to debut this with an event in 2018. More info regarding this coming soon.

If one day the UCI or IOC choose to set this straight and do what is right for BMX Freestyle, they have my contact.

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