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UCI under fire amid allegations of blocking press freedom by denying journalist World Championships accreditation

Journalist Iain Treloar has investigated UCI links to a Turkmenistan autocrat and a Russian billionaire, but now finds himself excluded from the World Championships

UCI president David Lappartient has faced difficult questions about why a journalist who has written critical investigative pieces has been refused accreditation for the Road World Championships in Wollongong, Australia.

Ian Treloar has examined the governing body's link to an autocrat with a dreadful human rights record and a Russian billionaire under sanctions following the Ukraine invasion, stories which drew criticism from Lappartient and have formed the basis, Treloar suggests, for his inability to cover the current event as an accredited journalist.

Writing for Australia-based cycling website CyclingTips, Treloar was one of four colleagues to apply for accreditation and while all three of his colleagues were successful, his application was refused.

The UCI insists this is due to high demand from other media outlets meaning it was necessary to apply a rule limiting publications to three reporters.

However, the official line has not gone down well, with pictures from the event's press centre showing empty desks and prompting Treloar to tell the Guardian it may be "an accumulation of a number of stories building a perception in their minds that I'm a troublemaker".

In recent times, Treloar's investigative pieces have examined the link between Russia and the UCI following the Ukraine invasion, notably that Russian billionaire Igor Makarov remains on the UCI management committee despite being under sanction from Australia and Canada.

> UCI defends decision to honour Turkmenistan dictator

Treloar also looked into the governing body's relationship with Turkmenistan autocrat Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, as well as exploitation of a UCI scheme to help evacuate cyclists from Afghanistan.

"I think I'm asking reasonable questions about sports governance," he continued. "I'm sure that the UCI believe they are a transparent organisation and that they are governing in an accountable way, but if they're blocking access, then I question whether that actually is the case."

Speaking at a press conference, president Lappartient said the refused accreditation was simply a matter of policy.

"Two points. The first one is that it's exactly the UCI policy for the accreditations," he said.

"It has been published, it's three per newspaper and from what I understand CyclingTips already have three journalists. Every newspaper is here with three journalists, after that I don't have any specific comment to make. By the way, every newspaper is welcome, but this newspaper used its three accreditations which we do for this event, so here we are."

SBS Sport suggested that the policy outlined above may not be as strict as Lappartient makes out, reporting the Illawarra Mercury has nine accredited members at the event, and noted the press room has been "perhaps ten per cent full at its busiest".

The cycling journalists' union, l'Association Internationale des Journalistes du Cyclisme (AIJC) has raised concerns with the UCI, and its UK representative, Sahbh O'Shea, said she had never seen the three reporters rule enforced.

"I've spoken to them in person and expressed my dissatisfaction with the fact that they're effectively restricting access to a journalist who has published negative articles about them," she said.

Speaking to SBS, Treloar's editor Caley Fretz said the reasons given "do not hold water".

"The whole situation is deeply disappointing, petty, and unbecoming of the sport's governing body. We're here as Australia’s largest cycling-focused publication to cover and promote the sport we love, yet the UCI’s behaviour is preventing us from doing just that," he said.

The UCI has since released a statement echoing its president's words on a three-reporter quota. 

The UCI reserves the right to approve or deny accreditation via the online application process. Accreditation is limited to a maximum of three permanent media representatives for each media outlet (representatives holding a valid press card).

Dan joined in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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