Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was awarded the UCI Order ©Getty Images

International Cycling Union (UCI) has said it presented Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov its highest honour for his country’s commitment to the sport, as the governing body faces criticism for recognising the Turkmenistan President.

CyclingTips reported that UCI President David Lappartient had presented Berdimuhamedov the UCI Order virtually during World Bicycle Day, which fell on June 3.

The day was broadcast on Turkmenistan’s state television, along with celebrations where Berdimuhamedov and others were seen cycling towards an extravagant statute of a bicycle.

"I am happy to inform you that on the occasion of World Bicycle Day, the UCI Steering Committee has made a unanimous decision to award you the highest UCI award and its certificate for your immense contribution to the development of world cycling," Lappartient reportedly told Berdimuhamedov.

UCI Management Committee member Igor Makarov, who serves as chairman of the gas company Itera International – founded in Turkmenistan, was also present on the virtual conference.

The UCI has faced criticism for awarding the honour to Berdimuhamedov.

Human Rights Watch has described Turkmenistan as "an isolated and repressive country under the authoritarian rule of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and his associates."

The organisation has also added that the Government "brutally punishes all unauthorised forms of religious and political expression" and that there is a "total absence of media freedom in Turkmenistan."

The UCI has said it presented Berdimuhamedov with the UCI Order in recognition of his country’s commitment to the sport.

"Turkmenistan was behind the United Nations’ creation of the annual World Bicycle Day, which celebrated its third edition on June 3," a UCI spokesperson said in a statement to insidethegames.

"The UCI presented an award to the President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in recognition of his country’s commitment to our sport through world-class competitions, mass participation events and the promotion of cycling for all.

"The UCI Order is the highest distinction awarded by the UCI.

"It is in principle reserved for political personalities who have shown a particular commitment to cycling.

"Several leaders have been awarded the UCI Order since its creation in 2004."

The 2021 World Track Cycling Championships is set to take place in Ashgabat.

Ashgabat was awarded the event in 2018 and will become the third Asian host of the flagship Championship.

Maebashi in Japan and Hong Kong have previously welcomed riders in 1990 and 2017 respectively.

The velodrome in Ashgabat was among the facilities constructed for the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG).

Ashgabat has since hosted the World Weightlifting Championships in 2018.

The UCI added that the governing body’s core mission is to "contribute to the development of cycling throughout the world in all its forms, which means as a popular competitive sport, healthy leisure activity and a sustainable means of transport."

Ashgabat will stage the 2021 Track Cycling World Championships ©ARUP
Ashgabat will stage the 2021 Track Cycling World Championships ©ARUP

“Regarding sport at a high level across our eight disciplines (road cycling, track cycling, mountain bike, BMX Racing, BMX Freestyle, cyclo-cross, trials and indoor cycling), we strive to ensure our events reflect the geographic diversity of our 196 National Federations,” the UCI said.

“This can be seen with the staging of next year’s UCI Track Cycling World Championships presented by Tissot in Turkmenistan, member country of the Asian Cycling Confederation (ACC).

“The UCI, via its training and education centre, the UCI World Cycling Centre, will accompany the men's and women's national teams of Turkmenistan, as well as the country's National Commissaires, with a view to the 2021 UCI Track Cycling World Championships as well as the UCI Juniors Track Cycling World Championships being held the same year.

“The 2021 edition of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Turkmenistan’s capital, on the ultra-modern Velodrome at the Ashgabat Sports Complex, which was inaugurated in 2017, is part of the long tradition of the Worlds organised outside Europe.

“An Olympic discipline since the beginning of the modern era of the Olympic Games, track cycling continues its internationalisation, as highlighted recently by the participation figures – 352 athletes and 45 nations – at the last UCI World Championships in Berlin, Germany.

“Concerning cycling for all, we encourage and support all initiatives aiming to promote cycling.

“It has been widely proven that the development of the use of the bicycle benefits society.

“It makes it possible, among other things, to improve people's health and to combat pollution and other excesses caused by the uncontrolled growth of automobile traffic.

“Through its Solidarity Programme, the UCI will participate in the development of cycling in the country, particularly in schools.”