Katusha's exclusion from the WorldTour and how it may benefit the UCI
On Monday it was announced by the International Cycling Union (UCI) that the final WorldTour licenses for the 2013 season had been awarded to Team Saxo-Tinkoff and Team Argos-Shimano, leaving both teams with guaranteed inclusion in the 2013 Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Espana and all other major professional road cycling races.
Most industry analysts had expected the battle for the final license to be a battle between Saxo-Tinkoff and Argos-Shimano. What few people had seen coming was the decision to include both teams in the WorldTour at the expense of Team Katusha, a strong team featuring the world number one rider Joaqium Rodriguez in its roster for 2013.
The UCI says the selection was made by a “Licences Commission” as a result of hearings held on 19, 21, 22, 28 November and 7 December 2012. The Licences Commission awards licenses based on a combination of sporting, ethical, financial and administrative criteria – described in the UCI cycling regulations as follows
“The ethical criterion takes account inter alia of the respect by the team or its members for:
a) the UCI regulations, inter alia as regards anti-doping, sporting conduct and the image of cycling;
b) its contractual obligations;
c) its legal obligations, particularly as regards payment of taxes, social security and keeping accounts;
d) the principles of transparency and good faith.
The financial criterion is assessed on the basis of the report by the auditors appointed by the UCI, taking account primarily of resources and financial stability.
The administrative criterion primarily covers the compliance of the application and registration documentation (contracts, insurance, bank guarantee, etc.) and the professionalism and rapidity with which this documentation is assembled, and respect for deadlines.”
The UCI cycling regulations specifies the Licences Commission features three members “having no other links with organized cycle sport” (2.15.214). It is allowed to make decisions with only two members present (2.15.219).
The members of the UCI Licences Commission are appointed by the management committee of the UCI on proposal of the Professional Cycling Council. They are appointed for a period of four years, curiously subject to unlimited renewal.
The UCI cycling regulations do not appear to describe how the President of the Licences Commission is elected, nor how the independence of the Licences Commission is continuously ensured. Including how it is ensured that the members of the Licences Commission aren’t in any way associated with interests, which may make them biased for or against specific sponsors of teams applying for WorldTour status.
The current members of the Professional Cycling Council are Vittorio Adorni (President, Ita), Rocco Cattaneo (Sui), Roger Legeay (Fra), Ramon Mendiburu (Esp), Stephen Roche (Irl), Eric Zabel (Ger), Charly Mottet (Fra), Christian Prudhomme (Fra), Roberto Amadio (Ita), Jonathan Vaughters (USA), Gianni Bugno (Ita), and Dario Cioni (Ita).
Since they are responsible for electing the “independent members” of the UCI Licences Commission one may contemplate how Professional Cycling Council members having strong links to the cycling world are able to elect independent Licences Commission members in an objective manner.
Additionally one may contemplate if it is recommendable having a Licences Commission consisting of only three members and even being allowed to make decisions with only two members present at meetings. May decisions be influenced too easily?
Not surprisingly, Katusha Team remains greatly disappointed and angry with the decision to exclude the team from the WorldTour. It did not take long before the team issued an official statement commenting on the exclusion.
"At present moment Katusha Team has no information regarding the reasons for the decision of the UCI to reject the request from the team for registration in first division. Team management, riders and staff are extremely surprised by the lack of justification for such a decision made by the UCI. Thus earlier the team, which possesses rider Number 1 in the world and has finished the season in second place in the UCI World Tour ranking, was informed that it satisfies all possible criteria required for participation in the first division."
In the statement, Katusha also used the opportunity to describe how it finds that the exclusion of the team from the WorldTour is in fact a suspension of the country of Russia from professional cycling.
"In fact the only Russian team, where the majority of riders are Russian citizens, has been excluded from participation in races of the World Tour. Thus, this decision of the UCI has suspended Russia as a country from participation in cycling competitions of the highest level," the statement said.
"The management of Katusha Team, its riders and staff are surprised by such a quick change of decision, lack of coordination inside the UCI press service and a complete absence of reasons for such a fast decision," the statement continued.
"The UCI which has been established in order to protect the interests of the riders worldwide, on the contrary by its actions completely violates the canons of sports ethics and causes irreparable moral and psychological harm to the athletes before the start of the new season, and the delay in explaining the reasons of the decisions only shows the lack of the significance of these reasons."
"In the nearest future the management of the Russian team Katusha intends to investigate thoroughly this incident ... The Russian team intends to defend its interests with the help of all possible civilized instruments and methods, including going to court."
Leaving aside the matter pertaining to whether the UCI Licences Commission, which handed out the WorldTour licenses, is independent or not, it is interesting to analyze why it may be in the interest of the UCI to exclude the Katusha Team from the WorldTour.
The exclusion of a major professional cycling team from the WorldTour will inevitably result in significant critique being voiced from the management of the excluded team, the team's fans and possibly also from influential sources such as media and politicians. We have seen such critique in the wake of the decision to exclude Katusha.
The Russian Katusha Team was built on the foundations of Team Tinkoff Credit Systems, which was owned by Oleg Tinkoff who is now sponsoring Team Saxo-Tinkoff. Team Argos-Shimano on the other hand, is a Dutch cycling team founded in 2005 when the Japanese Shimano team merged with the Dutch Bankgiroloterij team.
Critique of a decision made by the UCI voiced by teams based in Europe is likely to be considered more trustworthy by many fans, media and politicians than critique coming from a Russia-centered team and will, therefore, exert a greater level of pressure on the UCI. In other words it may be more interesting to ask not so much what critique the selection of Saxo-Tinkoff and Argos-Shimano will result in, but rather what critique and pressure it will help the UCI avoid.
Further, the UCI is already being subjected to a significant level of critique as a result of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal stemming from the USADA report on organized doping in cycling and the claims made by journalists and former riders pertaining to UCI's involvement in the doping scandal.
By adding Russia-based critique to the stream of critique pouring over the UCI, the International Cycling Union may seek to put present and future critique in a negative light, thereby adding a shade of unreliability and non-objectivity to it.
There may also be geo political reasons involved in the exclusion of the Katusha Team from the WorldTour, since the Katusha Team is sponsored by Russian corporations such as Gazprom, Itera and Rostechnologii and founded and supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The nuclear power industry is claiming Western Europe is in significant danger of a blackout this winter because nuclear power plants across Europe have been switched off after the nuclear power catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan. Kremlin-controlled Katusha Team sponsor Gazprom has been known to retaliate and exert political pressure by cutting gas supplies to Western Europe when important decisions don't favor their interests.
At first it may also appear that the decision to include Team Argos-Shimano has been made with attention directed towards the fact that the team’s co-sponsor Shimano is of significant importance and influence in the world of cycling. However, Shimano is also sponsoring Katusha Team, which was excluded.
The UCI shows a strong stance in the fight against doping in cycling by not granting the Viatcheslav Ekimov-led Katusha team a WorldTour license - a stance strongly needed following the Lance Armstrong doping affair. Three-time Olympic champion Ekimov has been indirectly linked to doping in the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) report which brought down Armstrong. Additionally, former Armstrong and Ekimov-teammate Tyler Hamilton in his book The Secret Race describes the widespread use of doping on the US Postal Service team, which Ekimov was part of.
However, Team Saxo-Tinkoff, which was granted a WorldTour license, is also being linked to doping in Hamilton's The Secret Race, but team owner Bjarne Riis may have a stronger network position in the cycling world than Ekimov, a claim recently strengthened by Jose Luis Lopez Cerron, who supplied meat to Saxo-Tinkoff's Alberto Contador in the clenbuterol doping scandal, being elected President of the Spanish cycling federation (RFEC).
By forcing the Katusha Team into the Pro Continental category the UCI may also be seeking to reduce the number of Pro Continental teams in future years, as Katusha's presence in the category will make it even harder for Pro Continental teams such as NetApp-Endura, Cofidis, Vini Fantini and MTN-Qhubeka to remain viable. These teams will receive fewer race invitations because one spot is already taken by Katusha Team spearheaded by World number 1 rider Rodriguez.
Having fewer professional cycling teams makes it easier for the UCI to influence and monitor teams and maintain a greater level of structural stability within the sport of cycling. A greater level of structural stability and the derived higher level of analytical predictability may also lead to current and future WorldTour team sponsors being more willing to invest additional funds in cycling. On the other hand, reduced inter-team competition and financially stronger teams may make it easier for teams to join forces in attempts aimed at affecting legislation coming from the UCI.