Franz Kafka wrote some amusing but tortuous novels. His short story Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis) recounts the tale of a salesman who awakes one day to find he’s become a large insect. Der Process (The Trial) is about a man who finds himself on trial for a crime that is never mentioned, the court prosecutes but the defendant does not get to know the allegations against him. The Czech novelist wrote tales that spoke of bureaucracy and absurdity, with a sideline in alienation. Today “Kafkaesque” is part of the English language.
Kafka died in 1924 but I can’t help wonder if his spirit lives on in a valley of Switzerland, namely at the UCI HQ in Aigle. I’d been meaning to explore the way sponsors are put off by the confusing rules, indeed I touched on the ever-changing nature of the UCI’s Pro Tour rules and the way this seems to get badly handed but a new element has come to light: secret UCI rules. I’m not making this up.
Top Secret Criteria
The UCI allots “Pro Team” licences based on a range of criteria, one of which is a “sporting element”, for this the UCI reviews a team’s roster for 2011 and tots up the points these riders scored in 2009 and 2010 using a internal formula. Clearly a team with a big budget doesn’t have to worry but a more modest squad needs to know whether hiring a rider with or without points will get them a ride or not. Why is this formula kept secret?
This is something that’s coming under public criticism from team managers and I agree. How can a team entice sponsors if the important matters like qualification for major events is decided according to a hidden ranking system? It’s not transparent. It’s like Kafka’s The Trial, teams are supposed to plan budgets and recruitments but without being told what the rules are.
I’m perplexed by the way the rules change so often. There’s nothing wrong with tweaking things but the UCI is doing it in a Kakfaesque manner. First there is no consultation, rules are created without inviting the views from the top teams, race organisers or riders. Second these rules are announced very late in the game, some of the 2011 rules were only made public at the Worlds in September. Announcing new rules when sponsors have already committed for the next season involves a significant relocation of the goalposts.
When the rules become risks
We end up with regulatory risk. The rules are supposed to the bedrock of sport but their changing nature makes them the very opposite of a stable certainty, they become an ever-changing component. Sponsors are already nervous about doping scandals, secret formulas to determine the attribution of a licence only adds to the risk. Often the UCI is adding risk, not removing it.
My humble suggestion would be that new rules involve consultation and above all, that any significant changes are announced well in advance. Any framework for 2013 should be public today. Teams and sponsors alike need visibility to plan for the future, no company will commit millions of Euros of a marketing budget based on uncertain rules. Why does the UCI use an internal ranking for such an important external process?