The reality soap opera that is Riccardo Riccò public life might be tiring. In the latest episode, today his comeback is over before it even started. After announcing a deal to ride for the discreet Meridiana-Kamen team, today brings news that he’s been temporarily suspended “on grounds of health” by the Italian authorities. But if you’re tired of Riccò, stay with me as this is more a story about local federations having the power to stop a rider from racing if they feel it’s in a rider’s interest.
I got an email from a reader asking why the UCI couldn’t stop him yet the Italians have. Here’s an explanation…
First, a statement. For obvious reasons the guy attracts a lot of negative comment, a lot of it justified. But I’ve said before, as much as we might find him unpleasant he needs help more than blame. So this subject is more about process and the rules than the rider himself.
The story so far
As background, in case you missed it, there’s an ongoing investigation into why Riccò was rushed to hospital, with allegations of a self-administered blood transfusion. The medic helping the investigation actually died the other day, adding to the delay. Whilst there are plenty of allegations, the UCI needs firm proof to proceed with any anti-doping sanction. In the absence of this, for the time being, the UCI had said it was powerless to stop him coming back.
But now he’s been suspended. So how come the UCI can’t stop him when the Italians can? Well it’s worth a quick look here just in case you want to know. Again, we need to look at the UCI rules:
13.1.003 National Federations shall have freedom of action as regards health protection
It’s this that allows the Italians to act where the UCI cannot. The UCI oversees the general regulation of the sport but subjects like doping sanctions and suspensions are down to local federations. In addition another rule allows the national federation’s medical advisor to rule on a rider’s health:
13.1.043 In the event that the medical consultant learns of any facts that in his view render the cyclist (even temporarily) unfit to participate in cycling events, he shall declare the cyclist unfit
So here the Italian federation is allowed to suspend a rider if they learn of “any facts” that mean a rider isn’t ready to race. This is a broad term, wide open to interpretation and it seems that the Italians are using corroborations of Riccò’s apparent hospital bed confession as a reason to suspend him. Note this rule can in theory be applied to any other moments when a federation “learns” of a reason to suspend a rider, whether it’s extraordinary blood values or even if medic feels a rider isn’t sufficiently recovered from a crash.
As such the spirit of this is all about protecting a rider from harm, especially from commercial pressure and a team too willing to make an unhealthy rider race. The decision is taken without much evidence or even a hearing, and as such it means a rider can see their racing compromised apparently at the whim of officials. But the arbitrary and rapid nature of the decision is actually designed to help protect a rider rather than thwart them. Here’s hoping Riccò takes advantage of the pause.