A quick post to examine what’s next for the sport after the Court of Arbitration ruled last Friday that the Russian teams should go back in World Tour.
The ruling might have left the team celebrating their good news but there’s still a smoky veil of uncertainty over what comes next and a headache for the UCI and others. If they are promoted will someone get relegated? And how can a professional sport have promotion and relegation scenarios that get decided during the season by Swiss court hearings?
First the UCI’s licensing procedure takes a direct hit. As stated on here before, it’s not just some side committee within the UCI. Instead Pierre Zappelli is a former Swiss Supreme Federal Court judge and he’s joined by Hans Höhener, ex-President of the Swiss Athletics Federation and senior corporate executive and PhD André Hurter. If these three heavyweights have made a big mistake then something serious is up.
Next the UCI looks a victim of events. In response to the news on Friday all we got was a holding statement saying:
The UCI will now evaluate the consequences of this ruling and will communicate further in coming days, as soon as such evaluation has taken place.
Now this is fair enough given the UCI isn’t in charge, the Licence Commission is. But this only shows how the UCI seems to have lost control of events here and can’t say what will happen, it’s become a hostage of the system it created and forced to react to the process rather than control it.
So what will happen? Well there are two principal scenarios for the UCI: apply the rules or break the rules.
Apply the rules
In simple terms the CAS has ruled that Katusha has a licence so they go back into the World Tour. But there are already 18 teams and the rules state there should be a maximum of 18 teams.
Here is the rule:
2.15.241 Should the contested decision be judged to be arbitrary it shall be annulled and the CAS shall make a new decision that shall replace the contested decision. This decision shall settle the case definitively. No further appeal shall be admitted.
However should the annulment of the contested decision open the way to a new allocation of the licences or a new award of a licence for which there is more than one candidate, the case shall be returned to the licence commission. After consulting the parties, the commission may, if it considers that it is in possession of adequate information, renounce any further documentary submissions and/or hearings. The case shall then be adjudged on the basis of the licence application documentation as submitted to the commission on the occasion of its initial decision.
The rules say there can be no more appeals. Given Katusha gets allocated a new licence the case goes back to the Licence Commission. The wording is imprecise because it says “the case” goes back to the Licence Commission. But the CAS has ruled for Katusha so the question is whether “the case” means the entire attribution of licences for 2013. If so then in order to satisfy the conditions then it is my understanding that Saxo Bank-Tinkoff were the last applicant to make and therefore they’d be excluded.
But note this means the case goes back to the Licence Commission. They won’t be happy to find the CAS over-rulling their work and it’ll be strange for them to implement a change that they first rejected.
Break the rules
But the UCI can ill-afford to see the UCI throwing out teams whilst the season is under way. Psychologists and economists talk about something called Loss Aversion whereby studies suggest once people have something they don’t want to give it away. Put another way it is more harmful to award a World Tour licence and then strip it from a team than it is not to give the licence in the first place. Any team ejected now will struggle for invitations to the big races and imagine the fury of sponsors who’d been looking forward to the Tour de France. Above all it just feels unfair, the rejected team has not done anything wrong but would pay the biggest price for the UCI’s bungling.
Therefore the best solution seems to be letting 19 teams ride on an exceptional basis. However if this protects riders and reassures the sponsors, it still doesn’t satisfy. It means the UCI has to suspend one of its own rules and what good is a governing body that ignores its own rulebook?
The problem is a problem
Nobody knows what’s happening and this is a problem in itself. Imagine you’re thinking of sponsoring a pro team for 2014 but this case would make you think twice because who knows if your investment backs a top tier team or a second division outfit. Even the UCI is uncertain here. The longer this goes on, the worse it is.
Rodriguez should be staying. If there’s a break clause allowing him to leave then it can’t be used now given the team has been ruled back in on seemingly irrevocable terms.
The Saxo Precedent
One year ago the Danish team Saxo were faced with losing their licence in the wake of the CAS finally sanctioning Alberto Contador for his 2010 Tour de France positive. The UCI raised the idea of stripping the licence but the Licence Commission rejected this and let the team keep its licence. There are two lessons here:
- the UCI can call for things to happen but it is not in control of the process
- the Licence Commission is the body that determines what happens
Friday’s verdict was a surprise and even the UCI was caught short. Hopefully the issue can be sorted soon but there’s no easy solution. Either the UCI and the Licence Commission break their own rules, or last year’s licence settlement gets revisited and an innocent team is ejected through little fault of its own. There’s no easy choice.
Worse the UCI might even have lost control of the process, caught between the CAS and its own Licence Commission. Each future course of action has awkward consequences for the sport and the way precious licences are attributed.
Update: since writing this the UCI have announced there will be 19 teams.
- It’s strange to see the UCI breaking its own rules but it’s better than ejecting a team in the World Tour.
- But in true UCI style there’s still a load of questions, for example there’s no word on the wildcards. A race like the Giro has invited four teams to take part. But another UCI rule limits the size of a field to 200 riders for safety. 23 teams x 9 riders = 207 riders. So we could see another rule broken to allow a larger field in the race.
- It’s unknown if the races agree or if have been informed apart from this press release