Luca Paolini won a stage of the Giro but he and his Katusha team weren’t supposed to ride. The UCI had originally denied Katusha a licence for 2013, only for Katusha to win back their place in the World Tour via an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Now the full ruling from the CAS is available and for the first time we can see the reasons why the UCI wanted to exclude Katusha. It turns out it was on both financial and ethical reasons. We can also see the behind-the-scenes work done by the Katusha team to win back its licence as it attempts to turn around the worst record in World Tour for doping.
A reminder that teams must fulfil four criteria to become a UCI Pro Team in the World Tour:
Normally the sporting aspect is the big deal, namely which team has enough riders with ranking points to join the top-18 teams in the world (all explained here). Administrative means getting the paperwork in order, filing various registration documents and supplying a range of documents from rider contracts to team financial accounts.
The UCI Licence Commission tried to call up the Katusha team on two aspects. First was the financial story where ballooning expenses seemed unexplained. In 2012 the team’s “competition expenses” grew by 195% from 2011, rising to the astronomical sum of €28 million. To put that number in context the entire budget (wages, travel, everything) for several World Tour teams is less than €10 million a year. It’s so high is there a mistake? Here’s an excerpt from the CAS report just in case you think I’ve read it wrong:
When the UCI’s auditors enquired about this they did not get any satisfactory answers back which meant a fail for the financial component and this meant the UCI could not rubber-stamp the team’s licence renewal but instead it had to go for review in front of the licence commission. Another point of contention was the team’s overall financial position but team sponsor Itera had agreed to inject another €2 million to keep the team afloat.
Second was the team’s anti-doping past, it had seen several positive tests and the UCI’s Licence Commission felt it had to review this
The December Hearing
We know the UCI blocked Katusha’s licence at the last-round hearing in December 2012. But we now know why it did this.
The financial issues were not fixed for good but were resolved to a sufficient degree not to withold the licence. As you can read up above in the excerpt the accounts “are still difficult to fathom” but in the end the money from Itera appears to have been enough to bolster the team’s finances. The team’s giant travel budget is blamed on the team manager who “bought TV rights and spent large amounts of money on travel and invitations to journalists” but the team promised to stop “such wastage.”
Consequently it was the team’s anti-doping stance that saw the team blocked by the Licence Commission:
- several incidences of doping in the team (two in 2009, one in 2011, one in 2012)
- hiring seven riders with known doping convictions from the past
- the presence of staff involved in doping in the past, notably Erik Zabel and Dr Andrei Mikhailov
- 12 whereabouts mistakes since 2009
But all these issues were known and raised in the 2011 Licence Commission review. New factors came along that dissuaded the Licence Commission, notably the case of Dennis Galimzyanov who was positive for EPO in the spring of 2012. He wrote a letter from hospital confessing to EPO use, waiving the B-sample test and saying he bought it all alone. But his own team manager Hans-Michael Holczer didn’t believe the letter.
The opinion of Hans-Michael Holczer, Denis Galimzyanov, who was badly ill and speaks poor English, could not have written that letter by himself. The team’s general manager also pointed out that the national federation had put a lot of pressure on this rider, who was considered as a promising rider.
- paragraph 6, page 6
Holczer later met Galimzyanov who told him the same thing but Holczer seems to have told the UCI’s Licence Commission that he still did not believe this. Confronted with the past problems Holczer said he could not guarantee the team would never have a doping scandal again. Now that’s realistic, no corporate leader can give guarantees but the UCI seems disappointed by his attitude, as if the team did not at least put in stronger safeguards to prevent these cases arising.
The UCI stated Katusha had the worst doping record of all the teams and that Galimzyanov EPO positive was evidence of a “worsening situation” and that following a severe warning in 2011 the team had not worked hard enough to fight doping and so the UCI rejected its licence.
In summary it was the strange case of Galimzyanov that proved to be the final straw. The team was on a warning from 2011 and the EPO positive and the doubts expressed by the team’s own manager that seems to have prompted the non-renewal of the team’s licence.
The CAS Verdict
So it all went to a hearing at the CAS. You can understand why, the team had been warned but found itself rejected for a factor apparently beyond its control, a “lone wolf” exposed with EPO suddenly sinks the whole team. By contrast the UCI saw this as just another name on the longest list.
In the hearing Katusha showed that it had moved to implement new “doping prevention” measures for 2013, including contractual matters banning riders from all drugs, even homeopathic varities, unless approved by the team doctor. The team undertook other methods including starting a power-profiling program to help detect sudden increases in rider ability, plus it was plannig to join the MPCC. In full these measures run to pages of bullet points. The CAS panel agreed that these were substantive and “an important step” to satisfying the UCI’s concerns.
In fact there seems to have been a communications error as Katusha was incorporating a stronger anti-doping stance for 2013 but never spelled this out in full, it just said something like “we’re improving things” so the UCI Licence Commission didn’t know how far it was going. It took a hearing to find that all the measures the team was implementing in preparation for 2013 actually matched a list of suitable objectives set by the UCI. In addition the panel considered the Galimzyanov case and frowned on the UCI’s actions because it appeared to be an additional sanction on the doper and team when the rules are clear that if a rider is caught they are banned but no more punishment on top of the agreed rules is allowed.
“The Panel notes that, in light of the measures adopted by Katusha, the Decision to deny the registration for 2013 appears to be grossly disproportionate”
- paragraph 109, page 37
Should it have come to this?
You can see both points of view. Officially the worst record for scandal and on warning for 2012, plus some murky accounts too – no wonder the UCI got fed up. But for Katusha it was responding to the UCI’s criticism and it apparently had nothing to do with Galimzyanov’s positive so the collective punishment was excessive.
Given both sides had views to explore the sport surely has to consider reviewing the timing of this process. A team budget and sponsors can’t be left hanging until the end of the year and then go to appeal during the start of the following season. If possible all this admin should be brought forward so that there is time to review and even appeal this ahead of the new season.
It started as a financial matter over the curiously high travel costs. This isn’t just a curiosity because the sums are high and auditors could not get to the bottom of this. But one team’s facts and stats aside, it’s pointed to a structural weakness in the sport with the licensing process.
But once the case was referred to the Licence Commission the panel became increasingly frustrated by the Katusha’s team’s record on anti-doping. Strangely the UCI wanted Katusha to shape up and it turned out the team was doing this with revised contracts and even the pledge of power-profiling only the two parties never sat down to discuss this, nor even send over a list of boxes to tick. The decision to cite the Galimzyanov case was also a mistake because if it was another dent on the team’s reputation, there was no evidence to link the EPO use to the Katusha team or its staff and therefore hitting the team was a form of collective punishment above and beyond the WADA Code.
Thanks to reader for pointing me in the direction of the full CAS ruling.