New UCI doping penalty under threat

If Alberto Contador has problems today he’s going to find it hard to look forward to the future. In a press conference on Tuesday, Saxo Bank team owner Bjarne Riis said he would “support” Contador… but added the Spaniard’s contract was now void. Reading between the lines, Contador won’t get paid during his ban but Riis hopes to employ him again the moment the ban ends.

His employment woes aren’t just about getting a monthly salary or finding a team. Upon his return he will find a new UCI rule blocks him from earning crucial ranking points for his squad. This matters because his points haul made the difference between Saxo Bank being in the Pro Tour for 2012 and being in the lesser Pro Conti level.

But this new UCI ruling could well fall foul of WADA and the CAS.

We’ll see what the “unemployed” Contador does. It could be that Contador follows the Valverde example of being dropped from the team… but remaining close to the squad, riding in neutral colours on a team issue Specialized and even visiting team training camps. Alternatively we’ll see if other teams make an approach, he’s certainly facing big legal bills and a pile of petrodollars could ease the worries.

But regardless of his next team, Saxo Bank or a new one, hiring Contador won’t come cheap. His record in grand tours is the best amongst contemporaries and who would bet against him winning the Vuelta this year? He’s still a prime asset, for now. But as you know riders don’t just bring publicity for their team, they earning ranking points. Without Contador, Saxo Bank might not have qualified for the UCI Pro Tour as his haul of points was by far the biggest of Saxo’s riders. In short, Saxo is amongst the top-18 teams thanks to Contador.

Zero comma zero zero zero
These ranking points are crucial but there is a new rule from the UCI for riders returning from a ban. Here is the proposal submitted last spring to the UCI:

a proposal aiming to prevent any rider returning to competition after a suspension of at least two years for violation of the Anti-Doping Regulation to contribute to the establishment of his team’s sporting value during the registration procedure.  If the UCI Management Committee approves, this measure, which means that during a period of two years these riders’ points would not be taken into account, will take effect from this year

This was ratified by the UCI Management Committee last September during its meeting on the margins of the world championships in Copenhagen, explains more.

Secret points
Note the points system at stake here is not the public rider and team rankings listed on the UCI website. In it’s curious wisdom the UCI assesses teams on a “secret” internal ranking when analysing the sporting value of the team. explained this last spring but since then the criteria have been changed significantly. I don’t know why this is kept hidden but this is what we’re talking about.

Call the CAS?
Only this could be against World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules. You might be aware of the dispute between the WADA and the British Olympic Association (BOA). The BOA has a rule saying anyone banned for doping forfeits the right to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games. But WADA say the ban for a doping offence is two years and that the BOA, in adding an effective life ban, goes beyond this and “extra punishment” doesn’t comply with the internationally-agreed code. Consequently WADA has declared Britain a “non-compliant nation” and is expected to get the BOA rule overturned in the CAS soon. If WADA wins and “extra punishment” is outlawed by the CAS then the UCI’s points penalty is likely to go the same way. And I’m not alone in thinking this is possible, here is Jonathan Vaughters on twitter. Note that like me he is just thinking aloud:

I’m sympathetic to the idea that there are long term consequences of a ban, whether it means forfeiting the Olympics or cycling ranking points. But at the same time it creates an punishment above and beyond the agreed ban and WADA is keen to establish consistent sanctions. The UCI rule implies once the ban ends that some riders have different rights than others.

Many could support the UCI’s sanction, it’s a way to put riders on probation during a comeback and helps place a premium on those who have kept clean. But this places a significant penalty on the athlete who returns from a ban, they are deemed acceptable to race but carry a further penalty for a full two years. The rule stands for now but being allowed to race yet unable to carry points for your team is a sanction that could be overturned.

The new ideas are well-intentioned… but if this rule can be overturned in court then it’s not a firm rule. Riders or teams might fancy testing the principle in court, especially given the importance of points for the maintenance of their status in the Pro Tour.

23 thoughts on “New UCI doping penalty under threat”

  1. “But WADA say the ban for a doping offence is two years…”

    If there are aggravating circumstances it’s possible to hand out a 4-year suspension. But the key issue is perhaps whether or not it’s a personal punishment, or a sanction on the teams.

  2. I don’t quite understand how this rule applies to Valverde and his team? This news release currently contains the information ” Valverde has a total of 87 points” and “Movistar Team is second with 108 points”

    The cyclingnews piece seems to suggest that the WorldTour ranking includes his points for him and his team, but that the end-of-year count up for 2013 licences will exclude his points. So the published WorldTour ranking is NOT a true gauge of how well a team are doing to get their golden ticket. That’s a bit daft, unless the UCI are expecting the rules to change.

  3. The idea of teams depending on points that “belong” to individual riders is quite clumsy in itself, and no wonder it leads to contradictions. The idea of other bodies “completing” the WADA code, which is supposed to be all-encompassing, is also quite dangerous: what if one of these other bodies decides to include, instead of new elements of severity, new elements of leniency?

    And on Contador’s contractual future, this can be interesting: (for those who read Spanish)

  4. further to my comment on timeliness of bans, i can’t help but laugh at the fact that Contador is free to return to competition before Jan Ullrich is….

  5. Is this not slightly different from the BOA case? My thinking here is that the BOA rule affects the rider themselves – they are in effect facing a longer ban than is agreed upon by the WADA code. In this case though, whilst the rider is not gaining points, they are still riding, therefore not banned, and it would be the team they ride for that is ‘punished’.

  6. I agree with Chap O, race all you want once you come back, but to prevent teams snapping up riders coming off sanction, their points don’t count for various considerations in the team rankings. I’m sure someone will challenge this in court but this is a sporting rule of the International Cycling Union rather than a criminal or right-to-work issue as nobody is preventing the returning doper from winning races and pocketing the prize money. I still side with CONI and BOA on the idea that we don’t want you representing our country at the Olympic Games if you’re an ex dope cheat. Being named to the national team is not a RIGHT, as in right-to-work, since there is no prize money on offer, only the medals.

  7. John Fahey (head of WADA) interviewed on BBC Hardtalk this week. TV-BBC World News, World Service on radio, should be online next week.
    Talks about the BOA case, Contador, Armstrong amongst others.

  8. The secretive nature of the points system makes a mockery of a supposedly professional sport, as does the fact that riders take sole ownership of points, with no regard to the team.

    As has been highlighted, many talented Saxo Bank riders forfeited their chance of a points haul in working for Contador last year. Perhaps this was an error of judgement from Riis, but do we really want the sport to force teams to chase smaller goals rather than aiming high for the very top prizes?

    Surely they should come up with a system where the points are doubled. Riders keep their own points and teams keep the same amount, e.g. Andy Schleck gets 200 for a Tour win and RSNT get 200 points they too. This gives the team some level of security should one star rider leave, and also rewards the work of the team in achieving the win.

  9. The whole points system is just too complicated. If those outside the UCI but within the system (meaning riders and teams) can’t understand the full ramifications, how can they make educated decisions on which team to accept offers from/which riders to make offers to? Further, it unnecessarily confuses fans and journalists a like, especially when relatively few truly care about World Tour results.

    As for adding further penalties beyond the period of suspension: On one hand all is fair, if the penalties are known and completely understood before hand, and not applied retro-actively (ex. here the rule was introduced after AC tested positive). On the other hand, consistency is important to avoid the farce that cycling in particular has inflicted on itself; rules shouldn’t be established where some riders have more rights/opportunities than others.

    One has to wonder what the UCI and federations are trying to deter; riders from doping, or teams from hiring them after they serve their ban?

    One has to remember that for a deterrent to be effective, that there needs to be what criminologists refer to as celerity (meaning punishment must be swift & certain).

    It also needs to be understood that since teams are traditionally sponsored by commercial firms who desire publicity, thus sporting criteria (i.e. winning) isn’t necessarily the driver behind their decision to get involved; they need “headlines” and exposure. While many will argue they don’t want negative publicity, others will argue there is no such thing. Since it has been demonstrated that the Spanish may view AC as a victim here, and is a sympathetic character, there could be huge positive publicity for a sponsor who backs him. Teams might hire him for publicity value as well as sporting; if he wins, they get the exposure, even if his points don’t count towards World Tour status.

    The whole system needs to be rethought with all of the objectives in mind, rather than a patchwork of reactionary policies.

  10. ‘Double punishment’ is not logical in my opinion. There must be a clear definition of the crime and punishment. The BOA ban and loss of points are ‘punishment plus’ which are neither consistent nor fair in the wider framework or the rules. I agree they are well meaning but they are also emotive and that’s not the point of a justice system. As with everything in life the scope must be clearly defined, if we aim for A it will be achieved. If we try for B, C & D as well chances are we’ll achieve less or nothing

  11. The two years not accruing sporting value points after the suspension expires is indeed an added punishment to the rider as their market value (compensation) is definitely related to their sporting value points haul for the team. Surely this is a violation of WADA code.

    Even if it passed that hurdle, what of the start date for this new UCI rule? Is this applied where the rider’s violation is after a certain start date, or to anyone presently suspended or in appeals? It seems unjust to add this penalty after the fact, retroactively to past violations.

  12. @ave
    Why pay him when he’s not eligible to ride?

    I hope this no-points for two years rule gets thrown out by CAS if it comes to that. As much as dopers I don’t like dopers etc. this isn’t the right way to go about punishing people.
    If the rule does stay, then Contador will be on a lesser salary than he is used to, that’s for sure.

  13. Those poor teams that lose the points . . . . sorry, I see it as a great possibility for some serious motivation for teams to internally enforce WADA code which may be the most effective place for it to happen. It’s only unfair in this grey time period where penalties could be incured by the teams for actions taken before the new rule was in place.

    The only hiccup here, from my point of view is the delta between WADA and the UCI. Any chance of getting those two parties on the same page on this one?

    I watched some stages from the 2005 tour last night on youtube. If anyone has doubts about how far the fight against doping has come please watch those and see who was in the front on the climbs and where they are now. With the exception of one of course . . . .

  14. It is more complicated in Contador’s situation because Contador committed his offense before the rule came into effect. He commited it before the rule was even proposed. Applying the rule to him would be ex post facto punishment, which is against the European Convention on Human Rights that all members of the European Union must abide by. Basically, the punishment for a crime should be based on laws at the time a crime was committed so that a person can use the known consequences to make an informed decision about whether he wants to commit a crime.

    Contador could bring suit in civil courts.

  15. I think the UCI would argue that it is a rule for the elegibility of teams to be considered for world tour status (or automatic elegibility with enough points), not a sanction on a rider.
    Yes, the rule is not directed at a rider but could probably be argued that it is likely to have a selective negative effect upon them as opposed to the team as a whole or other riders in it. The rule gets the teams to effectively sanction the rider for a further two years because otherwise the team would loose to many vital points. They would have to ensure they, as a team, accrued enough ranking points to stay in the world tour thus having to deny the convicted rider the oppertunity to go for as many wins & consequent prize money. It’s this demonstrable link between the rider and the rule that may well lead to it being overturned/changed.

  16. According to the cited cyclingnews story, “the UCI bases its assessment of ProTeam candidates on four criteria: sporting, ethical, financial and administrative.” So even if the ranking points of a rider returning from a suspension are counted, the UCI can consider the “ethical” quality of a team in making its Pro Tour decision. In other words, what prevents the UCI from excluding a team from the Pro Tour on “ethical” grounds if most of the team’s points are earned by riders returning from doping suspensions?

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