UCI waive their own rules to let Kolobnev join Katusha

How good is your maths? If you can count, have a go at the number of riders listed on the Katusha team as of tonight on the UCI website. I make it 28 riders and one neo, a total of 29 riders.

All seems normal so far. Only the Russian team today announced it has signed Alexander Kolobnev. And that is against the UCI rules.

Kolobnev was with Katusha until last July when he tested positive for a banned substance during the Tour de France. At the time I thought he got treated roughly over this. Since then the Russian Cycling Federation heard his case and gave him a light sanction. The UCI disagreed with this and took the case to appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The CAS ruled in February, throwing out the UCI’s appeal. You can read the summary details of the case online at the CAS.

Cleared to ride, Kolobnev has been free to join a team. Only normally there would be no room in the Katusha team as they’re capped at 29 riders. Here’s the rule on team size:

2.15.110 Riders The number of riders in each UCI ProTeam may not be fewer than twenty-three (23). The maximum number of riders per UCI ProTeam which may be registered with the UCI is restricted according to the number of new professionals under contract (within the meaning of article 7 of the joint agreement concluded between the CPA (Cyclistes Professionnels Associés – Associated Professional Cyclists) and the AIGCP (Association Internationale des Groupes Cyclistes Professionnels – International Association of Professional Cycling Teams) in the following manner:

Number of new professionals under contract to the UCI ProTeam Maximum number of riders registered with the UCI
0 28
1 29
2-5 30

So a squad with 2-5 neo pro riders can have a maximum of 30 riders, whilst a team without a neo-pro is capped at 28. Katusha has one neo pro in Marco Haller so the maximum number is normally 29 riders and this is the number they were at prior to signing Kolobnev.

What’s happened?
The UCI has waived its own rules here. This looks like less of a bungle than last autumn’s farce with Astana where a rider suddenly retired with a back injury after the UCI let the Kazakh team sign a rider mid-season, taking the team size over the permitted limit but nobody noticed for a while.

Instead the UCI has, according to a tweet from Kolobnev’s PR agent Laura Messeguer, granted an exception “because of the trial and the lost time“. There’s some fairness in this, especially since I believe Katusha wanted to sign Kolobnev last winter but held back because the UCI was taking the case to the CAS and signed someone else. Since the UCI went on to comprehensively lose the case, the appeal can be seen as a waste of time and a brake on Kolobnev’s career.

On the other hand, making exceptions to the rules is a risky business, especially when the rules don’t offer any flexibility on team size, specifying team size with arithmetic precision. Especially when the team owner, Igor Makarov, also happens to be one of the UCI’s most senior UCI official.

Normally Katusha would be capped at 29 riders but the UCI seems to have waived its own rules to let Alexander Kolobnev join the team.

There’s some fairness in this given it was the UCI’s fruitless appeal that blocked Kolobnev from signing over the winter. Then again it can be fraught when the governing body starts being selective with its own rules, especially when the rules waived happen to suit the interests of a senior official and the team he owns.

  • This story was first spotted by Twitter’s Biarnes72, a contributor to Spanish website Biciclismo. It’s worth learning Spanish or French just to read his tweets.

16 thoughts on “UCI waive their own rules to let Kolobnev join Katusha”

  1. I’m just as surprised and shocked by this development as ol’ Jean-Marie LeBlanc was when they found the Festina car full of doping products back in 1998. This is the kind of corruption and double-dealing that keeps potential sponsors out of pro cycling. The UCI, the crooked docs, the corrupt team managers and the sponsors who look-the-other-way while the riders are doped are all equally to blame here. How many people would respond with DOPING when asked to associate one word with pro cycling? The answer is – TOO MANY. Each time I think the sport has bottomed out and can only go up – news like this comes around. Italian TV news this evening had a bit on the Lampre doping scandal though I didn’t catch enough of it to understand exactly why this was back in the news…but PRO CYCLING = DOPING was clearly the implication. Will this EVER end?

  2. The UCI carry such a high profile at the minute resulting from the Contador case that you would have thought they would keep there dirty backhander/cheap/corrupt/dodgy (delete as appropriate) business quiet for a while and play the straight and narrow ‘we are a useful, effective governing body’ game. No, the UCI never cease to amaze, yet at the same time are completely predictable. What happened to ‘rules is rules’. And no, they wern’t made to be broken either. Laughing stock amongst riders, management, press – and they wonder why teams are struggling to get decent sponsorship deals on the table.

  3. Sorry if this has been pointed out already on this site… The UCI seems to be ignorant of a common concept in ethics known as “the appearance of impropriety.” The idea is that actions that raise questions of impropriety are ethically equivalent to actual improprieties. So, giving lucrative contracts to relatives, bending rules for teams owned by insiders, etc are considered unethical even if the actions were fair and untainted.

    People often wonder how a corrupt dictator can remain in power even when the corruption is widely known and the dictator is generally unpopular. The answer is that dictators dole out favors in order to create a network of (often powerful) people who realize that if the dictator were to be toppled their fortunes would be taken away and they may even end up in jail or dead. They therefore have a strong incentive to keep the status quo.

  4. Surely it would be appropriate for the UCI to publicly state why they are subverting their own rules in a case like this – rather than just allowing it and refusing to explain why??

    They can’t expect to be taken seriously when they apply the rules only when they feel like it, with no explanation why or why not…??

    Not sure if its arrogance or incompetence – but I’m guessing its both…

  5. Kritskiy is out due to his broken leg so one place is free. That was the only chance for Kolobnev to get back to Katusha. Thus, no sensation. Just fuzzy maths.

  6. Ethan: that’s the problem. A governing body is supposed to live by its rules, once it starts making up new rules, even to be nice, it is on a very slippery slope. What if another team wants to sign a rider? What if the UCI’s appeal over Alex Rasmussen/Danish Cycling fails and the rider says he was disturbed by the appeal, can he ask for help or compensation in return?

    Alex: there is a possibility here but only if Kritskiy is dropped from the team. But teams cannot drop riders during the middle of the season because of injury. Only if he is unable to continue his career for good, like Astana and Kireyev agreed last year.

  7. On balance, I believe the UCI has made the right decision. It may well have been self serving – ie to avoid legal action – but on balance it is clearly an exceptional case, and importantly fair. Good luck to Kolobnev on his return….

  8. @beev, yes the decision may be morally right, but it is ethically wrong and against their own rules. If they want such exceptions to be made possible, they should draft an appeals process so that everyone can access it. Bureaucracy can be cumbersome, but well drafted rules keep everyone open, honest, accountable and ethical….and ultimately predictable, in a good way.

  9. It’d be silly to get too upset with the UCI about their lack of accountability to the rules and the other stakeholders. It’s just not the thing this type of agency was established to do. UCI, FIFA, F1, IOC, they’re all boys’ clubs, looking out for their members, as they advance their power and financial status.

    To sit back and bitch about what they’re doing is pointless, and ultimately fruitless. The thing is, if all the riders up and quit today, they’d have a whole new crop of new guys to replace them for little/no money overnight. Cycling just isn’t important enough a sport to force the UCI to share power.

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