The UCI have published the Licence Commission’s reasoned decision to let the Astana team ride on. It confirms last week’s speculation that whatever trouble the team was in was related to softer, cultural issues rather than anything dramatic.
A quick reminder that the team’s 2015 licence was made conditional on an audit by Lausanne University (ISSUL) and that following the audit’s conclusions in February the UCI asked its Licence Commission to review the case and remove the team’s licence. Following hearings in March and April the Licence Commission rejected this and gave Astana permission to ride on. Now we know why as the reasoned decision has been published. It’s in French-only for now.
The UCI seems to have been spurred to action by the audit’s reports of poor management culture. All those hoping the audit would reveal fridges stocked with EPO vials are set for disappointment because this is a softer thing, a sociological study rather than a police raid. The reasoned decision makes reference to four faults:
- a gap between the organisational structure as described and the real organisation
- the certified qualifications of the team staff
- the support systems found to be wanting
- a management culture problem
What this means in practice isn’t spelled out, exactly how these issues arose and what they meant isn’t in the decision. There are other references to language issues with the Russian speaking members of staff and thinking aloud it could be that some Italian coaching staff have issues communicating with the Kazakhs on the team. Trivial? Perhaps but this can be a pathway to doping, the whole point of the ISSUL performance criteria is that if riders aren’t getting the support they need then there’s a good chance they’ll turn to sources outside the team. A rider told to perform but not supplied with coaching support could turn to doping.
Elsewhere the management culture is described as “à l‘ancienne” or old school where some bosses are too powerful and roles are not clearly defined. Again this isn’t defined but imagine, say, Vinokourov picking teams for races despite not knowing the recent training data of riders or a directeur sportif suggesting training sessions to riders despite not being a qualified coach and the team having its own coaching staff already. And that’s it, this is no smoking gun report that unearthed something disgusting, just that Astana’s had problems with its management culture.
Seek and you will find
In fact audit many teams and they’d come up the same. For years professional teams have sat at the top of the sport while been run along the lines of a family business. The model has been for an ex-pro to launch or takeover a team and take their experience of racing into team management. Now it can bring plenty but it also means missing a lot. It’s like expecting a factory worker to run the show, handle the finances, seek investors, hire staff and run the legal department all within a year or two: an ex-pro can’t run training camps, call tactics from the team car, seek new sponsors and oversee the budget.
One of the odder parts of the reasoned decision is the Rumsfeldian “known unknowns” part where the Licence Commission says had it known what the ISSUL report concluded when it was reviewing the team’s licence last August then the team might not have got a licence for 2015. This is on the grounds that the team was pretending to be well-organised when in fact it had some big flaws. But the Licence Commission has revised its Swiss law (the UCI is based in Switzerland) and the obvious principle of proportionality. This means that for all the sloppy internal culture stopping the team mid-season would be too disproportionate a hit. The principle of proportionality is reasonable but varied justice according to timing isn’t.
The UCI has some explaining to do
Cycling’s governing body told the world back in February that it had found something so horrible that the team had to stop:
“the UCI strongly believes that it contains compelling grounds to refer the matter to the Licence Commission and request the Astana Pro Team licence be withdrawn”
UCI Press Release, 27 February 2015
This wasn’t suspending the team for a week nor calling for a couple of team staff to be sacked, this was the governing body saying in public that the audit had thrown up something so grave the entire squad had to be taken down. This was compounded by the dark reference to the Padova investigation in the same press release. With fans already having a dim view of the team this just encouraged the already widely-held view that the team was suspect. This wasn’t just a cyclingnews forum conspiracy theory, it was the governing body.
Only as we’ve seen it relates to softer cultural issues about staff qualifications and language barriers rather than blood transfusions and criminal practice. Still these things matter and if the Licence Commission says revelations were enough to justify a review of the licence, the criticism here is one of presentation, that the UCI said the team had to be stopped but didn’t explain the ISSUL criteria and in the vacuum many thought something directly related to doping had been found.
Update: on Wednesday L’Equipe has an interview with ISSUL’s Olivier Aubel. It’s worth sharing a some issues. “You’ve got to understand ISSUL isn’t an anti-doping organisation” says Aubel, “instead our work is to analyse how the management of a team increases or not the risk of doping.” ISSUL will be monitoring Astana and submit three more reports on 19 June, 10 August, 10 September. When the ISSUL and the UCI wanted eight teams to trial the scheme, Astana refused. The irony is that they’re now dependent on compliance and Astana’s case has helped develop and advance the methodology.
Astana ride on and the decision says one mistake and the whole team’s future could be in jeopardy. Many followers had associated the word “audit” with some kind of swat team to check every cupboard and bank account but that’s not what the ISSUL audit was about, it’s a soft approach towards cultural issues. That Astana wasn’t very good with these things is obvious but it’s been given another chance, especially as pulling the plug on the team mid-season would have been a heavy price to pay for the relatively small faults reported. Small but significant, Astana could have lost its licence before only now the Licence Commission says they’ve changed internal practices with improved rider supervision, clear job demarcation and operational novelties like an IT platform to upload training files. With ISSUL it’s the little things that count.
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” The principle of proportionality is reasonable but varied justice according to timing isn’t.” A fair point in abstract, though weren’t you yourself asking whether other sports had excluded teams mid-season, drawing attention to how particularly disruptive (read disproportionate) that was?
Also “swat team” should probably have capitals: SWAT team.
Maybe they’re just studying for exams?
More seriously, will the UCI now be seen as the boy who cried wolf and not be taken seriously some time in the future?
Agreed with Nick. Also note the problem of “what then?”. We all assumed, on Cookson’s words, that something big was there, hence it was “WT or OUT”. But if we’re speaking of softer issues, it wouldn’t have been a problem to allow them to ask a Pro Conti licence, neither to issue it – last winter.
It’s logical that if they found EPO smuggling it couldn’t be compatible with a solution like: “ok, you’re not WT, go on in the Contidoper ranks”, not officially at least.
Though, if the question is: “you’ve got an imperfect management, unlike what you said us”, that would make possible to be admitted in a position whose requirements are less strict.
Thus, the problem is that issuing a Pro Continental licence *now* isn’t probably possible, and even in case of some UCI-style derogation, the impact on race programme may be relevant.
In fact, you would be more or less disbanding the team, whereas last autumn-winter other options would have been on the table.
If an interpretation like this is plausible, what the Licence Commission says is coherent and quite logical. Most legal systems include an evaluation of the real effect of the court’s decision to set the exact nature of the sanctions eventually inflicted or of the preventive measures taken.
Unpalatable though the decision is to many, I think that’s a fair summary of the situation, Gabriele
Well, now we know what the Last Chance Saloon actually is: a juice bar..
I’m still scratching my head primarily because of the UCI rhetoric when they called for the license to be revoked. Do we know whether the commission looked at any evidence from the Padova investigation or is it STILL under wraps until charges are, or are not, filed?
There’s no mention of Padova in the reasoned decision. Perhaps this will be a slow burner and it could one day engulf Vinokourov but as a rule when the Italian justice leaks to La Gazzetta it’s because they’ve run out of road.
This looks like Cookie’s first mistake to me. So outraged were the calls for action over Astana after the string of positive tests, he possibly felt the need to offer something to provide a sense of action. He overshot.
I sincerely hope that he will learn from this and keep to a more appropriate tone as a man who runs a governing body and not the police! Fingers crossed.
You think this was his first mistake?
Closer to the beginning was when he and his spokesmen waved about a manilla envelope, insinuating the corruption and guilt of Patrick McQuaid contained in an “incriminating dossier” that never existed.
Imagine having to resort to lying as the only chance of winning an election. Imagine lying about the man who introduced the Bio Passport, the most important and innovative tool in the long journey toward cleaner sport. All sport, not just cycling. And then, election won, imagine abusing that tool in order to forward the agenda of the man who financed your election; the founder of the dirtiest team in cycling.
This Astana fiasco is just more evidence that Cookie is a bumble.
Well, I’m shocked
Just looking for my Shock-o-meter
That’s my reading as well. Journalists and fans on Twitter and other online venues were in a ferocious tizzy, insisting, with all moral authority, that Astana just could not continue. The rules be damned! The UCI felt the need to placate this online mob and tried to do so by citing the ISSUL audit and making vague references to Padova as a basis for sending Astana to the license commission, even though I’d bet the UCI had come to a “reasoned decision” that the license commission probably would not pull Astana’s license. Power to the people.
On the up side, the UCI said the report would be made public and it has been. A Reasoned Decision in a reasonable timeframe. One tick to the UCI.
On the downside, much of what you write about the UCI still shows that there are issues with communication and consistency. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that there are still individuals within the UCI who could be described as “à l’ancienne”. Maybe an ISSUL audit is required closer to home?
Thanks for such a quickly uploaded and concise summary.
Agreed it’s good to have this all in public, it explains plenty and is superior to the Katusha case which only emerged via the CAS.
In many ways the UCI is still a dysfunctional organisation, a legacy of years and years of mismanagement and muddling through, since long before Hein.
Changing that culture is an enormous ask for one man, however talented, and Cookson, though good and organisationally sound, has shown himself to be less than sure-footed in some aspects of the job.
One thing I would be sure of is that if he can sell an ISSUL-style audit of the UCI to the internal gnomes at Aigle then there will be one. It is absolutely his MO.
Totally + 1, Larrick
Everyone left at the UCI is loyal to the new administration. But, it is a little ironic that Astana’s reported issues could just as easily belong to the UCI:
a gap between the organisational structure as described and the real organisation
the certified qualifications of the team staff
the support systems found to be wanting
a management culture problem
It is unclear to me whether some number or frequency of actual doping cases can be cause, in and of itself, to revoke a license, based on the License Commission’s decision. Suppose ISSUL reports that Astana does everything it is supposed to do from here on, but nonetheless another Astana rider gets a doping ban, and then another, and another. Could the team continue in the World Tour, while apple after apple turns out rotten? Does the UCI have to find a “smoking gun” of management complicity to successfully ban a team?
A doping case could be fatal for Astana. It’s why the LC tried to eject Katusha before because they had a series of them, they won back their place by making/pledging internal change but here with Astana they can’t do much more so any extra bad news can’t be mitigated by extra pledges.
I see another positive here – that ISSUL and the License Commission are showing themselves to be independent of the UCI.
unrelated … Or maybe? Richie Porte looks like his shadow. I predict he will ride away from his peers at giro d’italia much like Froome and Nibali have at the previous Tours. Unless he gets sick cause there is no way you can starve yourself, perform and remain healthy. Doping is not the only unhealthy habit in cycling. Maybe cycling should be divided like boxing based on weight?
Maybe he just gave up booze? It’s plausible – I recently didn’t give up booze and put on 5kg…
“He recently revealed he has lost close to five kilogrammes after cutting back on his alcohol consumption and changing his diet. It seems that getting engaged also helped him find a far better life balance.”
No pro rider (besides very few very & very well known cases: generally Roubaix riders, sprinters, cronomen, Betancur…) goes around with five unwanted kgs because of beer, lack of love and a bad diet. Less in Team Sky.
If anything, you would be like Bananito, dragging your huge… talent… around the back of the peloton despite tons of… class.
You would no way be a good gregario with a “giornata no” sometime like in 2013, but neither you’d be able to collect little top-tens around like in 2014.
Just a PR operation summoning feelings and situatons with which the commoners may empathise.
Spot on, Rusty chain. People are loosing kgs like once they used to lose hair, *massively*. Not only the Sky club, which set the trend, but Aru and his bellyache, Zakarin and so on. I don’t care if it’s legal, it’s just dangerous – as many have pointed out (and female cycling got consious about the trouble well before, thanks to a couple of big names speaking out).
Its dangerous when anorexia develops, for example. If its done responsibly and with decent regard to health (as much as single figure body fat is healthy), not so much.
But just to generalise as ‘dangerous’ isnt great.
For a pro rider, whose figures are generally low, losing 5-10kg in a few months (note that the protocol includes overfeeding during winter) is, IMHO, dangerous from a psychophysical point of view.
As I said, I’m referring to “massively” loosing weight.
But I must admit I’m no specialist, it’s just hearsay from acquaintances who are doctors (endocrinologist).
Here’s a calculation with the “units” program… 233 pints of 5% beer for 5 kg, not counting non-alcoholic nutrition:
You have: 5 kg * (3500 kcal/lb) / (7 kcal/gram) / 5% * (1 liter / kg)
You want: pints
And some wonder why so many riders stick to the blandest lines possible in interviews.
Every word dissected. Some to shore up confirmation bias. Others to treat every word as some special masonic code which if broken could reveal the true meaning of…whatever the reader is seeking.
Kwiatkowski in a recent interview said he is riding the Tour for experience rather than true hopes of GC. He mentioned in order to become competitive at the tour he d have to slim down and he is not ready to commit ????? You mean riders are consciously riding with extra weight? No there is some unnatural process they go through to achieve that Auschwitz like silhouette – Chris Froome with his scrony arms the poster boy.
Right on, Rusty, you tell ’em
just imagine how skinny Wiggo would be if he gave up drinking….
Not knowing what an audit by ISSUL would entail, we naturally assumed an investigation into the heart of the matter, namely, rampant use of PEDs, not ancillary issues of language, rider support and software technology. It’s like sending out a duck to do the job of a sniffer dog looking for contraband drugs, and the duck brings back a fish. What was the point of this exercise?
Well, that’s not entirely true…
This whole exercise was a pointless waste of time, money and column inches – much like the CIRC. The sport still faces an existential threat from doping and the omertà. If I were a potential sponsor, I wouldn’t touch the sport.
The ISSUL stuff is good, not foolproof but potentially useful. It means teams can be hauled up for something they’ve failed to do rather than something they’ve been caught doing. It’s just an extra on top though, we shouldn’t mistake it as The Thing to stop doping because nothing like that exists.
Hmmm, this smells like ASS-tana
Thanks for the excellent review. You wrote “Astana ride on and the decision says one mistake and the whole team’s future could be in jeopardy.” So they’re now on not-so-secret double probation? I think mendip5000 sums it up well. All the hysterics about yanking a team’s license were nothing but Pat McQuaid-style hot air. Cookson needs to be much, much better than that if the sport is to have any chance to rebuild credibility in the eyes of the general public.
“All the hysterics about yanking a team’s license were nothing but Pat McQuaid-style hot air.”
Pot – kettle – black.
Is “Astance” a typo in the title of the article, or is it a play of words that I don’t get?
A brief bug during the edit to put the update in above, fixed now.
The Astana affair shows how difficult it is to make an objective decision (revoke or not revoke a licence) on subjective information and guidelines (the quality of management techniques). The UCI needs to make its sporting and ethics criteria for licences much clearer and more defined. One approach could be to tell all teams at the start of the year: one positive doping result or adverse biological passport finding; team put on warning. Two; team automatically suspended immediately while the Licence Commission carries out a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding both positives and anything else of relevance, leading to either reinstatement if the team actively tried to prevent doping by its riders, particularly those who tested positive, and revocation if it didn’t. Three; and the team automatically loses its licence for that year with no guarantees about future years. This puts the responsibility firmly on the team to prevent doping and should get round the proportionality problem because it provides a sliding scale.
Sounds reasonable. Be interesting to see if the UCI moves to incorporate the MPCC’s self-suspension rules and make these formal. The difficulty though is the concept of collective punishment, in theory all it takes is one idiot to stop innocent people from doing their job, in this case one doper who the team can’t watch 24/7 can stop ordinary riders from racing if the team gets suspended.
The desire to avoid collective punishment is at the root of the problem and pretty much always has been. Every time a rider is caught doping, the first line of defense is the “lone wolf” and they’re thrown onto the scrap heap (unless they’re the star of course) and replaced by the next guy in line. UCI must overcome the “Heavens! All these nice people will be thrown out of work because of the actions of one person!” idea. It’s SPORT to start with so those who don’t want to play by the rules can get real jobs instead. Same with the innocent “victims”. If everyone involved has a big stake in playing by the rules, things might (just might) begin to change? If someone will cheat unless monitored 24/7 they simply have no place in the sport.
Being a professional athlete is a real job and for many the only chance they have of a decent income. I do agree that a cultural change is needed so that everyone involved understands from the very beginning that cycling is a team sport and there is therefore collective responsibility for cheating. Something along the lines of stripping all results that were achieved with the help of a rider who is later shown to have cheated, even if that rider was working for others.
Perhaps in order to avoid creating a set of rules that could also be viewed as an incentive for the teams to hide doping they are aware of, the proposal put forward by Megi could also include an extra clause whereby if the team suspects doping by one of their riders and puts forward this information, then the penalties do not apply.
I’ve always been favourable to a team-wise approach, but the way it’s being suggested isn’t convincing at all… we say “team”, we end up meaning “bunch of riders”! Thus making responsible people who potentially aren’t (not to speak of mechanics, soigneurs and so).
The team is not a cooperative.
There are people who own, people who take decisions (sometime separate, sometimes not) and various types of “workers”, with very different degrees of power.
Why don’t we start placing the responsibility… on those who should be responsible?
Collective and indifferentiate punishments, like team suspensions, will always be a heavier burden for the weaker subjects: not-star riders, working personnel.
I constantly see rider that end their professional career because a teammate doped (not at WT level, perhaps?… but maybe indirectly, even there); or even, let’s say that clear, because *they themselves* doped and they’re out forever without any official life ban (law – of life, of peloton – isn’t equal for all); then, riders whose career is finished when they give out a good-faith positive due to some stupid error (believe it or not, there are – a few – credible cases like that!)…
And I see quite a lot of managers involved in doping, even sacked because of doping, who always end up finding another job in cycling.
Maybe a little focus on the management would be interesting, too. And, know what?, I’m quite sure that when a team is shut down and riders don’t get their month of their pay, well, many times the manager collected beforetime his due salary…
“…career is finished when they give out a good-faith positive due to some stupid error (believe it or not, there are – a few – credible cases like that!”
Would you care to share the details on instances when this happened? I’ve always understood the fear of a “false positive” left holes wide enough to do plenty of doping without getting caught.
Maybe I didn’t expressed myself well, I’m not speaking of “errors” in the antidoping procedures (in that case we simply won’t ever know… because if it’s a double positive, we consider that “a cheater was caught”, and if we have a false positive, we’re happy to note that the system works!). I was speaking of stupid errors by the riders, which many times are only “supposed” and are probably cover up for doping, but other times can be reasonably considered to be what they’re pretended to be… irrelevant mistakes with no effect whatsoever on the performance.
Stefano Agostini’s case, for example, was quite absurd. I can’t be 100% sure it was just an error and not a cover up, but all his story is quite credible – and data are on his side (as acknowledged by the UCI, which accepted his versiona and nevertheless banned him for 15 months). He decided to retire from cycling: didn’t have the money to go on through courts.
Patrick Facchini’s story is a little more suspicious, still it’s a fact that the medecine he pretends to have used doesn’t have the “doping” sign on the box, and has the same name of a not-forbidden product. And many more. I’ve got less details about foreign riders, but Offredo’s story was quite crazy, too, even if he finally got total support from the team and could ride on.
yo Gabrielle I apreciare your comments on this blog! keep it coming man!
I would like to think that we should put our spotlight on not only management whether in Aigle or Astana City.
I would like to see sponsors(the big ones) take an active stand – say Specialised decided not to be related to any kind of doping – not sponsoring teams with a doping pasts(for example the last 3 years) – I think that could another way of turning around a dodgy culture. – and something we actually might be able to influence as consumers of this Sport.
When are Astana to apply for a renewal of their license? – could UCI choose to decline again?
thanx for a great post!
keep it below 50, boys……just like the rest of the peloton!
Not good for business is it, taking the licence away from the current Tour winners team.
Sure but the UCI doesn’t make much money from Astana, the licence fees are small.
But they did go public with the demand to stop the team. Some potential sponsors might even worry their name gets called out because they end up sponsoring a team that has internal management woes and suddenly [Brand X] is publicly shamed. All the more reason to back a team properly of course but some might just sponsor tennis instead.
That type of short term thinking was what kept Lance in business for so long.
“In fact audit many teams and they’d come up the same”
Sounds like a tool to target some teams while protecting others.
Except that it’s being trialled across eight teams – Astana now the 9th – with a view to universal implementation across the World Tour next year.
Hell, the link to Inrng’s earlier article explaining all this is sitting right there upthread. It’s not hard to spend five minutes looking it up.
All WT teams are entitled to a clear understanding that there are conditions and consequences to holding a licence. At present these sporting and ethical conditions are covered in a language that is fine for arguments on interpretation, but short on pointed detail. The UCI would do everybody a favour by making the conditions understandable and crystal clear. Megi above has made a set of very valid points.
If there is to be a serious start made in dealing with this problem, it is going to require a drastic change in direction and thinking by the UCI. Nobody any longer buys into the ‘it’s all changed now’ line.
I recognise that Brian Cookson used strong words when referring Astana back to the Licence Commission. It has, however, always struck me that the criteria setting out when the UCI can refer a team’s license back the Licence Commission has to require extraordinary grounds for not waiting the full, normal licence review period.
I don’t see that the UCI could arbitrarily call for a extraordinary review of a team’s licence. Even if the licence criteria allowed it in theory, I think TAS-CAS would overturn the referral if the UCI did not consider the referral necessary.
I’m therefore of the view that the UCI 27 February statement was, most likely, written on the basis that the UCI HAD to recommend the Licence Commission revoke the licence in order to be able to trigger the extraordinary review (of Astana, the licence holder) by the Licence Commission.
That the team has, seemingly, had to ‘bust-a-gut’ to get through the review (as indicated in the reasoned decision) shows to me that if everything had remained as it was during the pre-February ISSUL audit the Licence Commission would have agreed with the revocation request. Astana were drinking in the last chance saloon and just side-stepped the bullet.
Plausible explanation of why Cookson could be satisfied with this outcome (so far). Though the “issues” listed in the decision seem a bit weak when compared with the rhetoric of Feb 27, as you say maybe that statement was the minimum that was needed to get the review launched. But the fact that the bullet missed its mark still leaves the impression of a president who is a bit constrained in pursuing his goals.
Was responding to Ben here.
Do you really want a president who can pursue his personal goals without constraint? Decisions made, and the whole sport getting changed, on one person’s whim? I believe cycling tried this approach in the 80s, 90s, & 00s.
Some may prefer a president and UCI who utilise the procedures available, who ask experts for expert opinions (rather than following their own whims), who let independent decisions be made by independent panels/experts, and who look to evolve and reform the processes governing particular matters if the processes aren’t as effective as required.
“…last chance saloon.” seems a bit whimsical in hindsight, no? And, you might be a mislead regarding independence..
The teams have to be responsible for their riders – they employ or engage them and employers are generally responsible in law for the actions of their employees/agents.
In terms of preventing the innocent suffering – how about a rule that a team has to continue to pay all staff/riders not subject to any sanctions from the UCI until the end of the year regardless of whether their licence is suspended or revoked, and that if the licence is revoked, all staff/riders not subject to any sanctions are free to take employment with any other team with a licence immediately and not wait until August 1.
I appreciate that rosters will be full, but as the riders/staff wages/salaries will be paid until the end of the year, there could be a formal “extraordinary circumstances” arrangement under which teams can engage staff/riders who are paid by a team whose licence has been revoked and that such staff/riders do not count towards any cap on staff/rider numbers. In those circumstances, the innocent parties could find themselves popular in the employment market rather than out of work and out of pay.
Imagine the signing frenzy there would be if Astana lost its licence with such a rule in place.
Maybe one way to think about this is that they didn’t want to kill them for this year, but they wanted to make it hard for them to sign new riders next year. Maybe even give some of the riders, a chance to leave before it is too late.
Dear Inner ring
First sorry for my poir english.
I’m very fan of your analysis about pro cycling.
If you want and if you can do it in french, I can explain what is an ” issul style audit”. I can try to demonstrate how a cultural analysis is not only a “soft” analysis when it can lead to avoid doping problem. For us doping affairs are the symptom. With our “soft” cultural approach we want to be before some of the doping problem caused by work an employment conditions.
If you want contact me at my e mail adress
I’d assumed by “soft”, inrng meant matters that were not easy to quantify – e.g., management or cultural issues – as opposed to hard data – e.g., blood values.
Exactly, soft as in subjective and qualitative as opposed to the binary positive/negative of toxicology tests for banned substances.
I’ll be in contact Olivier too, thanks for the comment.