This week has seen several comment pieces like the one in London’s The Guardian shown above (and here and here) saying the new Bahrain cycling team too controversial and unpleasant for the sport because of the multiple allegations claiming the team’s backer Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, son of the the ruler King Fahd, tortured people. He denies this. Public statements like “Whoever calls for the fall of the regime, may a wall fall on his head” are a matter of record. With headlines like “UCI urged to halt Bahraini-bankrolled WorldTour team over rights abuses” can the team be stopped?
As a rule headlines with question marks in the title can be replied to with the answer “no” but let’s explore the issue here. The UCI has to award the team a licence and will vet the team and those involved in the project. To win a licence a team has to meet sporting, financial, administrative and ethical criteria. Given Bahrain is an oil-rich state they’re unlikely to worry about the first three. But what about ethics and Mr Hamad? Here’s the ethics rule (2.15.011c for World Tour teams, 2.16.013a for Pro Conti):
The ethical criterion takes account inter alia of the respect by the team or its members for:
a) the UCI regulations, inter alia as regards anti-doping, sporting conduct and the image of cycling;
b) its contractual obligations;
c) its legal obligations, particularly as regards payment of taxes, social security and keeping accounts;
d) the principles of transparency and good faith.
As you can the ethics are quasi-legal relating to paying your taxes and respecting contracts. The only hook to catch Mr Hamad on here is “the image of cycling” but note it’s about “the respect by the team or its members for the UCI regulations” so it’s merely a matter of whether Mr Hamad follows the UCI rules rather than wider issues about someone’s character, personal life or public conduct.
Fit and Proper Test
The UCI doesn’t have a “fit and proper person” test. It was the first recommendation mentioned in the wake of the CIRC report but so far there’s nothing. A tweak to the rules does stop convicted dopers from being employed or running a team but comes with several get-outs (has to be heavy doping, only new cases as it can’t apply retrospectively etc) but that’s it.
Given Mr Hamad denies the claims and has London lawyers on stand-by to assert his denial it’s going to be difficult for the UCI to block him given the absence of any verdict such as a court ruling. A sports governing body is not going to be able to get to the truth of what happens in Bahrain. It’d be great if our sport’s governing body could set the world to rights, or even just a part of it, but it’s not going to happen. Aigle isn’t The Hague.
The UCI could call Mr Hamad’s bluff and say “no thanks” in the hope that he would not try to sue his way into the World Tour via the courts which could involve witness testimony. But this is
The London-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) has written to the UCI this week and has circulated there message to the cycling media. Here is an excerpt from their letter:
We believe Prince Nasser’s involvement as the head of a team would be in violation of article 2 of the UCI Code of Ethics (CoE), which protects against breaches of principles that include human dignity, non-discrimination against political opinions, non-violence and harassment, integrity and political neutrality. We therefore ask that you reject the awarding of the WorldTour license to the Bahrain Cycling Team.
BIRD refers to “article 2 of the UCI Code of Ethics”. Now the UCI has just announced a new Code of Ethics is coming out soon but until then we’ll work on the current/old one. BIRD is right that Article 2 specifies “human dignity, non-discrimination” and so on. Only Article 1 says the Code of Ethics applies to specified groups: members of the Management Committee; members of the Professional Cycling Council; members of commissions; UCI staff; commissaires; technical delegates. Article 2 doesn’t apply to team owners like Prince Nasser Hamad.
If the rules can’t stop this team then maybe your wallet can? The bike manufacturer is not known, the same for the clothing supplier and all the other sponsors who will enable this team. So if you have more reservations than booking.com about this team then as soon as any sponsors are linked to this then go and tell them.
As an aside to the ethics and rules let’s note how this new cycling team is looking bad before it’s even fitted a pedal, yet alone turned one. Most team launches combine excitement and intrigue, the Bahrain team seems to be starting with a mix of disgust and negative headlines. For all the talk of a slick new outfit funded by a billionaire it seems to lost control of the message already. Many cycling fans might not be able to point to Bahrain on a map but they now know it rhymes with torture. We’ll probably be treated to an exclusive interview soon with Mr Hamad where he shows his caring, progressive side but the damage is done.
There’s been lots of comment saying the team and more specifically its backer shouldn’t have a place in cycling. Only on investigation it turns out there’s little to stop it happening. You might think the UCI should do something but there’s little they can do. The sport’s rulebook has little to say, even the “ethics” criteria relate to following the UCI rules rather than public conduct. There’s no “fit and proper person” test despite the CIRC pledge. The Bahrain campaigners who say Mr Hamad falls short on the UCI’s Code of Ethics have missed that it applies to UCI staff and not team owners. The allegations against Mr Hamad are serious and worrying but in the absence of a conviction a mid-size sports governing body is unlikely to get to the bottom of them. If someone else can they maybe the UCI will be able to act.
If you don’t like the sound of this guy then the above is not an uplifting read. But there’s still time for things to change. The UCI has promised the “fit and proper person” test so if this does emerge then something could change and similarly we await the UCI’s new Code of Ethics to see if this is applied to team managers. Until then look out for the team’s launch, slated for one of the Tour de France rest days and see which sponsors and suppliers have decided to join.
- Update – 17 June 2016: the new UCI Code of Ethics is out (PDF here) and it applies to “all licence holders” so team owners do have to abide by it. This raises the bar for Mr Hamad, especially given Article 6.1 says “the persons bound by the Code shall not undertake any action, use any denigratory words, or any other means, that offend the human dignity of
a person or group of persons, on any grounds including but not limited toskin colour, race, religion, ethnic or social origin, political opinion, sexualorientation, disability or any other reason contrary to human dignity“. (my emphasis). Calling for a wall to fall on the head of political opponents may be viewed as part of this or repeated statements while Mr Hamad owns the team could be used against him.