Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Oh the Drama!

In the ongoing and rather melodramatic death match between the Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) and the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the two organizations took steps this week further ratcheting up the conflict. Recently, the ASO made an overture to the UCI to return the Tour de France to the UCI’s sanctioning if, in return, the UCI would drop its threat to engage disciplinary proceedings against all riders and teams that participated in Paris-Nice. Smart move. While that seems a reasonable quid pro quo, the UCI declined the offer. The ASO, needing a sanctioning body for the Tour de France (one must have rules … especially in France) turned to the French Cycling Federation (FFC).

If this is beginning to seem more Tom and Jerry than Israel and Palestine to you, that’s okay, the situation is as ridiculous as it seems. Easily the greatest failing in judgment belongs to the UCI. What Pat McQuaid and the rest of the UCI staff have lost sight of is that there would be no need for the UCI without the races that make up its calendar. Had bike races such as the Tour de France (and for that matter, the ASO’s other events including Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege) not been founded, there would be no need for the UCI. The UCI gets to exist because there are bike races. This is not a chicken or egg issue.

In legal proceedings, this relationship is referred to as sine qua non: “Without which it could not be.” It is fair to wonder what bicycle racing would be had Liege-Bastogne-Liege not been first run in 1892. Another 8 years would pass before the UCI was founded in Paris.

Okay, so the ASO turned to the FFC to sanction the 2008 Tour de France. It seems unthinkable that the Tour won’t be run under the guidance of the UCI, but there it is. Weirder yet is that the UCI has called the ASO’s actions “deeply regrettable.”

In the annals of passive-aggressive memos, this deserves to go down as a doozy. One does not regret the actions of another. One regrets one’s own actions. For anyone to consider an action on the part of another as regrettable what they are suggesting is that the other party will come to regret their actions. That is a classic passive-aggressive challenge. We expect this sort of language to be used in mafia movies: You can just hear Marlon Brando saying, "I find your actions deeply regrettable."

The UCI’s response to this “deeply regrettable” act was to assert that teams and racers that participate in the Tour will face as yet-to-be-determined disciplinary measures.

The UCI’s threat is utterly absurd. It issued the same threat before an important, though not monumental race when it threatened the teams and riders that raced Paris-Nice. In theory, it was possible to skip Paris-Nice without any great consequence to a rider’s season. The Tour is another matter. Riders and teams plan their whole season around the Tour. Under ordinary circumstance the only things that will keep a rider from the Tour are injury and non-selection. And now the UCI thinks that the threat that was utterly ineffective for Paris-Nice will somehow generate the fear of God when used against the Tour.

Bill Cosby had a routine about the high jump and his inability to clear 6’ 0”—his height. One day he decided, “If I can’t jump my height, why can’t I jump one inch more than my height?” This is precisely the absurd line of reasoning the UCI is using, which is why it’s okay to laugh in response to the UCI’s threat—it’s as hollow as a gymnasium, not to mention hilarious.

Simply put, if you were a PRO, what do you think would be more harmful to your career, the UCI or not showing up to the Tour?

Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International


Anonymous said...

Agree! by its conduct, the UCI appears to defy all reasonable logic. As you sagely put it, without the TdF (and others), there would be no UCI. In legal speak, I beleive the latin nomenclature is res ipsa loquitor!
Aussie Joe

Old Fonzie said...

The funny thing is that this supposed High Road is coming from the guy who among other thing broke International Agreements to bring a team covertly to compete in a stage race in Apartheid South Africa.

He caused young Sean Kelly to be banned from the Olympics. You know he'd do anything for a buck.

He's also worked hard to curtail drug testing and investigations as is clearly documented in Paul Kimmage's Rough Ride.

Pat McQuaid does not have the best interest of the sport but rather the best interest of Pat McQuaid.

flahute said...

If the UCI sanctions cyclists, more races will seek sanctioning from national federations, rather than from the UCI; because the races want riders.

The UCI is becoming increasingly irrelevant … and carrying through on a threat like this will do your cause more harm than good.

Unfortunately, until the riders get involved, there’s not going to be a resolution.

Here’s a scenario. All the teams that have been invited start the Tour. The UCI announces sanctions mid-way through the race.

What should the riders do? Do they strike against ASO, backing the UCI, and refusing to race? Or do they continue to ride, backing the organisers’ rights to invite whom they choose? Regardless, unless the teams act unanimously, the issue is not going to be resolved.

Multiple (and competing) governing bodies will emerge. Cycling will lose its status as an Olympic sport. More sponsorship dollars will flow away from the sport … and we can all get back to just riding our bikes.

Anonymous said...

Riders have never shown any unity - apart from objecting to drug testing. They are letting every right that they have be eroded by ASO.

ASO is clearly setting up its own governing body and has the French Federation in its pocket.

Cant say that I like the UCI much, but I distrust ASO more.

DRU said...

I once had the opportunity to live in a small village in France. Somehow, a neighbor and I became involved in a conflict over who's responsibility it was to clean up the dog crap in an uncared-for piece of property in the village. Neither one of us wanted to have to scoop it up, but both of us wanted our village to be beautiful and smell nice. I can't help but think there's a parallel here to the ASO/UCI conflict. Of course, you might argue that our ignoring the fact that we should both have teamed up on the dog's owner showed lack of vision... Where was I going with this?

mr. Hackman said...

Dru, are you by any chance an economics professor? That was a textbook example.

Watts said...

The longer this conflict continues, the dumber the UCI looks. They aren't serving anyone's needs but their own. Riders may well just wave goodbye and still do just as well financially. Sponsors want visibility to their brand. They don't care who provides that visibility.

DBrower said...

typo--"staff have lost site" should be "staff have lost sight".


Jim said...

McQuaid has made as good a case as can be made for drug testing sanctioning body leadership alongside the riders.

Anonymous said...

I'm a CEO of a software company. I've been watching the ASO/UCI spat over the last couple of years, and have been thinking two things:

1) Between ASO/USI, IMHO I'm starting to think that Pat McQuaid is the problem. From all the interviews with him, the coverage of the events, etc., he's appearing to me to be someone who "must be right" about everything. This is a fatal flaw in a leader; the moment a leader stops listening to customers, partners, and stakeholders, and inserts their own judgement in place of what the outside (market) is saying, the leader becomes a substantial risk to the organization. My (admittedly sideline) observations leads me to conclude that McQuaid has reached this point.

2) Where are the stakeholders in the UCI - the Congress and (in particular) the Management Committee? And are McQuaid's actions accurately representing them? McQuaid may be the titular head, and functional lead of the organization, but given the type of organization it is, he must be reflecting the predominant sentiment of the UCI's member organizations.

If I were a leader of one of the member organizations, I'd be working the appropriate process to have the organization consider whether McQuaid is still serving the interests of the organization. Essentially examine what support there is for a 'No confidence' vote on McQuaid.

The way to approach that is to ask the question of whether McQuaid is the "bad actor." To answer it, we really need to ask:

- Is it McQuaid, or the the UCI membership, that is "at fault" here?
- Is McQuaid accurately representing the key constituencies of the UCI?
- Is the governance structure of the UCI flawed in a way that is permitting a personality (McQuaid) to negatively affect the interests of the organization at large?

I took a moment to look at the charter (constitution) of the UCI. The relevant section (Chapter 1 Article 2) is as follows:

The purposes of the UCI are:
a) to direct, develop, regulate, control and discipline cycling under all forms worldwide;
b) to promote cycling in all the countries of the world and at all levels;
c) to organize, for all cycling sport disciplines, world championships of which it is the sole holder and owner;
d) to encourage friendship between all members of the cycling world;
e) to promote sportsmanship and fair play;
f) to represent the sport of cycling and defend its interests before the International Olympic Committee and all national and international authorities;
g) to cooperate with the International Olympic Committee, in particular as regards the participation of cyclists in the Olympic Games.

Wow - lots of stuff to examine.

A couple of thoughts (that don't directly address my questions):

Item a) is pretty interesting. The UCI claims the _authority_ to regulate "all forms" of cycling. But it's authority must flow from people willing to submit to that authority. Clearly the ASO isn't.

And you could assert that McQuaid is violating d) outright....

Lots of fodder here for a much longer post / discussion, eh?

Anonymous said...

I agree with flan. While the UCI has it's problems, I must say that I blame the ASO more for this issue. The ASO only cares about the tour, not cycling in general. They want to make up rules as they go along. They use unfair and ridiculous rationale for leaving out the best riders in the world (and occasionally rainbow jerseys) for continental teams. Letting the ASO do what they want whenever they felt like it would be good for their pocket book and bad for cycling (especially bad for sponsors). Would you like to sponsor a team for $15 million and be turned away from the biggest race, even if your team was in the top 10? We can talk about the dirty deals, French cycling's vendetta against Lance, etc. We can talk about the sketchy science and violations happening at the French anti-doping lab. If the ASO runs the show without some official oversite, cyclists rights will be taking a major step backwards. Check out McQuaid's interview on velonews. He makes some relevant points. If you were an American PRO would you trust the ASO?

Anonymous said...

I own my own dry cleaning business.

Anonymous said...

I have read all posts with a lot of interest. The predominant view of the posts here is that McQuaid is the problem. Assuming that represents the majority of views generally, then McQuaid has a real problem. Let me analyse it in this way. As far as I am aware almost every National Cycling Federation is affiliated with the UCI. Every State or provincial Federation is in turn affiliated with the National Cycling Federation and thus indirectly affiliated with the UCI. Every club is affiliated with the State or Provincial Federation, which is in turn affiliated with the National Federation and in turn with the UCI. Every member affiliated with a club, is in turn affiliated with the State of Provincial Federation, is in turn affiliated with the National federation, which in turn is affiliated with the UCI. Through this filter we are all subject to the UCI's rules which are applied mutatis mutandii to each and every affiliate right down to the racing club member. Hence, we are the stakeholders in the UCI, and the attitude out there from the majority of us seems to be that McQuaid is the root of the problem. In essence, and as unintended as it may be, through membership the UCI is purportedly our collective "cycling" voice, yet most of us do not want it to be. Do we boycott our clubs, State and National Federations? No, I think that is a bad way to get our view across. Do we lobby such groups to take make some sage points to the UCI? Yes, I think that is more sensible. What if our local bodies don't listen to us? We elect those that will. My laboured point is this, while we as a collective don't own the races, without us there is no point to them. Cycling, like all other sports, is owned by the people not an organisation. That goes as much for ASO as it does not UCI, but the difference is that ASO is not telling us how to do it, it is doing its best to give us what we want. Sorry for the long post. Hope it makes some sense.
Aussie Joe

Anonymous said...

To anonomous 11:30- I'd trust ASO over UCI as they have everything to lose if their race is destroyed by doping.

If said Americans didn't cheat (Armstrong, Hamilton, Landis) they would have nothing to fear from the labs. I say that as American myself. Doping is not PRO.

Old Fonzie said...

Doping isn't PRO? What universe are you from??? Pro cycling has a long tradition of doping.

It's not going to go away until the realization that the riders who dope aren't necessarily cheating but are being cheated by an establishment that promotes and condones doping. The witch hunt doesn't stop with the chicken or Astana it has to continue to ASO and UCI but unfortunately they are guarding their interests by playing off the other.

The past couple of years we've seen a huge advance away from the doping. I'd like to believe that races are regularly being won clean. Unfortunately it's going to take more than a few seasons to have clean racing, it's going to take a generation for every rider who reached fitness through EPO and HGH to retire.

Of course in that time frame we'll be hip deep into a world of genetic modifications so all bets are off. Some in the field of genetic science even believe we'll be seeing some of the first genetically modified athletes in China this summer.

It's kind of strange that at the time frame that popular opinion thinks most cyclists cheat is probably the brief moment in history that they might be the cleanest.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that McQuaid inherited this problem. Hein Verbruggen set it up and McQuaid has to deal with it (although McQuaid was certainly in the picture beforehand).

The ProTour was a bold step forward to increase cycling's appeal and commercial potential. Sponsors won't commit serious money unless they are guaranteed exposure. The ProTour brings more sponsorship in and also gets riders paid better.

Personally, I think that there were too many ProTour Teams and there should be room for more latitude for organizers to pick other teams. 16 ProTour tesm would be better.

That said, where are the stakeholders and what are they doing? Most of the federations are either rebelling or being quiet. The riders are the ones who are going to lose out the most and they are basically bending over and taking it from ASO because they haven't the spine to stand up for themselves.

ASO clearly wants to replace UCI as the governing body of Pro cycling. This will be bad for the sport and bad for the riders.

Doc Bradshaw said...

You know, I must be missing something. I keep up with professional cycling news through the usual English language internet sources. However, I haven't seen any report that describes what you report as ASO's offer to the UCI.

Is there any chance that you could point us to your source for that information?


ZENmud productions said...

Had the amazing opportunity to sit, in November, at the lunch table with Pat McQ, Anne Gripper, Richard Young, A. Ljungqvist, and others (at WADA World Conference), on the closing Saturday.

Pat told me (after asking why I was doing my blog WADAwatch, and I replied 'to get a job with you') that the UCI had 'too many attorneys' (five).

Go check out their site: they're hiring again, an att'y with Swiss law degree and Swiss law experience.

So that either means they've lost one or more of the Five since last fall, or his 'too many' comment should be revised upwards by one living breathing lawyer.

WE could all understand the 'game' better, if they'd admit the battles are all about 'TV rights'. The means to discredit (ASO and UCI could be alternative 'funnels' for collecting the events for which TV would be paying) each other is what is destroying both entities' credibility, and inflicting wounds in seeking the global TV-contract.


Padraig said...

All--thanks for the many great observations. There's lots to ponder here. And while not really relevant, I'd love to hear more of Dru's stories of life in his village.

Perhaps the only way to address most of this is with another post.

Old Fonzie: I think what Kevin meant by "doping isn't PRO" was that it's not something we admire--BKW (and our readers) uses "PRO" to signify that which we exalt. No one is suggesting that doping hasn't been going on for nearly as long as racing has been.

Doc Bradshaw: I saw two brief references (cyclingnews and bikebiz) mentioning the overture.

Touriste-Routier said...

This issue is more about team selection than it is about anti-doping rules.

The ASO has a product (Le Tour, etc.) to sell. They make the investments, they carry the risk, yet the UCI wants to dictate who can participate in what is an invitational event...

The ASO obviously believes that certain Continental squads are more interesting to their customers than certain PRO Tour teams. Seems to make solid business sense to me.

The UCI needs to wake up and realize that the PRO Tour concept doesn't work as intended. It is difficult on the teams; there are too many races they MUST compete in, some in areas of the world they & their sponsors have no desire to go. It is difficult on the race organizers; they sometimes get big name squads with their 2nd/3rd tier riders, rather than locals who their public wants to see. And it requires larger budgets just to keep the whole thing rolling at a time when funding isn't exactly free flowing into the sport. So whose interest does it serve?

Seems to me that organizers and teams are all you need to have a race... The ASO figured that one out quickly.

Until everyone is in the same book (let alone on the same page), this will drag out further.

The PRO Tour concept might work if the rules and schedule were re-vamped, and if the number of teams were reduced to something more manageable (like 12). This would allow organizers to have a good balance between tier 1 teams, and other teams of interest.