After the latest developments in the
politics of Pro Cycling I'm starting to believe that the best thing for
the sport is a parting of ways for its collection of dysfunctional relationships.
If you've been following the story you probably think the race radio issue is a strange
one for an organisation like the UCI to die in a ditch for. And make no
mistake that is exactly what the UCI is doing.
No one appears
happy with any proposal from the UCI and just about every stakeholder
has had enough of their overbearing attitude to governance.
riders like RubÃ©n Plaza continue to place their bodies on the line with
the possibility of disastrous outcomes if they aren't allowed this
simple and effective communications technology.
rider crashed during the Vuelta a Murcia and underwent surgery after
breaking the tibia and fibula in his right leg and doing damage to his
"The downhill was dangerous, and in a turn left I
was touched a bit on the real wheel, I hit a small bump and was thrown
down an embankment," Plaza explained of his accident. "Because we didn't
have earpieces, I couldn't put people into alert I was there.
saw the race passing by and I was screaming, but no one could hear me. I
crawled out of the ditch until they could see me. Those were bad
moments, because I saw soon it was [the break] something remarkable."
yourself in his shoes and then you'll begin understand why the riders
feel that race radios are an important tool in their day job.
any modern workplace occupational health and safety is an important
consideration, particularly for those who work in dangerous professions.
Cycling is one of those. That is your compelling
argument for race radios, not some imagined and unproven proposition
about more exciting racing.
Time for a revolution?
In the age of Wiki-leaks and
revolutions against despotic leadership in the Arab world we expect more
from a supposedly sophisticated first world organisation like the UCI.
no, the UCI is acting like a good old fashioned despot in every
category of the sport under its growing control. An indication that the
organisation is ripe for root and branch re-organisation. Or revolution.
sports have been down this road before, but to me this most resembles
the 1960's and men's tennis where Jack Kramer and his fledgling Association of
Tennis Professionals (ATP) arrived to shake things up. And in the long
arc of history in that sport, it was for the better. Tennis is bigger. A
genuine global sport with the athletes leading the way.
put there were two revolutions in men's tennis. The first was the battle over professionalism and the mixing of pros and amateurs in
Kramer and other leading professional players of
the time were prevented from plying their their trade in the big
tournaments by the gate keepers of the day - The Australian, French,
Wimbledon and US Opens and officious local blue blazer types that
dominated the organisation of the sport - who believed in a
The second came in 1988 when the
players broke the back of the tournament organisers hold on the sport,
creating their own ATP Tour. What you see today is a result of the those
A tin ear
Cycling too aims to be a global sport but the effort
is being driven by force, gate keeping and paternalism. You do as the
UCI says, not as a partner in the evolution of professional cycling into
a sport with global reach and importance.
The situation is
clearly untenable. The UCI has insinuated itself into all aspects of the
sport and denied stakeholders in those areas the right to be fairly
heard - imposing the terms.
Are you a bike manufacturer? Then you
must pay to have your frames technologically limited and then certified
by the UCI. Are you a rider who sees race radios as important to your
occupational health and safety? No dice.
The UCI wants to
organise every minor aspect of the sport, with rumblings that it would
also like to extend its reach into areas like classifying clothing and
footwear. In warfare this is called mission creep.
The ultimate power
organisation labour has the upper hand, workers can and do have the
right to withhold labour. I support the riders in their efforts to
withhold their labour from the inaugural UCI ProTour race in Beijing, a
largely symbolic move but one that hurts the UCI because it is an event
under their control and of their design. Hopefully it is a move that gives the UCI pause to rethink its way of doing business.
But that could just be
the first step. I think its time for the current stakeholders outside of
the UCI to seriously consider developing their own ProTour like the ATP
did in the 1980's.
For example, Twenty-one teams or franchises with long term mandates,
an easily understood world tour concept with an end of year 'world
championship'. An equitable distribution of TV broadcast revenue to
teams. Certainty for sponsors. Guaranteed contracts and minimum wages
for riders. And an opening up of the technological taps for
manufacturers. All of which would make the sport exciting....and stable.
course there will be consequences. For a time the sport will be split.
Those that move to the new organisation will likely be banned from
official Olympic and World Championship competitions just like Jack
Kramer and his band of merry revolutionaries were initially banned from
competing with amateurs.
But in the long run the UCI would be
bracketed back into what I see as its proper role, that of organising World
and Olympic championships and assisting in grassroots development. That
would be good for the sport, certainly not the current unworkable arrangements.