The International Cycling Union (UCI) is planning to tighten-up on the contract rules next year, following recent events such as the unexpected jump of Cadel Evans to Team BMC, the transfer of Alexandr Kolobnev from Saxo Bank to Katusha and the chasing of Ben Swift’s signature by the new Team Sky.
UCI President Pat McQuaid told Cyclingnews on that he is 'concerned' at recent developments in this area. McQuaid said the governing body is likely to introduce new rules in 2010 to safeguard the rights of riders and teams alike, in relation to existing contracts.
“There’s been a lot of hullabaloo recently as regards [Ben] Swift and [Alexandr] Kolobnev, and you also have Cadel Evans leaving his team overnight without informing them,” he said. “There are things going on now on both sides - both on the sides of the teams and of the riders – that are of concern. I have given instructions that we need to start looking at it more closely. Perhaps we need to put more rules in there to try to control these scenarios, or make better sense out of them.
“It is not going to change anything for 2010 but I guarantee you that we will be studying a lot of these aspects in the early part of next year,” he added. “The aim will be to ensure that the landscape is a bit more clear next winter than it has been this time round.”
McQuaid referred to the Swift situation as an example. The Briton has one year remaining on his contract with Katusha, but was recently reported as being close to signing with Team Sky. It also named him in its lineup for the Tour Down Under, although the team later claimed that it had believed he was a free agent.
Katusha has complained about the team’s tactics, saying that it is trying to scoop riders who are under contract.
“Under UCI rules, the regulations don’t allow for aggressive chasing of riders, that’s for sure,” said McQuaid. “That is against the spirit of the sport. I mean, I understand if a new team or a new sponsor comes in, and they have got to find riders. But there is a proper way of doing things, and going about things.”
McQuaid appeared to be referring to the Swift scenario when he said: “there may have been some shortcuts taken this time by members of Sky staff which would have started discussions and then hadn’t been followed up by going to the team [concerned], which they should have done in the first place.”
He suggested that the British team had been speaking directly to the rider’s agent without verifying that he was indeed free to move. “It would concern me – the aggressive chasing of riders isn’t a healthy situation,” the Irishman said.
What of Wiggins?
McQuaid played down the suggestion that the Bradley Wiggins move to Team Sky was a similar example, despite the fact that Garmin-Transitions repeatedly said that it did not want to release him a year before his contract ends. He said the fact that the two teams eventually agreed to Wiggins’ transfer satisfied the UCI’s requirement that both sides involved in such a situation must reach an accord.
However Garmin general manager Jonathan Vaughters told Cyclingnews that it was the prospect of a long legal case with Team Sky which led the Garmin squad to reluctantly release the rider, who had finished fourth in this year’s Tour.
“At the end of the day, we came to a settlement because I didn’t think that a lengthy legal battle would be productive to the team that I have,” he said.
He suggested that the various national employment laws in different countries take precedence over the UCI’s own rules, and that the regulations needed to change.
“For me, now that cycling is becoming a more professional sport and a larger sport, there probably needs to be a more formalised reform in regards to transfers,” he said. “That is something that is going to have to come out of a lot of work by the governing body. It is also going to have to come from the agreement of the teams involved.
“There is no formalised and agreed-upon transfer system like there is in soccer, American football and whatever else and so, like the UCI says, they have to bow to the employment laws of any individual country.
“I definitely think changing this is important for the future of cycling, as otherwise it is a very challenging system to work with,” he said.