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UCI President Pat McQuaid was on hand for the start of the elite men's road world championship in Australia.
Agents must pass exam, be certified by their national federation
While the Alberto Contador saga engulfs the world of professional cycling, the International Cycling Union (UCI) has taken measures to alter the way in which the sport operates in a number of other areas with proposals introduced at its Management Committee, held last week in Geelong.
One of the most interesting and important areas of change surrounds rider agents. On September 28, the UCI ProTour Council (UPTC) agreed to a set of resolutions with the aim of regulating the currently complex and often murky world of rider agents.
"In 2011 agents will sit for exams, after which they will receive a UCI riders' agent certificate, valid for four years," read a UCI press release.
"Those wishing to practise this profession must then obtain a riders' agent licence from their National Federation. This request can only be made by people certified by the UCI. From January 1, 2012, all riders' agents must meet these new requirements. The UCI will publish the list of approved agents on its website."
The UCI's Management Committee has also announced that riders' agents will come under stricter scrutiny from January 1, 2012 as a result of a new certification process. Currently the UCI has no idea how many agents work within the sport and according to UCI President, Pat McQuaid, the next 12 months will allow the governing body to gather as much information possible before the roll out in 2012.
"This is something we did work on back in 2002," McQuaid told Cyclingnews. "We prepared a project but it wasn't concluded and we've reactivated it in recent weeks. It's not necessarily about control, these are independent people, but it's to ensure they work within certain guidelines.
"I wouldn't really like to compare how some agents work. We would just like some uniformity on the way they work."
McQuaid concedes that the UCI will never be able to control all agents. For example, some chose to use their parents, some manage themselves, while others pitch for hugely professional bodies to represent their contractual needs. The level of professionalism in cycling is illustrated by the fact that a press officer for one team can act as an agent for a rider on a different team.
"We can't perfectly control the agents. For example, lawyers can represent without having a license or without having done the exam and that's something we can't interfere with.
"However, the aim is to ensure that we have people acting in a more professional way. There has been more activity with agents in the last few years and they're becoming more and more important. There are more and more of them around so we need to have knowledge of who is doing what and how they're operating. Their roles are increasing."
One element that McQuaid hasn't solidified is whether agents would need to disclose their fees when submitting for a license. For example, how much did agent X receive for seeing one of his talents move from team A to team B? Who exactly paid him and did and where did the money go to?
Gerard Vroomen, current team owner of Cervélo TestTeam, has praised the concepts of the UCI but for now reserves judgement as to whether they will be successful. According to Vroomen, it's down to both the teams and the UCI to regulate agents and that the situation cycling currently finds itself in is due to both parties not working together.
"I think some rider agents are pretty amateurish and some are very good. To regulate it would be a good thing but I'm not sure what to expect from the UCI. It could take a couple of years to come into effect," he told Cyclingnews.
"You have a lot of rider agents now that as soon as a rider has one good result they threaten to walk away from the contract and if the team is unhappy then they pretend that the contract is the holiest thing on the earth.
"On the one hand they give us a difficult time over a contract but on the other hand they'll try and get a rider out of someone like Bjarne Riis's team by creating a load of crap. That unprofessional behaviour is certainly something that could be addressed."
After two years of running his own team Vroomen has seen a number of new agents flock the sport, as well as super power teams like RadioShack, Geox, Team Sky and the newly formed Luxembourg team emerge as big players in the transfer market.
"I think it goes deeper. It goes to the core of the UCI itself. Last year we had Sky who went against all the rules, talked to all sorts of riders without asking permission from the current teams as they should have done in the UCI rules. The UCI did nothing.
"In fact, there was only one team presentation that Pat McQuaid decided to show up for and that was Sky's. So they were condoning that sort of behaviour instead of taking a strong stance against it. I think it's a good that agents are regulated but it's also to the teams that let the agents get away with it. The teams are so short sighted when they're offered a rider that's still under contract, they think they need him and break him out of his current contract. Then they're surprised when the reverse happens.
"The agents are a problem but only because the UCI and the teams allow them to be a problem."
Strong words but what do the agents themselves think?
Andrew McQuaid, agent to Nicolas Roche, Taylor Phinney and Richie Porte welcomed the news from the UCI, and called for a level playing field.
"Based on what the UCI said in their press release I'm all for it," he told Cyclingnews.
"Cyclists need good representation from people they can trust, this sounds like a good way to make sure they get that and most importantly can trust that the people they choose to represent them are qualified and capable to do so."
Martijn Berkhout, who works for SEG Cycling and represents Danny Pate, Steven Cozza and Thomas Dekker amongst others, welcomed the idea of a level playing field but like Vroomen had his reservations.
"Take for example the standard UCI agreement. Every team is using it but they're all having different interpretations on this agreement. It's not bringing equal rights for riders."
SEG Cycling is one of the biggest players in the world of sports agents. Along with cycling they work in the more professionally regulated world of soccer and basketball. Within cycling they operate with riders from a young age right up to Grand Tour contenders.
"Compared to something like soccer, agents are not properly regulated within cycling," Berkhout said.
Asked if there were currently agents that harm cycling he added: "Yes, for sure. That's why this certificate is important. Then you can sanction an agent or agency."
One thing is certain, the likes of McQuaid, the UCI, and Vroomen would all agree on Berkhout's following statement. However how they interpret it might be up for further debate.
"This sports needs transparency on every side."