New Rules for Cycling Federations
Sometimes obvious rules need to be laid down in order to run a sporting federation.
Every sport has a governing body - which makes sense. There needs to be an organization that determines the rules, coordinate events, develops/grows the sport and markets it to the general public. A federation is a sporting necessity if it is part of the Olympic Games. The obvious reason is that there needs to be a code of conduct for that sport to mirror the Olympic motto, "Citius, Altius, Fortius" - Swifter, Higher, Stronger.
Besides promoting the sport and sanctioning events it must also police its members - which can be a tricky situation. In the case of cycling - a federation's goal is to market the sport in a positive manner and encourage people to take up the sport as it will (hopefully) lead to more members in the organization (more money) and attract sponsors (more money). This is not a unique business strategy for any sporting federations. But what happens when something occurs that might shine a bad light onto the sport?
Ideally the federation would want to investigate the issue whether it is doping or any other type of cheating. From there it would determine a suitable punishment and then problem solved. However, a suitable punishment could cause the sport some grief which translates to bad press, which then means loss of funds. No one wants that.
I'm not suggesting that presidents of sport federations are the 1% and we need to grab our tents, organize drum circles and occupy Aigle, Switzerland - but some change needs to be happen.
What got me thinking about this was the recent ruling by the Russian cycling federation regarding Alexandr Kolobnev. The Katusha rider was found positive at the 2011 Tour de France for hydrochlorothiazide (HCT) and by the first rest day he was gone from the race.
As standard protocol, Kolobnev denied the HCT found in his sample was his. Unfortunately that pesky B sample came up hot as well. One would naturally guess that he'd be benched for a couple of years and we would return to making snarky comments about the Russian backed team and their choice of riders (I'm talking Danilo Di Luca, Christian Pfannberger, Antonio Colom, to name a few).
In the case of Pfannberger his Austrian cycling federation dropped a life time ban on him as this was his second doping violation. Colom was a bit luckier and was suspended for two years, but that was pretty much a career ender. Now let's return to Kolbnev.
The Russian cycling federation, after some "consideration" issued a press release.
"Mr. Alexander Kolobnev is sanctioned with a reprimand and no period of ineligibility is imposed. The results of Mr. Alexander Kolobnev obtained at the Tour de France stage of 6 July 2011 shall be disqualified. Mr. Alexander Kolobnev is additionally sanctioned with a fine in amount of 1,500 (Swiss francs)."
Out of the range of possible sanctions - this was the least. Kolobnev could have been hit with a two-year suspension. So why does one federation give life time bans or at least hand down a two-year ban while others just a slap on the wrist? It circles back around to reputation and money.
Igor Makarov is the owner of the Katusha squad, president of the oil and gas company ITERA and is the top banana of the Russian cycling federation. Conflict of interest much?
Is it any surprise that the president of the Russian cycling federation, who also owns the cycling team and happens to be dirty rich with oil money, hands down the smallest punishment that he can? But the federation crazy train doesn't stop there.
A relic from the Soviet era and rider from the Astana team (also in my opinion a zombie) Alexandre Vinokourov might have a plan "B" when it comes to retirement - president of the Kazakhstan cycling federation. Sure it's not as lucrative as speaking engagements like what other retired professionals make, but it's a start (seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong is ranked seventh highest paid public speaker at $100,000 a pop).
The current Kazakhstan cycling federation president Kairat Kelimbetov said that Vino could be the guy for the job when his term runs out. Really? Vino?
Let's take a brief walk down memory lane and remember that the Astana rider's past is as checkered as a chess board. Should he really be in charge of a cycling federation whose duty is also to hand out punishment? It's the old cliché, "fox guarding the henhouse."
This is obviously no way to run an organization. There needs to be a clear and separate division between who's in charge and the sport they govern. When they are too closely bound together it only leads to an embarrassing conflict of interest. So I propose a stricter guideline for cycling federations. And I'm not proposing anything crazy - just some common sense suggestions.
- A person who sits on a federation's board of directors can't be guilty of or be implicated in a doping offense.
- A person who sits on a federation's board of directors can't own a cycling team.
- A person who sits on a federation's board of directors can't be a zombie (this is more directly aimed at Vinokourov).
I know what you're thinking, "Neil, rule number 1 seems harsh. A person even implicated in a doping offense can't be part of his nation's cycling federation?" Yes Skippy it is harsh - but this is some of the hard steps we have to take to drive out the old guard that still influences the sport behind the scenes. This older generation is the one who has kept the omerta alive in this sport and rule number 1, no matter how unfair it may seem, is one of the ways in which the sport can improve its image and remove the specters of the past. Concerning rule number 3 - that's just common sense.