Contributed by Jordan Cheyne
This past week’s news revealing Ryder Hesjedal’s doping offenses hit hard across the cycling world and particularly hard with cycling fans across Canada. However Hesjedal’s admission is unfortunately just the latest in a long string of blows that professional cycling has suffered in the mainstream media dating back years, and hilighted by the Lance Armstrong debacle in 2012. More than 20 years after the beginning of the blood doping era, old demons continue to wreak havoc on the sport with no end in sight. Sponsors have fled, the job market is shrinking and many fans are thoroughly disillusioned. These are tough times.
Ryder Hesjedal, just another new name in an unfortunately very long list of cycling stars to have a doping past.
One bright spot amidst the darkness has been the recent change of leadership of cycling’s much scrutinized governing body, the UCI. Newly elected UCI president Brian Cookson has promised to breathe new life into our failing sport promising widespread reform and a clean new image. If we are looking for a turning point after decades scandal this has to be it.
Brian Cookson speaking at the recent World Road Cycling Championships.
But how can any meaningful change be accomplished in a sport so moored in tradition, and where winning is the only path to success, and next year’s contract? How can we make this doping crisis the last one and move forward? That is the 300 million dollar question.
Joe Harris and Steve Maxwell, two business analysts turned cycling advocates say that they have an answer. For his part Harris brings an insider’s perspective to the proposal with experience working as a soigneur, a market analyst and liason for professional cycling teams. Maxwell has been a contributing business writer for Velo Magazine.
The Outer Line: A Roadmap to Repair Professional Cycling lays out an ambitious and intensive 4-point plan to heal cycling’s image, make the sport economically viable and establish effective long term governance. As the title suggests, this new plan will require immense effort and skill. But with a smooth and powerful maneuver, a clean new version of cycling can round this crucial corner in cycling history on the “Outer Line” and overpower our traditional institution on the way to a better future.
Professional cycling is in dire need of creative problem solving and the Outerline provides more than a few compelling ideas to consider. Here is your Need-to-Know outline:
The Outer Line: A Roadmap to Repair Professional Cycling.
Timeline: The Roadmap suggests an immediate “all-in” effort by the new UCI leadership. Authors say that their plan could be completed by the 2016 season.
Section 1: Truth and Reconciliation
Professional cycling has proven very bad at keeping its dirty secrets and yet it still clings to many of them. The Roadmap proposes to end this deception with an all encompassing Truth and Reconciliation Council. The TRC would facilitate testimony from the many victims and perpetrators of cycling’s blood doping era. This effort would be spearheaded by the UCI but administered by an independent law agency. The central concept would be to give amnesty to most of cycling’s minor offenders in order to uncover and punish the sport’s major villains. The hope is, with the entirety of cycling’s past revealed and addressed, a true “fresh start” could finally occur. That would be a truly revolutionary outcome. However with a 24-month timeline and an estimated price tag of 5-6million dollars this TRC would be a monumental undertaking.
Section 2: A New Business Model
A systematic economic overhaul is the keystone to the Roadmap’s success. Cycling is in dire economic straits. Races have been cancelled and team after team has folded as sponsors shy away from the sport’s damaged image. Author’s say that the core issue is that professional cycling teams carry little to no long term value for investors. While team franchises in sports like the NFL generate huge value through ticket sales and TV rights, cycling teams depend entirely on commercial sponsorship to exist. This unstable arrangement causes the dangerous year-to-year desperation for teams to impress their sponsors and encourages cheating to achieve results.
The authors propose a long list of changes to make pro cycling more profitable and sustainable with some seeming a lot easier than others.
• The baffling UCI points system would be abolished and the ridiculous 10-month World Tour calendar would be balanced and pared down significantly.
• Cycling would adopt a franchise team structure with movement towards a revenue sharing program as seen in other successful sports. Teams would become profitable and valuable long term and jobs would finally become stable.
• Currently almost all World Tour races actually pay for TV time while other sports earn hundreds of millions in TV rights. The Roadmap makes it a priority to make TV coverage more compelling, emphasizing story and drama over typical commentary. Large audiences must be attracted for more than just the Tour de France.
Section 3: Enforcing the Rules and Reinforcing Ethics.
This section makes the fairly common recommendation of stiffer penalties for doping to individual riders and new penalties to teams for repeated rider offenses. Riders would serve 4-6 year bans for their first doping offense while teams could be suspended from competition for lack of proper supervision. Sporting Ethics would be made a main focus for the future with a “blueprint for behavior” created for athletes and management with responsibility and self-policing made a priority.
Section 4: Progressive Leadership and a Modernized System of Governance.
The Roadmap’s final section details a plan to change the structure and function of cycling’s government including:
• A thorough review of the structure of the UCI to increase its functionality and to allow the changes above to occur.
• Stronger working agreements must be made between cycling’s many agencies including WADA and National Federations. Turf battles like those seen in recent Italian doping cases need to be avoided. Teams need to be better represented in communicating with the UCI.
• A better riders union must be founded in a collaborative effort between teams, riders and the UCI. Riders need more security and improved working conditions in order to avoid the urge to break the rules to gain control.
• With the UCI, teams, race organizers and riders unified a new “oversight body” would be created to oversee the whole of the sport and its progress towards stability and growth.
That is a lot of change. The Outer Line is an ambitious plan and perhaps overly so. The authors openly admit that their plan will upset many and will be prey to many difficult details. To many cycling fans, a plan like the Roadmap provides may seem onerous and improbable. But in its current situation, can professional cycling afford not to try?
To read the original 33 –page article check it out here.