March 7, 2008 – Today, ASO directors decided that they would no longer comply with the UCI rules. How did we get to this point? The answer is simple: over and above our differences of opinion about the way professional cycling is organised, the very role of the UCI is being called into question by a body that sees it as an obstacle to its own ambitions.
Let there be no mistake: ASO is a limited company, answerable only to its shareholders. The UCI, on the other hand, is a democratic supranational organization that represents the interests of all those involved in cycling. Its revenues are used for the universal development of all disciplines of cycling.
In their attempt to gain power, while choosing not to exercise it in areas that do not interest them — unlike the UCI, ASO could not care less about defending anyone’s interests other than its own — ASO’s executives have accomplished quite a feat: they have created the belief that they are the Tour de France, and that opposing them is tantamount to attacking the Tour. This has enabled them to insinuate that anything that goes against ASO’s interests is a violation of France’s cycling heritage. This tricolour smokescreen must be cleared away. The Tour does not belong exclusively to the company that organises it: it also belongs to those who love it, and who are its raison d’Ãªtre, which means, above all, the riders. Those who are passionate about cycling should be warned: agreeing to ASO’s demands would transform professional cycling into a league managed by the dominant organiser, rather than by an international organization that represents the collective interest.
ASO is currently refusing to register Paris-Nice on a calendar decided through democratic process. It wants its events to take place outside the UCI rules, so that it can decide, by means of contracts, which rules will govern the teams. This has created an unstable situation with adverse effects on many of those involved. ASO is resorting to blackmail by using the Tour, which teams feel obliged to take part in from a financial point of view, and forcing them to choose between their short-term interests (participating illegally in the Paris-Nice in order not to risk being excluded from the Tour) and respect for an institution which guarantees the long-term health of their sport. Placing teams in this position is an act of sabotage on the structure the UCI has developed over the years to guarantee the rights of all those involved. This is why we have reached a situation where the French Cycling Federation is risking suspension, for having consented to the infractions committed by ASO executives; its President will probably be called to appear before a disciplinary commission, for the same reasons; and riders may be suspended for taking part in a race that is not part of the regulatory framework of the UCI. The effectiveness of the anti-doping campaign is also under threat. The UCI has had considerable success in this area, particularly with the biological passport, but it cannot conduct tests in a race that is not on the calendar. I realise that, after reading this list, you may feel the UCI is making a mistake; but I hope you will understand that, if we are to defend the established system, the UCI cannot afford not to take these measures, however painful they may be. If anyone here bears a heavy responsibility, it is the directors of ASO.
It is enormously disappointing that those institutions that should have been the first to defend the role of the international federations that govern their sport according to the Olympic Charter have failed to do so. The French Sports Ministry seems more concerned to support ASO’s projects than to urge a sense of discipline on a body that is breaching international rules. By condoning an organiser’s wish to opt out of the established structure, the Ministry is giving its blessing by default to the creation of a private league. And this is all the more astonishing given the Ministry’s stated wish to avoid this! Is it right for a country to breach international rules, in support of what it believes to be its national interests, when these interests, far from being under threat, are actually being manipulated by a commercial entity? Is it right for a responsible politician to become the accomplice of a private organiser that wants to opt out of an institutional framework that has been so carefully set up? These questions are worth asking.