The Explainer: Solidarity forever

UNION!
Charles,
I realize that professional baseball’s lawsuit against a Florida clinic is outside of the cycling world and it is also a PED question that we are all getting so tired of, but I really wondered if a “players association” (in this case MLBPA) might help cycling?

Also is there something similar that cycling could do like MLB in suing the Times Herald in Miami (as I understand it) for their information on the Biogenesis Clinic? Could anyone sue UCI? Lastly, how can someone find that MLB complaint, or are those not available until there is a ruling?

Thanks, I have enjoyed your Explainer columns for years, after I found them on VeloNews.

Looking forward to the LUG, Giro edition, in May. That is such a great thing that you and Patrick do. Thanks again.

Also, love the LUG stickers. Those are great.

Ok to publish,
– Chris

Dear Chris,
Your questions cover a lot of bases, so to speak, so let me sort through them a bit.

First, top-tier professional cyclists already have a players’ association – the Cyclistes Professionnels Associes – but it has its problems at times and lacks the influence of its counterparts in American baseball (the Major League Baseball Players’ Association) and American football (the NFL Players’ Association).

Led by former pro Gianni Bugno, the organization has worked to protect riders’ interests, but hasn’t really developed into a cohesive riders’ union and has had difficulty enforcing even the most basic rights of riders, including collection of unpaid wages through the UCI’s required bank guarantees (recall the old 2009 Astana team’s problems making payroll).

The CPA often works in conjunction with the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels – the organization representing teams – but there are times when the two organizations’ interests are in conflict. That group, too, has had its share of problems. Indeed, four years ago, the organization was pretty much coming apart at the seams, with some teams opting out of the group after the not-too-successful boycott of Paris-Nice in 2008.

The AIGCP managed to work through that tumultuous period, due in no small part to the leadership of its then-new president, Garmin-Sharp team manager, Jonathan Vaughters. He did a pretty good job as far as keeping the organization together but there’s still a long way to go. Vaughters, who’s planning to pursue an executive MBA at the University of Denver, announced last year that he would not seek reelection and his term expired this month. He is being replaced by Luuc Eisenga, a Dutchman who has worked for the UCI, the T-Mobile team, Rabobank and, most recently, as the tech’ director of the Blanco squad.

I am hopeful that on the heels of the “Armstrong affair,” both organizations can work together and force some real change in the management and structure of the UCI. That said, I’m not holding my breath.

There are a lot of reasons for the CPA to ramp up its efforts. Some of them – particularly as it applies to salaries and working conditions – will run counter to the goals of the teams. Others – like the elimination of doping in the sport – should serve the economic interests of both parties. By now, it should be clear, too, that major reform of the UCI, its leadership and its structure is in the best interests of riders, teams, promoters and fans alike. Indeed, when you consider all of cycling constituencies, there is only one group whose absence would go unnoticed. That’s the UCI. We need promoters. We need teams. They certainly need the fans. We all need the riders. Guys in grey flannel jackets? Not so much.

This sport would benefit from the presence of a meaningful and powerful riders’ union. A weak and ad-hoc association does little more than pay lip service toward the achievement of some important goals.

I, for one, would not be all that disappointed in seeing a meaningful riders’ strike in cycling, if it led to much-needed changes in conditions for the world’s hardest working athletes. That would, of course, include drugs, but would also include a substantial increase in minimum salaries for top pro’s and a basic compensation package for those riding on “minor league” teams as well.

I’ll be the first to admit that given their history on PEDs, I’ve not been a huge fan of the MLBPA or the NFLPA, but I must concede that both have done a much better job of representing their members’ interests than has the CPA. Cycling would benefit from a strong and cohesive union, especially if that organization took the lead on limiting the insidious effect of PEDs on the sport.

It won’t be the press. It won’t be the teams. It won’t be the promoters. It sure as @#$% won’t be the UCI. This one will have to be up to the riders.

As the great Samuel Gompers said “you can’t do it unless you organize.”

Can the UCI be sued?

Sure. While your example of Major League Baseball’s suit against Biogenesis wouldn’t along the same lines, the governing body can be – and has been – sued for a number of things and in any number of venues.

The MLB suit is based on Biogenesis’ “unjustified tortious interference” in its current contract with the MLB Players’ Association, in that Biogenesis and its co-defendants have allegedly attempted to circumvent the League’s anti-doping rules by supplying players with supposedly undetectable Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). (Because it’s baseball, I’ll not spend too much time going through the baseball suit, but I have uploaded a copy of the original complaint for your reading pleasure.)

In a sense, MLB is essentially the equivalent of the AIGCP, in that it represents a consortium of 30 Major League teams. A comparable suit – and one that should be considered – would be if someone sued Michele Ferrari or Eufemiano Fuentes for actively interfering with cycling’s anti-doping rules.

Obviously, the structures of the two sports differ and it’s not the AIGCP that really runs the sport. The UCI “manages” the sport of cycling, but it has to contend with other forces, especially race promoters, the most powerful of which is the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), which organizes most of the world’s most prestigious cycling events, including the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix and more.

Instead of suing Fuentes or Ferrari for active cheating, some have turned to the UCI as a potential defendant, citing their inaction when it came to enforcing their own rules. A good and recent example is that of a suit filed on behalf of the Australian clothing manufacturer Skins, seeking $2 million in damages for the UCI’s “acts and omissions,” in its failure to take meaningful steps to eliminate doping in the sport.

As you’ve read here before, the UCI is not shy about exercising its own option to sue, having sued former World Anti-Doping Agency head Dick Pound, disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis and Irish journalist Paul Kimmage for making disparaging public statements along the lines of what is now being alleged in the Skins suit. That strategy hasn’t really worked well in that Pound settled his case with a wonderfully-worded “apology,” Landis ignored the suit and the subsequent default judgment and Kimmage … well, Kimmage just turned the tables on those SOBs and has asked Swiss prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against the UCI as well as its current and former presidents.

Yup, anyone can pretty much sue anyone else for just about anything. Whether they win or not is up to the courts.

Finally, thank you for your kind words regarding our minute-by-minute coverage of the grand tours. I remain hopeful that O’Grady and I can combine forces and provide Live Coverage via LiveUpdateGuy.com and here at Red Kite Prayer as well. PO’G and I are even toying with the idea of doing something of a “test run,” by offering Live Coverage of this year’s edition of Paris-Roubaix. Any interest out there?

LUGGGGG

And I am glad you like the stickers.
– Charles

Small HeadshotThe Explainer is a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer. If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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20 comments

  1. Steve

    Interest in LUGging Paris-Roubaix? If there’s anything ambiguous about:

    Yes.

    please contact me and I’ll explain.

  2. Michael

    Wait a second, I could actually find out who won the Paris-Roubaix as soon as it happens? Well I have only one word to say about that… PLEASE! Please please, PLEEEEEASE!

  3. Tom in albany

    I’ve got my LUG mug. Hoping to get a sticker this year. I’ve got an empty space on my bumper that needs filling!

  4. Steve

    Add another Steve to those interested in a P-R LUG “Test Run”. I believe three Steves constitutes a quorum and since we all are in favor of said LUGging it shal be so. ;-)

  5. Sam Findley

    I would absolutely read a PR LUG test run. In all honesty, if you guys figured out a way to run an audio feed, I’d listen to that, too – just like the old days in Boston, when my father would listen to the Sox radio feed while watching the TV with the sound turned down.

  6. betsy andreu

    Cyclists need to better represent themselves because they get screwed from team managements that don’t pay. However, the corruption (my opinion) of its very own governing body, UCI, is the biggest detriment to the sport of cycling. With USAC slapping on a $800 fee in the name of combatting the doping problem, I’m at a loss at how any sort or union and/or organization can combat the corruption and hypocrisy here. USAC was and still is part of the problem – they always backed Lance and refused to address the doping problem. Now people involved in the sport have to fatten up usac’s coffers?? That said, if the cycling union was a powerhouse like it is with American sports, the doping problem would be worse than what it was. Like American sports, the unions would use the courts (as Lance did so many times)to buck clean sport and protect dirty athletes.
    The solution for cycling? Start by cleaning house at UCI and USAC. There is too much demoralization in the sport due to a lack of integrity with the governing bodies and federations. Only then can the sport not only remain viable but grow.

  7. Jesus from Cancun

    Of course there is interest! Can’t wait to get get on LUGging again with POG, Mons, Joanna, Mguba, Tom, David and everyone else!

    By the way, Sky Sports uses a similar format for their Formula 1 live updates, but… it is not even a bit as fun as LUG.

    Yes, bring it on!!!

  8. SFinAus

    First thing is first – Paris-Roubaix, don’t you mean “test ride”? In any case, oui, si, yes! Please, please, please do so. I’ll happily make noise in the tip jar. For my money, there is no better way to follow a race.

    As for the larger topics at hand, I agree with Betsy, but I’m pessimistic about a real housecleaning is going to happen. I not even aware there is any dusting or a quick vacuuming of floors. Charles has addressed this more completely and articulately than I can. I’ve also been dismayed that now, after the shock waves have subsided and racing has started in full, people are letting the pressure on Pat Vanbruggen (sic) subside.

    As for a rider’s union. I like the idea quite a bit, but it wouldn’t be a panacea either. It would need to be strong enough to make riders stay in line and strike for gains or reforms. Would we mortal fans support them in that even if it means cancelling races or writing off the first 3-4 months of the seasons for example – no spring classics, no early week long tours, the Giro contested by out of form contenders? Gulp. That would be hard to swallow. Sponsors of all types ‘ain’t gonna dig it either’. Potential strikes or neutralized stages could seem much worse than even doping. Also, my doomsday fear would be that a strong union, vigorously defending riders to the greatest extent possible, could be corrupted (i.e. “turn to the dark side”) like the MLB and NFL player’s unions that seem to actually protect dopers/PED users and undermine any fantasy of a clean sport.

    Surely there is a middle ground. In any case though it would take strong, charismatic leadership who would be committed good of the cause, and willing to pay a heavy price along the way. (Oh yeah,money from somewhere and/or dues paid from salaries would be needed too – and lots of it.)

    Personally, I would love to see the birth and success of a happy medium. (Wouldn’t we all though?)

  9. Khal Spencer

    Sounds good on the Paris-Roubaix. Where does one get those LUG stickers?

    As far as a strong cyclists union that would be able to butt heads with the promoters and team owners? That is an excellent idea. The cyclists will have to stand together rather than face a prospect of golden boys being at odds with their domestiques. Given the history of the Armstrong Affair, its not clear to me that all the riders would necessarily be on the same side of the bargaining table unless TCWSNBN was an anomaly. I don’t know if star cyclists have the same concerns as lower placed riders. Has anyone asked?

    We had some organizational problems in the faculty union of which I was a member (and board director) of in Hawaii, where at times the more highly compensated and independent university graduate/research faculty and the primarily teaching faculty at the community colleges would not see eye to eye on key issues because they had, simply put, different issues. Getting them to agree on the major points of a contract and standing together on a picket line was a challenge akin to herding cats. But we did it successfully. With strong leadership that can transcend the cat-herding problem, it can be done. It desperately needs to be done. These are the hardest working athletes I can think of and their health has been brutally put at risk for the sake of others. Solidarity Forever!

  10. Bustersci

    I was recently thinking that Paris Roubaix would be a good one day LUG event. I’m more than willing to drop some change in the tip jar for that–even if I still haven’t got my sticker from last year…[nudge,nudge, wink, wink]

  11. Pingback: The Explainer: How would you change it? : Red Kite Prayer

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