July 4/07 8:25 am - Are Regulations Hurting Our Sport?
Posted by Editor on 07/4/07
Are Regulations Hurting Our Sport? - an Editorial
Recently, I have seen some disturbing examples of of what I like to term "bureaucratitis" popping up in cycling, to the detriment of the sport. I define this as a situation when slavish adherence to policies or regulations begins to affect the spirit of the sport, and negatively impact on the participants for no good reason - other than "it's the rules/policy!"
I have two recent cases in point:
1. Team Back of the Bus at Mont Ste Anne. For various reasons, approximately five riders (that I know of) were not registered by their teams or federations (if they are on a non-UCI trade team) by the regular deadline for the Mont Ste Anne mountain bike World Cup. Among those affected were Catharine Pendrel (Norco) and Lene Byberg (Specialized). The regulations, as everyone knew them, called for a $150 (actually 150 Swiss Franc) fine. However, the officials also informed the riders/teams that the affected riders would have to start at the back of the field.
When Remi Bérubé (CCA Competitions Coordinator) found this out he asked the officials what was going on and was told (as was I) that UCI staff had circulated a memo that this was to be done for World Cups in 2007. The reason? Well, it would be logistically difficult to slot riders in after number plates had been given out already.
"Fine" the teams said (all the teams, not just the affected ones), "give them high numbers, but call them up according to their World Cup ranking, as is supposed to be done." Oh, no; that's not the way the rules are to be interpreted...
Without exception, teams and riders were against this interpretation. "They've earned that start spot" pointed out Mary McConneloug (Kenda-Seven), "and they should start there."
The impact was potentially huge for this decision, since starting at the back of the field in a mountain bike World Cup means that rider has to try and fight their way up, taking extra effort that could be used at the end of the race. This year there is the added pressure of collecting UCI points for Olympic ranking - how would it be if Canada, Norway, Poland or Germany (the nations of the affected riders) missed out on a start spot in Beijing because of the points they could have gotten at MSA?
This an example of a regulation implimented from above for logistical reasons, and with no regard for the impact on the riders.
2. Alison Sydor and the Worlds. We wrote recently that Alison Sydor will be racing the Trans Alps multi-day race this month, and will therefore miss the Nationals. Now, the CCA - via the High Performance Committee - has a requirement that, with almost no exceptions, a rider must attend Nationals in order to be allowed to go to the Worlds.
In general, this is not a problem, and we agree that riders should not be skipping Nationals unless there are exceptional circumstances. Conversations with members of the HPC suggest that they are afraid of creating a precedent if they grant Alison Sydor a 'bye', and that it is therefore quite conceivable that Canada's most consistent Worlds finisher ever (14 consecutive top-5 finishes) will sit out the world championships this year - a critical year for Olympic points.
Leaving aside the fact that Canada could shoot itself in the foot by leaving a proven performer off the team, what sort of impression does this leave about loyalty?
I drove back from the St-Felicien World Cup to Montreal airport in convoy with Jose Hermida and Ralph Naef - the Multivan Merida pros. We stopped for lunch along the way, and Jose asked about what Alison is up to. I explained that she is doing some multi-day racing, and that there is a chance that she would not be allowed to go to the Worlds.
They were both shocked.
"This is not right," exclaimed Jose. "What about everything she has done for Canada in the last 14, 15 years? There is no respect."
It is a good point. For years, Alison would extend her season, and go to Europe on late season trips, to garner extra points and keep Canada up in the rankings. This was especially true in 2003, when she was instrumental in ensuring that Canada took the maximum three spots for Athens.
In this case, the argument that the athlete needs to go to Nationals to 'prove' themselves doesn't hold water. No one believes that Alison Sydor would go to Worlds any less than fully prepared. The argument that she would take away a spot from another rider is also a non-starter - Canada is only funding three riders, so the cost would be covered by her team anyway. (Canada should be sending the maximum number of riders possible, just to make sure that we can score as many points as possible).
While this decision has not yet been made, the fact that it is being considered in the name of avoiding "precedent" is disturbing.
Rules and regulations need to be part of sport - they level the playing field for all participants. However, once rules and regulations start to take precedence over the actual playing of the game, we have the strong possibility of strangling the very nature of what we like about sport.
The best officials that I know, are the ones who work with the spirit of the rules to encourage fair play, as opposed bogging down the flow of competition with nitpicking details that hurt the sport (or just allow them to avoid controversy).
I hope that cycling - both in Canada and internationally - is not embarking on a path that will ultimately prove to do more damage than good.