Riders breaking contracts

In the wake of Bradley Wiggins’ and Ben Swift’s moves to Team Sky recently, the subject of rider’s contracts has come to the fore. Should the British pair have been allowed to leave their former teams to link up with the new Dave Brailsford-led ‘super team’? My personal opinion is no, they shouldn’t have been allowed to move. Wiggins secured the move he craved by threatening a barrage of legal action against Jonathan Vaughters at Garmin. Vaughters succumbed to this threat, not wanting to face a protracted legal battle against the might of a host of Rupert Murdoch’s lawyers. Swift eventually made his move to Team Sky after taking it upon himself to go on an unofficial strike at Katusha.

I really don’t think this type of behaviour should be allowed or encouraged. Riders sign contracts for one,two or sometimes three years and they should honour those contracts. If the antics of this British duo become common-place I fear for the future of the sport. Cycling is not the same as football where players constantly transfer from team to team before their contracts run out. Football teams are established clubs with large structures for youth development and training, a lot of which have been around for more than a hundred years. If players move on, the club will remain and new players will emerge.

A cycling team is much more fragile and is only in existence for a relatively short period of time. A team manager has to be able to approach a sponsor and say “OK, I’ve got Riders A,B,C who I feel may be able to win x amount of races between them next year, which will result in y amount of exposure for your brand which could result in z amount of potential revenue for your company”. A team manager can’t approach a sponsor and say that sentence followed by: “But if any of those riders feel like leaving over the winter there’s not a thing I can do about it”. Who’d sponsor a cycling team if that was the case? Where’s the incentive for potential sponsors? There isn’t any. It’s difficult enough to entice sponsors in to the sport of cycling as it is. Team managers having no control over their rider rosters for the following year would make it impossible.

Transitions are a company new to the sport of cycling and have teamed up with Garmin to co-sponsor Wiggins’ former team for next year. I hope for Transitions’ sake that they weren’t tempted to sponsor the team under the pretense that Wiggins would be part of a setup with the aim of challenging for a Tour de France podium spot this July.

The worst case scenario would have been for Transitions to commit to sponsoring the team and Vaughters to budget for the coming season based on the promised sponsorship revenue. Then for Wiggins to jump ship and Transitions to follow suit, because they were promised sponsorship of a team with a genuine Tour contender. Finally for the whole team to fold because Vaughters could no longer fulfill his salary payment obligations for the year due to the lost revenue from Transitions.

Rider transfers need to be thoroughly regulated by the UCI otherwise attracting new sponsors to the sport will become impossible and the above scenario will become a reality.

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