By Jonathan Copping, Sports Lawyer, Bolt Burdon Law Firm, London, UK
The announcement by the world governing body of sports cycling, Union Cycliste Internationale (“UCI”), to reform the World Tour Calendar for 2017 has led to the Ligue Nationale du Cyclisme (“LNC”) to threaten to take legal action against the planned reforms. The LNC is the organisation that governs professional cycling in France.
The UCI announced in August 2016 that the World Tour Calendar for 2017 would consist of 37 races, with 10 new races added to the Calendar. The 2017 World Tour will consist of the three grand tours in France, Italy and Spain, together with 14 stage races and 20 one day races.
The increase in the number of events is due to what the UCI attributes to a reflection of and response to the globalisation of the sport. New events to the World Tour will be held in the USA, Turkey, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.
Marc Maidot, the President of the LNC, has stated that:
“The LNC is acting in the interests of French cycling, its riders, teams and organisers, but also in the interests of everyone in international cycling. The globalisation of our sport cannot happen via the suppression of the pyramidal system as part of the 2017 World Tour plans”.
Whilst Maidot claims that the LNC is acting in the interests of everyone in international cycling, it is also clear that he is acting primarily to protect the position of professional cycling in France. Obligations to compete in World Tour events may lead to World Tour teams focussing on international events as opposed to non-World Tour events held in France.
The LNC’s position is that it is impossible for a team of 30 riders to take part in all 37 races of the 2017 World Tour, citing the fact that three World Tour events will clash with the week after the ‘Tour de France’.
The UCI has so far not commented on the anticipated legal challenge from the LNC.
Presumably, the legal basis of the LNC challenge is on anti-competitive grounds, in that the UCI is abusing its dominant position as the world governing body of professional cycling, contrary to article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Certainly sports governing bodies are considered to be ‘undertakings’ for the purposes of EU Competition Law.
Maidot has stated that he is prepared to go all the way to the CAS to protect professional cycling in France, especially its commercial sponsors, who may well miss out if the UCI goes ahead with the introduction of its new 2017 World Tour Calendar.
It will be interesting to see what actually happens!