UCI Licence Commission states withdrawal of Astana licence would not have been proportionate

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Almost two weeks after the UCI stated that its Licence Commission had turned down an earlier request to withdraw the Astana team’s WorldTour licence, the governing body has issued the partial reasoning behind the decision.

While the full reasoned decision is yet to be released in English, being only available in French at this point in time, it said that the commission examined the situation and decided that ejecting the team from the WorldTour was unwarranted at this point in time.

It said that the team had undertaken some changes and committed to more and, as a result, that removing its licence was not called for.

“At this stage, in view of the modifications that have already taken place, those that are announced, the commitment to adhere to the conditions laid down by the ISSUL [the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne – ed.] with the approval of and under the supervision of the Commission, and the absence of further incidents since autumn 2014, it is found that the sanction of a withdrawal, motivated mainly by facts of the past, would not, as of today, respect the principle of proportionality.”

However it said that the option remained on the table at a later point if the team had further doping cases or if it didn’t follow the conditions laid out by ISSUL and the commission.

The Kazakh team had been put under serious scrutiny following a spate of positives tests last year. The brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy both tested positive for EPO, while the Astana Continental team riders Ilya Davidenok, Artur Fedosseyev and Victor Okishev tested positive for anabolic androgenic steroids.

The UCI stated on February 26 that it was requesting its Licence Commission to formally withdraw the Astana team’s WorldTour licence.

“After careful review of this extensive report, the UCI strongly believes that it contains compelling grounds to refer the matter to the Licence Commission and request the Astana Pro Team licence be withdrawn,” it stated then.

“The UCI considers that the ISSUL audit has, among other things, revealed a big difference between the policies and structures that the team presented to the Licence Commission in December and the reality on the ground.

“In addition, the Italian authorities have provided the UCI with the sections of the Padova investigation which it has been authorized to share. As some evidence concerns Astana Pro Team members, the file has been passed to the Licence Commission as part of this referral.”

However, despite that, on April 23 it announced that the commission had not complied with that request.

The latest release from the governing body gives some of the reasons for that.

Green light, but it could turn red at a later point

Tuesday’s communication said that the commission had stated that “if a team cannot objectively be held responsible solely based on the incidence of doping cases within its ranks, it is possible however to require the team to create a system of preventative and dissuasive measures able to contribute as effectively as possible to the fight against doping.”

It said that this had explained the initial decision by the commission to give the team a probational licence in December 2014.

It said that while there were real flaws in the team’s structure in 2014, that withdrawing the licence was an extreme sanction and that it should only be imposed if lesser sanctions could not be envisaged.

It added that since November 2014, the team “had started to implement the reorganisation of its anti- doping, along with the commitment of Astana Pro Team to adhere strictly to the remedial action recommended by the ISSUL.”

Because of that, it said pulling the licence at this point in time would not respect the principle of proportionality.

Summarising the situation as it stands, the commission said that the team has made commitments to follow ISSUL’s recommended measures and that this promise will be followed by ISSUL in the months ahead.

It warned that the licence could yet be withdrawn if one of two conditions were not met.

“In the case of non-compliance with the terms of agreement, the ISSUL will notify the Commission, which can at any time reopen the procedure of licence withdrawal,” it said.

“The reopening of the procedure can also occur in the case of new cases of doping or other serious infringements of the rules.”

UCI president Brian Cookson thanked the commission for its professionalism and independence. He said that the UCI recognised the ‘constructive approach’ of the commission.

“We are pleased to note that Astana Pro Team has committed to a process of in-depth reforms thanks to this procedure initiated before the Licence Commission. Taking into account that the team will be under the supervision of the ISSUL and monitored by the Licence Commission for the rest of the 2015 season, we are satisfied by this decision which we believe is proportionate.”

He added that the UCI was confident that the measures put in place would help it to improve its culture, its structures and its anti-doping governance systems.

“We believe it is our responsibility to accompany each UCI WorldTeam towards increased professionalism and we firmly believe that the application of the ‘cahier des charges’ will contribute towards this.”

The cahier des charges refers internal operational requirements, and comprise to ten rules relating to teams’ organisation, their methods of preparation and the riders’ workload.

A number of teams have volunteered to follow the ISSUL system already, but it will not be compulsory until 2017.

In the meantime, Astana is free to race, but it appears it is being monitored closely. That won’t satisfy those who were calling for the team’s ejection from cycling’s top ranks but, after the explanation of the UCI’s licence commission, that body will be under real pressure to act if there are any more doping cases.

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