What is CAS? The Situation at Ineos; Doping Update, and Lessons; Continuing Industry Struggles; Inaugural Las Vegas Formula 1 Race
● The Mysterious Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)
● What Does Ellingworth’s Departure Mean for Ineos?
● Inaugural Las Vegas Formula 1 Race
● Doping Update, and Lessons
● Continuing Industry Struggles
Very little is known about the secretive Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which sits quietly in a mansion in Lausanne, Switzerland, not far from the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee. The entity is essentially the avenue of last resort – the “Supreme Court for Sports” – for all international sporting disagreements, disputes and punishments. Yet, as an in-depth recent report from Play the Game demonstrates, CAS often acts with an almost total lack of transparency and oversight. In 2020, the court ruled on 948 different cases, but published information on a scant 30% of its decisions. This qualifies CAS as “being the most secretive pillar in the global governance of sport. The institution settles disputes for a multi-billion-dollar industry and prides itself on consolidating transnational sports law, but at the same time it keeps it largely a secret how the law is to be interpreted.” Similar to its affiliated and neighboring IOC, accountability and transparency in decision-making seem to be foreign concepts. Of its current 418 appointed arbitrators, only 13% are women, and as PTG points out, many of the rest are previous heads of state, ministers or ambassadors; i.e., individuals who would appear to have been posted there for political reasons rather than their experience or expertise in sports law. The court, PTG concludes, seems to have a lot to hide. The court has ruled on a number of highly visible cycling cases in the last few years, including Nairo Quintana’s recent tramadol positive at the 2022 Tour.
Just two weeks after we noted Ineos’ second-consecutive year of leading the WorldTour in the net loss of rider points, the unrest within the team apparently continues, with the announcement of the sudden departure of deputy team principal Rod Ellingworth. The unexpectedly brief announcement was released late on a Friday afternoon, and seemed to hint that perhaps Ellingworth was being pushed out, rather than leaving on his own accord – just three years after returning to the team following a brief stint with Bahrain-Victorious. The sudden departure of Ellingworth, the likely unavailability of Dave Brailsford (who may take over the sporting interests of Manchester United following Ineos’ founder Jim Ratcliffe’s purchase of 25% of the club), combined with the recent departure of key sport directors Matteo Tosatto, Roger Hammond, and Ben Williams could leave the team without much significantly tenured leadership heading into 2024’s season planning. Coaching across almost all team and individual sports has undergone a revolution over the past two decades, with older authoritarian structures being dismantled in favor of supportive and collaborative “whole athlete health” models that resonate with, and achieve more, in developing today’s young talents. Considering that the Ineos roster is stacked with promising but young and underdeveloped riders who would benefit from a stable and well-orchestrated environment, this front-office turnover is very noteworthy from a sporting perspective – and raises questions about the organization and the financial commitment of Ratcliffe going forward. (Earlier today, the team announced the signing of star Norwegian rider Tobias Foss from Jumbo-Visma.)
Formula 1 recently ran its highly anticipated Las Vegas Grand Prix to a mix of both positive reviews for an exciting race finale, though there was concurrent criticism regarding the fan experience and disruption to Sin City’s residents and broader hospitality market. The venue, including the fan seating/race viewing and concession zones, were all custom configured and temporarily erected for the race weekend at considerable cost. Similarly, the course took months to prepare and included extensive road construction, repaving, and commuter challenges; despite the careful design and oversight, a loose drain cover caused both delays and damages during a practice session. While most on-site fans and those viewing the race’s broadcast and streaming feeds were thrilled by the racing, a class-action lawsuit was filed by fans who were blocked from their seats due to a technical issue. Similarly, hotels near the course which had inflated their rates for the race in anticipation of the race had to rapidly cave in their pricing due to low overall reservation uptake – creating further channels of grist with fans who couldn’t back out of more expensive accommodations in the event run-up.
These types of concerns impact almost all sports and entertainment events, well beyond the auto racing landscape, and they raise interesting questions about whether to build up new sporting event locations in lieu of reinvesting and staging events in pre-established or fan-favorite sites. Much like the UCI’s love affair with bringing the World Championships to new venues, the profitability and impacts are suspect unless you can reuse and monetize the facilities and infrastructure in those locales, or use the events as a means to seed a new race or reinforce the value of an older one. F1’s Las Vegas commitment is long-term (and may have already helped spur reinvestment in the city’s travel capacity), and it will be informative as to how it incorporates the lessons learned into this latest, and arguably highest-profile, race in its global portfolio.
Doping cases have been notably absent from the top level of professional cycling for the past few years but are suddenly back in the news. After recent news that 22-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider Michel Hessmann was facing a ban after testing positive for a banned diuretic, the team’s star GC leader (with due respect to Sepp Kuss) Jonas Vingegaard was written up for a missed doping control. While “Vingo’s
infraction is ultimately a low stakes “mistake” – unless he misses more controls – the look is nevertheless a bad one for him and his team. Meanwhile the director of the third-division Portuguese W52-FC Porto squad, Nuno Ribeiro, received a 25-year suspension for the trafficking, possession, and supply of illegal substances, including various anabolics, corticoids, and hormones. And the second-division Spanish Caja-Rural team was recently contacted by the police after a cache of documents claimed to link members of their team to Marcos Maynar, the doctor currently at the heart of an anti-doping investigation. His connection to Miguel Angel Lopez saw him fired by the Astana Qazaqstan team. Some have interpreted this as a return to the darkest days of the sport, but a major difference between the eras is that the majority of new cases (with the exception of Hessmann’s) involve lower-tier entities.
A poignant parallel to cycling’s darker days was made during the most recent 60 Minutes investigative news broadcast which exposed the brutal and often heart-rending details of doping in horse racing. Following the deaths of literally dozens of thoroughbreds across the Triple Crown competitive spectrum, the sport’s governors enacted rapid and sweeping reforms to prevent owners, trainers, and veterinarians from doping horses and forcing them to train and race with often poisonous cocktails in their bodies. Trainers and vets who were caught by law enforcement – essentially, horse racing’s version of cycling’s medical support – were convicted of various animal abuse and drug trafficking charges, stripped of professional credentials, and sent to prison. Those recent convictions present other sports with a proposition whereby they could philosophically help to clarify doping’s actions and consequences. In human competitions, although the athlete may choose to dope, it is often the enablers and suppliers who promote it, or who make it happen. Yet, it is almost always the athlete who receives the bulk of the punishment. In horse racing, the animal obviously doesn’t make the choice, and so the onus – and any repercussions – necessarily fall on the owners, trainers or other enablers. Pro cycling and other sports could take a few lessons from this and begin to place more of the consequences of doping on the enabling parties like unscrupulous coaches and medical professionals – and possibly have a lasting impact on making sport a cleaner and more level playing field.
From the broader perspective, cycling has cleaned up its act better than most, especially compared to other endurance sports such as track and field, where the World Athletics’ Integrity Unit (AIU) recently announced a storm of distance running event cases this year alone. However, a recent report from Norway indicates trouble simmering just below the surface, as high numbers of elite endurance athletes, including 66.7% of the cyclists in the sampling, self-reported significant and frequent self-administration of over-the-counter and prescribed pain and asthma medications on their doping control forms – whether or not the rider had a medical exemption. Other recent “cry wolf” reports over potentially novel blood boosters proved to be unrealistic from both PED detection and medication approval process perspectives, though the threat remains the same as doping enablers seem to always be on the lookout for the next secret advantage. Cycling should remain vigilant and continue to emphasize its wide arsenal of anti-doping efforts; these recent events show that doping – as in so many other endurance and power sports – isn’t going away any time soon.
Despite the fact that we are in the middle of the year’s peak shopping days, it is worth noting that many sporting goods and apparel retailers are still experiencing lagging sales and tough economic times. Nike, Puma, Adidas, and Under Armour all suffered revenue or earnings declines in the recent quarters, and the outlook for the future is not much better as nearly all athletic gear companies are seeing similar downturns – and the sporting goods industry as a whole is still working through the fundamental shifts in buying patterns which resulted from the global pandemic. Many firms are dealing with excess inventories by conducting year-end discounted sales. And the bicycle industry itself is also not immune from these trends, with many companies reporting weak historical sales and projected outlooks. Given these challenges, we wonder how pro cycling teams that are primarily funded by bike manufacturers may fare in the short-term sponsorship chase. (This week there was confirmation that Jumbo-Visma will now be called Visma-Lease a Bike – after the Pon Group’s bicycle leasing business. Pon is a large Dutch holding company that holds a number of bicycle companies (including Cannondale, Cervélo GT, Schwinn and Santa Cruz bicycles) as well as many other unrelated businesses.) This potential concern also applies to national teams facing a critical Olympic support year, and even privateer gravel racers. In the future, could we see teams having to actually purchase bikes and equipment to compete on the world stage? With many teams still scrambling for sponsors it will be interesting to see who lines up on which equipment in 2024.