T INK OFF
A lot’s been said about the so-called 'Pay to Ride' scandal, and an awful lot of conclusions jumped to. It’s not a black and white issue and so, for what it’s worth, I’ll let you have my thoughts.
Obviously it’s come out in Italy, specifically with three ProContinental teams. That suggests that it’s a local problem, and it may well be. It may also be that it’s come to light only now because a rider has finally had the courage to come out and say it but we shouldn’t make assumptions. Everyone knows that Italian cycling has economic and systemic problems but it would be naïve to think it exists in a vacuum. It’s not cut and dried, and the issue of riders delivering sponsorship is as old as cycling. I don’t know the specifics of the cases but I suspect that it’s more textured than some would have us believe.
Teams offer young riders the chance to develop but obviously some will fare better than others. A rider who is not at the front is a pure cost, because he can’t deliver publicity. That, in a business model which is apparently failing, is a real problem. Let’s say you’re a team manager and your staff and the rest of your riders risk losing their jobs. You need 100,000, races are going bust all over the place, and you can’t make up the shortfall with your existing sponsorship deals. What are you going to do? Go under and lose everything, or accept a rider who brings in a sponsor and ensures you survive another year?
So we should be careful about making simplistic judgements about a complex issue. Riders deliver sponsorship in many different ways and the composition of teams is informed by commercial and strategic factors. Team Sky, for example, has a nucleus of riders from the markets they operate in. They are there because their presence delivers or maintains a sponsor. Sky is extremely rich but cycling has always been like that. Why is FDJ 90 per cent French? Why so many Australians at Orica? Because the reality is that the Brits, the Frenchmen and the Australians are a prerequisite for the sponsors. The numbers may be bigger but the principle is no different. What I’m saying is that if there’s wrongdoing it should absolutely be punished but the structural problems which cause it also need to be addressed.
Everyone knows Italian cycling has economic and systemic problems but it would be naïve to think it exists in a vacuum