Italians find little to like in proposal for ‘champions league’

A Czech billionaire's plans for a soccer-style "champions league" would concentrate too much power in private hands, say Italians

An effort by Czech billionaire Zdenek Bakala to forge a new super-league among top teams is facing a stiff headwind from the powerful Italian cycling establishment.

Representatives from nearly all aspects of the Italian peloton joined together following a two-day meeting to release a united message against a new privately funded racing league that they claim would put too much power into the hands of private interests.

Writing under a press declaration entitled, “Addressing the challenge as protagonists, transforming difficulty into opportunity,” the Italian cycling congress said cycling must build toward a cleaner future without forgetting its past.

“We should work together to reach a global challenge, to engage the next generation of clean and credible cycling,” the statement read, adding that the sport must resist “savage deregulation and the concentration of power into the hands of a few who only look to profit and pose a clear conflict of interest.”

Bakala went public earlier this month with broad plans to create a parallel racing series involving cycling’s top pro teams, with the idea of creating a soccer-style “champions league” and increasing TV revenue and promotion of cycling.

Subsequently, no fewer than six groups representing Italian riders, teams, race organizers and sponsors gathered for a two-day meeting in northern Italy — close to Padua, where Italian judges are about to blow the lid on a widespread doping and tax evasion ring centered on Dr. Michele Ferrari and reportedly involving scores of contemporary racers.

The somewhat rambling statement proposed no concrete action, but instead called for all the varied Italian groups to band together to maintain their interests and press for a cleaner future for the sport.

It did not appear that RCS, owners of the Giro d’Italia, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo, participated directly. So far, RCS has expressed interest in new ideas for expanding television rights.

Italian cycling is struggling through its darkest moments, with an endless string of doping scandals compounded by a brutal economic crisis that is slashing races and teams from the sport’s century-long history.