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Why Astana kept its WorldTour license

UCI License Commission releases detailed explanation of why it didn't pull Astana from the WorldTour amid doping and management concerns

If the UCI’s License Commission had known last autumn what it knows now about Astana’s long-time internal policies and practices, the team’s license “would likely have been refused.”

But it didn’t. And now, following months of ups and downs for the Kazakh team, the Commission has released its ‘reasoned decision,’ explaining in clear French why it suspended the procedure to revoke Astana’s WorldTour license. Astana gets to keep its license, the Commission says, because of its willingness to submit to internal audits, to change those internal practices and policies, and because it hasn’t had a doping case since last fall.

The License Commission, an independent, four-person body charged with reviewing license applications, decided to “suspend the procedure to withdraw” Astana’s license on April 23, allowing Astana to retain its license pending continued cooperation and a drug-bust-free 2015 season. The reasoned decision, which was released in French on Tuesday, offers further insight into the Commission’s reasoning.

The reasoned decision states: “At this stage, in view of the modifications that have already taken place [within Astana], those that are announced, the commitment to adhere to the conditions laid down by the ISSUL 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.”

The License Commission laid out three requirements for Astana. First, it had to submit to a full audit from the Institute of Sport Sciences at the University of Lausanne (ISSUL). Second, it had to heed the recommendations of the ISSUL audit and adhere to a new set of operation requirements. Third, it could not have another doping case during the 2015 season.

Astana formalized its commitment to the ISSUL recommendations in a document signed by the team, ISSUL, and the License Commission.

ISSUL found a number of deficiencies within Astana’s team organization during its audit process, which occurred last winter, including an overall lack of organization and supervision and management culture problems. The ISSUL report considered the team to be “at risk.”

However, the License Commission found that Astana upheld its commitment to cooperate with ISSUL and adhered to, or plans to adhere to, new operation requirements. The team has not had a doping case since fall of 2014, either. Thus it has met the requirements for retaining its license as laid out by the License Commission. Though the ISSUL report raised a number of concerns regarding the internal operations of Team Astana, the Commission ruled that the “majority of negative points raised in the ISSUL report were capable of improvement in the coming months.”

“The withdrawal of a license is the most serious sanction that a UCI WorldTeam can face,” and, “such a sanction should only be imposed if other less restrictive sanctions cannot be envisaged,” the report states.

Astana is not guaranteed to keep its license through the 2015 season. Another doping case would restart the License Commission’s procedure against the team, which has simply suspended rather than fully closed. Further, ISSUL will continue to monitor the team; non-compliance with the terms of agreement would trigger a restart of the procedure of license withdrawal as well.

“UCI recognizes the constructive approach adopted by the License Commission,” said UCI President Brian Cookson in a statement. “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 License Commission. Taking into account that the team will be under the supervision of the ISSUL and monitored by the License Commission for the rest of the 2015 season, we are satisfied by this decision which we believe is proportionate.”