The Team Zaaf Case

The Cyclists’ Alliance (TCA) supported riders of Team Zaaf in navigating a difficult contractual situation. Here's an overview of how the process worked, and key takeaways for the future.

Team Zaaf. Photo: Getty Images.

How TCA supported Zaaf riders, and key takeaways for all riders to know about this case:

For the early part of 2023, the TCA has worked with Zaaf cycling team's riders quite extensively, dealing with a precarious contractual situation. As reported on multiple occasions since the start of 2023, riders have not received their salaries or reimbursement of their expenses. 

Despite not receiving their normal wage, Zaaf riders were asked to participate in multiple competitions under the Zaaf colours, while being fed hope that the unfortunate situation they'd been put into would evolve positively. However, after 3 months of empty promises, they had no other option than to call the bank guarantee of the team, just to be able to make a living. 

What is the bank guarantee?

The bank guarantee is a way to ensure that riders are protected and that teams abide by UCI regulations. As a condition of their UCI licenses, all World Tour and Pro Continental teams must lodge a certain percentage of the team’s payroll—the bank guarantee—in a bank account. When necessary, the UCI or the national federation can call up the bank guarantee and draw down on the funds in the account.

What does calling the bank guarantee mean when you’re a Continental Rider? 

The UCI regulations draws a clear line between teams participating in the World Tour and the Continental teams. For UCI World Tour teams, the bank guarantee is set at 30% of the total payroll. For Continental teams the bank guarantee is limited to 15% of the payroll. We can question whether or not the percentage discrepancy between the two tiers is fair or not, but the simple fact is that these are the current regulations.

In practice, this means that in the case of the non-payment of wages, only 15% of the money owed to the Zaaf riders is payable through the bank guarantee; the riders will lose money. It’s also significant to keep in mind that salaries are covered by the bank guarantee, while pending reimbursable expenses are not. For riders who had to pay for their own travel expenses to go to races or have used their own funds to purchase a bike, these amounts will not be reimbursed by the guarantee. 

What was the role of TCA during this period ?

At the rider’s request we provided legal and also emotional support. As you can imagine, it is really difficult to deal with the situation of non-payment of salaries and an uncertain future. TCA helped the riders to request the bank guarantee with the Spanish federation and also helped them to send official reminders to their employers about the missing payments. 

On the side there was also some policy work that needed to be conducted with UCI. According to the UCI regulation the transfer period is set in stone. It starts on June 1st, ends on July 15, and a rider cannot sign with another team outside this time window—even if their team has failed to respect its contractual obligations. In practice, the Zaaf riders were all stuck on a team that refused to pay them. 

To help the Zaaf riders, we consistently liaised with the UCI to discuss improvements to the regulation regarding the transfer window and to find alternative solutions for the riders to be able to sign with another team before June 1st. Individual riders also used their connections within UCI to plead their case.

From day one of this case, the UCI has been helpful supporting the Zaaf riders and showed genuine efforts to find solutions and collaborate on constructing a strategy for moving forward.

What is the role of the TCA Rider’s Council now? 

The TCA Rider’s Council has also taken this case very seriously. During one of the council's meetings, all members agreed to send a letter to the UCI President asking him and the UCI to consider permanent changes in UCI regulations. We feel that there should no longer be a question as to whether or not professional athletes are allowed to find another job if their employer is failing to respect their contractual obligations. Zaaf riders who were able to find new contracts and transfer to other teams during the spring of 2023 have done so under exceptions to the current UCI rules. The Council feels the exceptions that the UCI and TCA has helped the Zaaf have access to, should become permanent changes to the UCI regulations. This will avoid taking the risk and tedious hassle of pushing for the same exceptions in the future. Changing the regulations for good will create long term systemic changes. 

What could have been done to prevent this situation? 

Besides larger questions and policies around registrations and licensing of UCI Women Continental teams, it’s important that you as rider are aware of what you sign up for! You can’t know everything in advance, but there are certainly ways to be more prepared and protect yourself.

First of all, TCA members can login to the member-only section on TCA's website to find a wealth of information on contracts through our factsheets and webinars. Here's a link to an article on 5 Things to Think About When Negotiating Your Contract, for example. As a TCA member, you also have free access to our legal advisor who can go over your contract with you before you sign. 

It’s crucial to review your contract with a person who has legal expertise. Be aware not all rider agents have a legal background, so if you work with an agent, make sure they work with a legal advisor if they don’t have this background themselves. 

If you are unsure or feel you are receiving incomplete or vague information, question it! All well organized teams should be able to answer your questions. If they can't, this should be a red flag. Finally, to become a TCA member or supporter, click HERE.

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