News broke this week that Olympic Champion, Jenny Rissveds would not be competing at the World Championships in Cairns, Australia next month. We spoke to her team manager, Thomas Frischknecht, to find out more about the situation.
So can you explain your side of the situation with Swedish Cycling?
Swedish cycling signed a contract with POC for the whole kit: jersey, shorts, helmets, eyewear, gloves and socks. The athletes have to wear all these products while competing for the national team. As Jenny already has a contract with her trade team Scott/SRAM to wear Scott helmet and she also has a worldwide contract for all competition to wear Oakley eyewear. So she didn't sign this agreement with the National Federation. Short term, talking with the president of Swedish cycling last year, I solved the problem saying, "Okay for the European Championships in Sweden we let Jenny compete in a Poc helmet as this is was on Poc's home soil. For the rest of the year - World Championships and Olympics - she'll ride whatever she is sponsored to ride, and he agreed to this. In the meantime, we asked the UCI to take action to actually define more precisely what national federations can ask the riders and what they can't because we saw a potential conflict there. This could go even further, say Swedish Cycling signed a contract with Specialized and their riders have to compete on Specialized bikes when they are competing for the National Federation?
So, we asked for some help from the UCI. This, unfortunately, didn't really result in any action from their side over the last year and this year. Swedish cycling came back and said if she wants to join the national team she is obliged to sign this contract which tells her then to wear POC products. This is asking someone to violate a contract, so it's against European law. As Jenny has already signed a contract with the team. This is not a common for national federations to actually sign contracts for personal equipment. We advised her to not sign this contract and this resulted in the Swedish Cycling Federation saying, "Okay then we're not sending anyone to Cairns." So it's now at the end and it was Swedish Cycling who took the decision to not send any athletes to the World Championship, which is a shame.
So every athlete who would be on the Swedish national squad was not in a position to sign this contract?
Yeah. Well, the same is for Alexander Engen and another girl that also didn't want to violate their existing contracts. Swedish Cycling put them in a position where they would have to violate an existing contract. From the team's side, we stayed firm and said that the UCI or Swedish cycling has to solve this problem. If that contract is signed then we would have our back against the wall to turn things around. So we said hey we are going to stay firm. Hopefully there will now be a big shitstorm over Swedish Cycling's actions. They just pushed it too far and now the Olympic champion is not competing at the World Championships, which is a shame. A shame for Jenny, a shame for the sport in general and a much bigger shame for Swedish cycling.
There have always been special kits for Worlds, right? For instance, in DH there were always the national skinsuits.
This has always happened. It's been the history of cycling at World Championships on the road, cyclocross, mountain bike - it's the national federation that supplies shorts and jersey to be raced in. This is fine. This is also where they get some revenue from sponsors and it has always been that way. But, in the UCI regulations, there is not such a strict definition stating that it is only jersey and shorts. Swedish Cycling used British Cycling as an example. Their riders were not just wearing the jersey and shorts through the year, but were also riding the bikes and all the kit. But the big difference between Swedish Cycling and British Cycling is that the athletes from British Cycling, this not only on track it's also the under-23 team of great Britain in cross-country, they were out but they were actually registered as a trade team. They were travelling to World Cup races as a trade team under the British Cycling flag, the athletes were actually paid a salary and bonuses and all of that made it possible for them to make a living with their national federation. Whereas Swedish cycling doesn't have a dime. Jenny doesn't get a cent from them. She lives only from what she makes with her trade team we make sure she has 99 percent of the support to bring her to all the World Cup races and we are responsible for all her equipment. Now they're basically taking away something that we believe belongs to her.
Jenny with her team manager, Thomas Frischknecht, and teammate Nino Schurter.
That doesn't seem fair to the athlete, surely it is you, the team who are there for her week-in, week-out?
Yeah. They just put her under the pressure. At the end of the day, it is the cycling federation that nominates an athlete to go to the World Championship. So they took this leverage to say, "You know what, you sign this contract or you we're not going to send you to the World Championship." So we remained firm, they remained firm and that's how we're now at a point where Sweden isn't sending a team to the World Championship.
To play devil's advocate, what if someone says, "Well why aren't you guys not more flexible?"
Because this eventually turns into a much larger issue where, in the future, a national team sees the potential to sign a lot more contracts. It can result in shoes, bikes, whatever and it kind of becomes an uncontrolled thing. Let's say it's then not only Swedish cycling, maybe we have the same issue with Swiss cycling and every other national team. If this kind of becomes a rule, then the national teams can do whatever.
The sport as it exists right now works by the industry paying for the whole sport. It's Scott, it's SRAM, it's Specialized, Trek, you name it. We are supporting cross country racing by putting the budgets together to send trade teams and athletes to World Cup races, and then the most important races, such as World Championships and the Olympics. For example, maybe Nino has to ride a Specialized bike because Swiss Cycling signed a deal with Specialized that requires all Swiss athletes that compete at the Olympics to ride a Specialized bike. So if we agree to Jenny riding in a POC helmet, it would be the beginning of the end. It could then continue to become a much larger problem.
This whole thing is a big part of the reason why Jenny didn't compete much this year. First, both her grandfathers died within a short period of time, then she had to fight against her own federation. Jenny is proud to be a Swede. Facing this issue and feeling the burden of an Olympic champion has taken the wind out of her sails. It’s actually not correct to talk bad of Swedish Cycling in general, it is basically only one person, Swedish Cycling marketing manager Anders Bromee, who has been terrorising Jenny for more than a year now. This has become a big, big issue so at this point, she would not feel comfortable to travel to Cairns with a team where everybody hates each other because of what happened. Right now she has zero trust and respect for Swedish Cycling. She does not feel she has been treated well enough to see how, in these circumstances, it would result in a good performance for her.