With all the recent broken contracts in the sport of pro cycling you would have thought that they were printed on toilet paper using invisible ink. First there was half of Team Astana heading over to Team Radio Shack. Now, Bradley Wiggins has left Garmin-Transitions for Britain's new pro squad, Team Sky.
There are a couple of issues here. First off, are all contracts created equally? Should all contracts, regardless of the circumstances be honored? Are there any extenuating rules or laws that affect whether a contract is valid or not?
First off, it is not clear that all contracts are created equally. By this, I mean are some contracts easier to break than others. Some contracts include 'opt-out' clauses that allow a contract to become void if the team doesn't meet certain conditions. One 'opt-out' clause would be to allow a rider to leave if a team loses it's Pro Tour status. Clearly, if a contract has an 'opt out' clause it can be broken if the clause is met.
Secondly, are there any extenuating circumstances that might make breaking a contract OK. In the case of the contract breaking at Team Astana, it must be remembered that the riders on that team were not paid for three months during the middle of the season. And, though the situation was finally resolved, it took a lot of pressure and potential exclusion from the Tour de France to finally get the paychecks rolling again.
Since the riders on Astana are pros and they do this to put food on the table for their wives and kids, I fully support the riders' decision to switch teams. Team Radio Shack is run by a management group with a record of paying it's riders so that is a huge incentive to head for more security.
In the case of Bradley Wiggins leaving Garmin-Transitions, there are no concerns about being paid. This was just the case of a rider wanting to leave his contract early for a team where both the rider, Wiggins, and management, Team Sky, wanted him to be. I don't support this type of behavior. Wiggins is a pro and he should have honored his contract with Garmin, especially since that team was responsible for his breakthrough season.
In fact, it is kind of ironic when you think about it. Garmin were the ones responsible for Wiggins becoming a bona fide Tour de France contender. Team Sky has a stated goal of having the first ever British winner of the Tour de France within five years. So, Garmin created the problem that caused Wiggins departure. Before you start feeling sorry for Jonathan Vaughters, it must be remembered that there was a buyout clause for Wiggins to go to Team Sky. Vaughters might not have Wiggins in 2010, but his bank account is definitely larger.
The third point is that there are some other factors which affect the validity of contracts. Not only am I not a labor lawyer, but we are are also talking about European Union labor laws and that makes things even more complex. I believe there are some laws which state that you can't force someone to work for someone if they don't want to. That's a pretty nebulous statement and, to be honest, I don't know the full ramifications of such laws. Suffice it to say that there may be more to honoring contracts in Europe than meets the eye.