Monday, November 5, 2012

Colombia doesn't always mean Colombia

Colombia, Colombia, Colombia...

When Rigoberto Urán (left) crossed the line behind AlexandreVinokurov in London this summer to win the silver medal for his country, he had the word "Colombia" written across his chest. "Of course," you may think, "he was riding for the Colombian Olympic team." And you are right, he was. That team was funded by the Colombian Cycling Federation, a branch of Coldeportes (the Colombian Institute of Sport), which in turn is a part of the Ministry of Culture, with money from the Colombian government. Simple enough, right?
Well, weeks later, in October, Fabio Duarte (center) crossed the line in first place at the Coppa Sabatini. He, too, was wearing a kit that displayed the word "Colombia" across the chest. Was Duarte in the Olympic team, as well? Well, he was, in London in the summer, but not in October when he won that race in Italy. He was racing for his trade team, Pro Continental team Colombia-Coldeportes. Same word on his kit, but the folks who paid for it are different than the people who paid for Urán's a few weeks before. "How could it be?" you ask, "you just said Coldeportes paid for that as well!" Well, not really. They did, but they didn't.

You see, Coldeportes, is the umbrella government  institution for anything sport related, and therefore the Colombian Cycling Federation and the Olympic team fall under their supervision. The funding for those programs, however, come directly from the Ministry of Culture. Coldeportes itself, only sponsors one team. Actually two. Ok, maybe three. I know, I know. This is a mess and it didn't start with the Olympics in London.

Do you remember the Café de Colombia team in the 1980s? That team were the direct descendants of the old Colombia-Varta amateur team (above image: Alfonso López, right). As you can see, "Colombia" right on the kit. Many years later, in 2007, it was revived as Colombia es Pasión-Cafe de Colombia. I already mentioned Fabio Duarte's Colombia-Coldeportes, but let me add the Colombia-Comcel team, and Colombia-Claro (who is leading the Vuelta a Bolivia). Ah, let us not forget the young team 4-72-Colombia. And what about the Team Colombia hitting the streets in 2013?

Nine teams with "Colombia" on their kits and names, but always a different same "sponsor". Actually, not really. Mostly the money comes from the same place, but different people write the checks.

Confused yet? You are not alone. I am going to attempt to explain this whole mess and hopefully you'll walk away an expert in all matters Colombia, Colombian sponsorship, and the Colombian government's subsidising of sport. Let's take it from the top.

Luis "Lucho" Herrera becomes the first amateur and the first Colombian to win a stage in the Tour.
(1984 at Alpe d'Huez)
Colombia-Pilas Varta (1983-84)
It all starts pretty simple. In 1983 the Colombian Government, through the Ministry of Culture, sponsored an amateur team to race in Europe. German battery company Varta was the co-sponsor, but since amateur teams were not allowed to overtly display sponsor logos, Varta cleverly used their signature yellow V in the jersey. In this case the "Colombia" across the jersey actually meant the country, since this was considered a National Team.

Café de Colombia (1985-90)
In 1985 Colombian cycling went pro with a team no longer sponsored by the government. Well, sorta. The team was sponsored by the Colombian Federation of Coffee Growers. The Federation was founded in 1927 to fight for the rights of small coffee growing farmers. It has since grown quite a bit, and today represents 563 thousand coffee-growing families. Since coffee is one of Colombia's biggest exports, the National government subsidizes the Federation. So, in short, in this case "Colombia" didn't really mean the country, although the government helped pay for the team.

Colombia es Pasión (2007-11) 
This team started out as a modest Continental squad in '07 sponsored by the National Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism. "Colombia es Pasión" was simply the slogan they were using to promote tourism at the time. So, once again, "Colombia" didn't mean the government, although they were the ones paying the bills. In 2010 the Colombian Federation of Coffee Growers came back to the sport as a sponsor, and for two years the team was re-named "Colombia es Pasión-Cafe de Colombia." Twice as many "Colombia," two different organizations, but the whole thing pretty much being paid for by the tax-payers. Not for long, though. The sponsorship was pulled in 2011 and the team ended.

Esteban Cháves. He looks 14, but he's 22.
Colombia-Coldeportes (2012)
Even though it was only their first year as a team, Colombia-Coldeportes had a very successful season. The team won 6 races (4 of them in Europe). Of note Esteban Chaves' wins in Burgos and in the Gran Premio Città di Camaiore. At 22, Chaves is without a doubt one of the biggest promises of Colombian cycling. But enough cycling...

The "Colombia" part of the team name is actually paid for by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism. The same guys with "Colombia es Pasión," but this time without a cute slogan. It may sound (and look) like a National Team, but it isn't. Coldeportes (Colombian Institute of Sport) is a branch of the Ministry of Culture, which, of course, is funded by the government. So, Colombia-Coldeportes is like saying Colombian National Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism plus Colombian National Ministry of Culture.

For 2013 there were talks of welcoming an outside private sponsor and even some european riders, but instead of making the team seem less "Colombian," they went and did exactly the opposite. (see Colombia (2013) below)

Juan Alejandro García of Colombia-Claro
Colombia-Comcel / Colombia-Claro
This is the Continental team of Coldeportes (remember we learned that Coldeportes is the Colombian Institute of Sport, a branch of the Ministry of Culture?). That's where the "Colombia" in the team name comes from. Which is ridiculous, since the "Colombia" in Colombia-Coldeportes, comes from the OTHER Ministry! Anyway, Comcel used to be a private telecommunications company in Colombia, recently purchased by Mexican giants America Movil and therefore their name has changed to Claro. Thankfully that part actually makes sense.

Oh, this one is fun. 4-72-Colombia is a developmental team. In 2013 they will have 15 under-23 riders and three under-19. Who is paying for this one, you ask? Well, 4-72 or 472 is the Colombian National Postal Service. The name comes from the latitude of Colombia being 4º00´ South of the Equator, and the longitude: 72º00´ West of Greenwich. Funding for the postal service: The National Government, but that is not where the "Colombia" in the name comes from. That part of the title comes courtesy of our old friends in the Colombian National Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism. Remember them? The "Colombia es Pasión" people. Except, that's not their slogan anymore, so they just use "Colombia." For now. And we thank them for making it more confusing.

By the way, 4-72 was also a sponsor of the Colombia es Pasión team. One more for ya; when they went to France for the Tour de L´Avenir, they raced as the National Team with white kits, not their usual black.

In 2013, everything's gonna change. Kind of. Both sponsors ("4-72" (read: the Colombian Government) and "Colombia" (read: the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism)) will continue to support the team. The thing is that the tourism people have a whole new campaign going (it's actually pretty cool, check out this video about the development of the visual identity), so they will rebrand the team accordingly. As best I can tell the team will be called 4-72-Co-Colombia or 4-72-marca Colombia.

The elegant black kit will be back for 2013
Colombia and Colombia (2013)
The Colombian National Cycling Team had a great season. Rigoberto Urán scored a nice silver medal for the country, but he will not be be in this NEW Colombia Team. Why? Because this Team Colombia I'm referring to has nothing to do with the National or Olympic teams. It has very little to do with the Colombian Cycling Federation. Team Colombia is going to be the new Colombia-Coldeportes, who decided to change their name, because (I am not kidding) they thought it was too confusing. You can't make this stuff up.

I have no idea who is actually paying for the "Colombia" on the jersey for 2013 (as I write this the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism may be), but I do know that the team will remain under the guidance of Claudio Corti and will present their new bike supplier (Bianchi will no longer with the team) and their new kit on December 5. Coldeportes, who will still fund the team (although their name will no longer reflect it), promised the black kits will be back, but they are adding a "colorful new touch" ("brillante novedad"). May the Lord of "Colorful Touches" take pity on our souls and not let the kits look like shit.

So, there you have it, the same word on the jersey, five different piles of cash, but all coming from the same source. The Colombian national government. 

As a Colombian, and as a Colombian cycling fan I don't feel too good about this. Does no one in the private sector have any faith in the sport? If you look at smaller teams in the country, you find most of them are funded by local governments, too. Don't get me wrong. I think that the public sector investing in sport is a great thing, but private sponsors need to step up and use cycling as the great publicity vehicle that it is. Otherwise the system will come to a halt again, and we'll be back to the early 90s when the development of cycling in Colombia was slow and poor, at best.

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