Irish journalist Paul Kimmage is facing a Swiss Court tomorrow. He is defending an action brought by former UCI president Hein Vebruggen.
We support Paul every step of the way and here is why.
In December 2012, SKINS initiated the creation of Change Cycling Now (CCN). Our mission was to effect positive change at the UCI during the Presidential campaign of Verbruggen’s close ally, Pat McQuaid.
As someone who knew the world of cycling inside-out, Paul Kimmage supported our mission. But like many people in power in sport around the world, when faced with people who dare to question them, Verbruggen and McQuaid brought an action against Paul after he wrote something to which they took exception.
Of course, such action is designed to do just one thing. It sends a message to other media and individuals who may have felt inclined to voice an opposing opinion of: ‘don’t mess with me’. In the world in which the likes of Verbruggen moves, there is no room for fair comment, and there is no understanding of the concept of freedom of speech and the critical role of the ‘fourth estate’ in a democratic and transparent society.
Paul did not approach his commentary and analysis in relation to the old UCI and the culture of doping as someone who knew nothing about the sport of cycling. He is a former professional rider who retired from professional cycling in 1989. One year later he published the book Rough Ride, which detailed his experiences as a rider including references to drug use. He was one of the first riders to speak out about the use of drugs in the peloton in the public domain.
It was a courageous move because he stood against the code of silence. Unfortunately, as is often the case for those who speak out, he was not celebrated or supported for his efforts. The code of silence closed-in around him and he was ostracised from the sport he loved.
But, thankfully, Paul is no shrinking violet and he is a gloriously stubborn man. He saw a wrong and sought to expose it to the world. He was a thorn in Lance Armstrong’s side and he laid the sport bare with his interview of Floyd Landis in 2010: a 7-hour interview where Landis admitted to being involved in doping activities and the culture of performance doping.
What did the powers-that-be in world cycling do at the time – people like McQuaid and Verbruggen? They fought harder to shut Paul out of the sport. They characterised him as a renegade fringe dweller, as someone who was ‘bitter and twisted’, and whose writing and views were out-of-touch and should be discounted.
When it was known that Verbruggen and McQuaid had taken legal action against Paul, a crowd-funding campaign was established to help fund Paul’s defence. It was successful. Almost US$100,000 was raised and some of it was used to assist Paul in the initial stages of his legal fight – but the remainder has been misappropriated by one of the initiators of the fund, Aaron Brown, and is now unavailable for Paul’s defence. (McQuaid and the UCI subsequently withdrew their action).
This is why we pledged in May 2013 to assist Paul with his defence. Paul supported us for what we stood for at the end of 2012 in working to reform UCI; the least we could do was be there for him.
However, despite the fact that this David v Goliath battle is being played-out in a Court, what’s at stake here is not a legal matter. Legally, Verbruggen is not taking action against the publisher – just the individual journalist – in an instance where Verbruggen is a public figure and the journalist is entitled to fair comment.
What’s at stake is Hein Verbruggen’s carefully cultivated public image. He is using the action against Paul Kimmage as a way of spinning a story to the world, and distancing himself from allegations of complicit behaviour during the Lance Armstrong era, to ensure he maintains his positions at the centre of political power in two major world sporting bodies – cycling and the Olympic movement.
Verbruggen wants us to believe that he did not assist Lance Armstrong to avoid a doping scandal and that he acted with propriety during his reign over the cycling world. The evidence suggests otherwise.
In January 2013, French newspaper Le Monde alleged that the UCI covered-up a doping positive of Lance Armstrong dating back to 1999. During Verbruggen’s Presidency of the UCI at that time, corticosteroid use was allowed for therapeutic reasons; but to justify use of corticosteroids, the rider needed to submit an exemption form prior to its use. Armstrong’s doping form said that he had no prior prescriptions. However, when corticosteroids were detected in Armstrong’s blood, team management backdated the exemption application.
Article 43 of the UCI’s 1999 Rules stated if a rider fails to list a product like cortisone on the test paperwork then any subsequent “test result shall be considered as a positive and the rider shall be sanctioned even when he produces a medical certificate after the test.” So the UCI had one form saying no medication and, following a positive result, it had another backdated document attempting to exempt Armstrong from the doping control positive. Lance Armstrong himself confirmed the directive to provide a backdated form to excuse the positive test came directly from Hein Verbruggen.
Despite his responsibility as President of UCI to police doping and to test and eradicate it from the sport, Verbruggen chose to assist Armstrong to cover-up and to avoid the positive doping control. He was complicit in Armstrong escaping sanction in direct conflict with his obligations.
Verbruggen has a lot to protect. He was President of Sport Accord, the organisation for anti-doping, ethics and social responsibility in sport from 2004 to 2013. He was succeeded as President of UCI by McQuaid in 2005, but he remains the Honorary President and is an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member.
I’d like to know how someone like Hein Verbruggen remains part of the power elite in world sport. Have we got it wrong? Is he just misunderstood. I know I’d like to hear from Verbruggen personally.
So here’s the challenge.
Hein Verbruggen, let’s have a public debate. Let’s get together, and you and I can discuss the issues around the leadership and governance of the UCI and doping. But let’s do it publicly, maturely, professionally.
Are you game?