Warning: this story contains strong language. — Ed.
In October, Jaimie Fuller, chairman of compression wear company Skins, posted an open letter to the UCI’s president Pat McQuaid asking that he either change how the sport’s governing body runs the sport or step down from his post.
Last week Fuller followed up with a lawsuit against McQuaid and honorary UCI president for life Hein Verbruggen, seeking $2 million in damages for, according to the lawsuit, “the total loss of confidence in professional cycling by the public, which harms Skins, as well as any other sponsor or supplier.”
The lawyer retained by the tough-talking Aussie is the same lawyer that is being employed by Paul Kimmage, who recently filed a criminal complaint against McQuaid and Verbruggen, in response to their now-suspended defamation suit against him.
“It is horseshit, absolute crap,” said Fuller when asked if his suit against the two heads of the UCI is motivated by money, or in response to UCI rules prohibiting compression wear. “I’ve spoken to quite a few industry players about what is going on and everyone is shit scared. They are terrified to put their heads above the parapet and say anything about the UCI because they rely on the UCI to approve components and give them their approval.”
On Monday, UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani sent a comment on the Skins lawsuit to VeloNews:
“While we understand the concerns expressed by Skins, the UCI is determined to work hand in hand with all cycling’s stakeholders towards the same goal, which is to safeguard the integrity and future wellbeing of the sport. The UCI has listened to the world’s reaction to the Lance Armstrong affair and the USADA report and has taken decisive steps in response to the grave concerns raised, including setting up a fully independent Commission. The UCI is determined that this independent commission will just be the start of the process and nothing will be off the agenda.”
While Fuller claims that some companies might be scared to question the UCI due to their governance over rules and regulations, he says he doesn’t feel that type of pressure.
“They (UCI) can’t do anything to me. I’m in a fortunate position to say my peace and I’m not beholden to anybody and not reliant on anybody. I can come out and say what I think is right and what I think is wrong,” said Fuller. “Whatever they do about compression socks I don’t give a flying fuck.”
And while he’s not surprised that no other major companies rallied around his cause, Fuller is disappointed by what he says is a lack of support.
“I’ve written eight to 10 CEOs and presidents and only had one response. I would have thought they would have had the decency to write back and say they’ve seen what we’re doing and understand it, but thanks but no thanks.”
Of the sole reply he received, Fuller said he had a good conversation, adding that he understands the situation the inside-industry companies are in — they can’t rock the boat while the UCI steers the wheel.
However, Fuller says that two outside-industry sponsors are having internal discussions about publicly endorsing Skins’ actions — not necessarily to join in the lawsuit, but to show some form of solidarity.
“In these discussions (with outside-cycling industry companies) it has been interesting to hear how disenchanted they are,” Fuller said. “It’s not just because of Lance Armstrong. It’s the cover-up and complacent nature that happened after that. And then the bullying, the intimidation, the ostracizing, the hypocrisy and all the other shit that goes with it.”
The reason for the $2 million lawsuit, a suit he firmly believes won’t make it to court, is deeper than publicity; he hopes to force a change in professional cycling. “We are very passionate about cycling. It’s more about the emotional aspect and the role that sports play culturally in the community.”
On a return flight from the U.S. to Australia, Fuller read the riders’ affidavits and USADA’s report detailing the U.S. Postal Services team’s organized doping. “By the time I landed in Sydney there was no question. This wasn’t a witch hunt or one person’s interpretation or belief,” he said.
This spurred Fuller to write his open letter to McQuaid demanding some action or to “piss off and let someone else takeover who can.” Initially he expected, in his words, a “big player” to speak up and recommend a course of action. By his own admittance, Skins is a small player in the cycling world.
It was out of this sense of frustration that Fuller contacted Kimmage’s lawyer, Cédric Aguet.
“I’m not looking for two million bucks,” says Fuller. “The two million dollars is a real number and it is calculated correctly, and if anything it might go up a bit. But this is about talking … in a language that they understand because the nature of the relationship from what it appears to me between the senior management of the UCI and the management committee, something needs to be shaken up.”
And while Fuller takes square aim at McQuaid and Verbruggen, he insists this isn’t a vendetta against these two men.
“This is much bigger than that,” he said. “It’s about the culture within the UCI and the culture of how the sporting body works with the degree of arrogance and a power base where they are untouchable and unaccountable. My objective is about restructuring and overhauling a system that looks at the role of the UCI, particularly in regards to doping and policing, and what that relationship or balance should be between the UCI and the anti-doping agencies.”
“In my opinion we have a body that thinks it’s untouchable,” said Fuller. “I don’t think that’s right. Any other organization or any company with shareholders, the CEO would have been falling on his sword ages ago.”
And if the lawsuit went to court and Skins emerged victorious, what is Fuller’s plan for the two million dollars?
“I genuinely don’t think it will go that far, because if it does it will take some time and I hope this can be resolved in our favor — and by “our favor” I mean the cycling community,” Fuller said. “In the event that there is a financial payment of some sort of damages, it could be something where we sponsor a speaking circuit where we take some ex-dopers and we put them in front of young junior riders, and explain what the health implications are, what the moral implications are.”
Fuller also said he hopes to see a reduction in the UCI’s power over the sport, even though he said himself it would be “counterintuitive” for the governing body to willingly reduce its own stakes.
“But we need to see how we can transfer some of their power to anti-doping agencies. We also want to see significant cultural change within the UCI. This comes back to the guy sitting at its head. You don’t change the culture of an organization without changing the head of the organization,” he said.
Fuller, like others, is calling for a truth and reconciliation process. It should, he said, “draw a line in the sand and looking forward we have zero doping philosophy. Looking back however, we need to understand what was going on. Therefore we need these guys to come forward and come clean, and to be comfortable that they can do it.”
Part of this, Fuller says, is aimed at understanding how these riders got away with doping in the past. “Once we understand all that,” he said, “we will be in a much better position to make sure methods are in place to stop it and have very strict guidelines in place to punish people who cross the line.”
“It’s like an intervention,” he said. “We’ve got to go through it and get it all out there.”
As for the UCI, it maintains that it has been a pioneer in the fight against doping — first to introduce a urine test for EPO, first to introduce the homologous blood transfusion test and first to introduce the biological passport program.
“About Skins (lawsuit), we can just say in the years that they have been a sponsor, since 2008, cycling has been a completely different sport from what it was during the period 1998-2005,” Carpani stated. “Since the dark period of Lance Armstrong, cycling has been a pioneer in the fight against doping in sport under the leadership of the UCI and this role has been recognized by WADA.
“As a result, today’s riders are subject to the most innovative and effective anti-doping procedures and regulations in sport. Today, cycling has enjoyed a huge boost in visibility and popularity, as was apparent at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The UCI is determined to turn around this painful episode in the history of our sport. We will take whatever actions are deemed necessary by the Independent Commission, and we will put cycling back on track.”