The current UCI presidential campaign has seen plenty of twists and turns on the road to the elections in Florence, Italy, next month.
As recently as May, Irishman Pat McQuaid looked a shoe-in for a third term as head of cycling’s world governing body, having received the necessary nomination from his home federation, Cycling Ireland.
With no opposition candidate willing to come forward, the 63-year-old Dubliner looked set to sail back into cycling’s head office in Aigle, Switzerland, for another four years.
Since then however, McQuaid has lost nominations from both Cycling Ireland and Swiss Cycling, gained two very controversial nominations from the Thai and Moroccan cycling federations, and has also seen a competitor, British Cycling’s Brian Cookson, step forward to oppose his candidacy.
But while most of the focus has been on McQuaid and Cookson in recent months, another name keeps cropping up whenever there is a twist in the tail. That name is Jaimie Fuller. The Australian businessman has publicly led the campaign against McQuaid, and only this week funded a court case against Swiss Cycling’s nomination of the Dubliner, forcing the Swiss to withdraw their nomination before the case went to court.
So how did an Australian businessman, based in Switzerland, with possibly more interest in Australian Rules football than cycling, get himself embroiled in the current UCI presidential campaign?
“I ask myself the same thing,” says Fuller as he sits in a Dublin hotel ahead of a speaking engagement at an international sports conference.
Although he is chairman of a multi-million dollar sports company, the affable Fuller looks and sounds much like your stereotypical Aussie, wearing a t-shirt and Bermuda shorts instead of a suit and tie, and spewing out expletives like they’re going out of fashion.
“This isn’t just about cycling,” he says as he leans forward in his seat. “This is a values based discussion. It just so happens that some of the worst excesses, the worst examples of ‘fuck-wittery’ are in cycling. When you’ve got the blatant manipulation, twisting, breaking of rules; when the actions don’t support the words when it comes to anti-doping; when you’ve got so many examples of poor leadership and mealy-mouthed statements, public relations stunts that reflect one thing whereas actuality reflects another, then somebody’s got to stand up and say ‘I’m not going to take this any more’.”
Fuller’s time to stand up came on a plane from Los Angeles to Sydney in October of last year. Having downloaded the US Anti Doping Agency’s Reasoned Decision for stripping Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France victories in the airport lounge, Fuller had plenty of time to read the 1,000 page document on the flight home.
“When I got on the plane I was still prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to Lance Armstrong,” he admits. “I’d heard the witch hunt and the conspiracy theories and you know, I thought, maybe that is possible. It’s unlikely, but possible. But by the time I got to Sydney there was no question. You don’t create a conspiracy by getting 14 ex-teammates to say what they did, especially guys like George Hincapie. I knew the relationship between George and Lance, so it was very clear, no question. That’s when it all started for me.”
On arrival Down Under, Fuller waited for a reaction to the news from the UCI. He waited for a backlash, an investigation, an overhaul of the whole anti-doping structure. Now, 10 months later, he’s still waiting.
“When I get to Sydney, I think great, we’ve got a global governing body, times are tough, we need some great leadership. Somebody’s got to hold up the torch and say ‘Follow me’.”
Fuller makes a ‘zip the lips’ gesture. “Not a word. Fucking silence. In the meantime, the sport’s eating itself. The media is going crazy and the sport’s imploding. Not a fucking word. Out of desperation, I published an open letter in the Sydney Morning Herald. I tried to get it into L’Equipe. They accepted it but then rejected it at the last minute. It was a plea to Pat McQuaid, which basically said ‘Dear Pat, for fuck’s sake, either get behind Travis Tygart and USADA and show some leadership, or step aside and let somebody in who’s not conflicted’. Very naively, I thought this would get a reaction. I wonder if he’ll resign? Seriously! I thought ‘I wonder if he’ll resign?’ But… not a sausage.”
Another turning point came when McQuaid, as head of the UCI, finally called a press conference to accept the decision of the American authorities.
“I firmly believe to this day that if USADA hadn’t made public the full Reasoned Decision, if they’d just said ‘This is what we’re doing’, without making public all the evidence behind it, I firmly believe that McQuaid would have said ‘No we’re going to fight this, because it’s wrong’. But in the face of so much evidence, he had no choice. So he has that appalling press conference where he begrudgingly acknowledges the decision and refers to the whistleblowers as ‘scumbags’.
“Then, afterwards, I find out that not only would he not get behind USADA and try to endorse it, but he actually tried to stop it. I just thought ‘I must be in some sort of parallel reality here. This can’t be happening’. If I’m the president of the UCI and I get a phone call from Travis Tygart saying ‘Hey buddy, you’ve got a problem, this is what we’ve just found’, my first response is ‘that’s awful, what can I do to help?’ Not call in the lawyers and see how I can stop you. When you put this stuff together, suddenly you get an insight into what’s going on in that man’s head.”
As chairman of sports clothing company Skins, Fuller sponsors athletes and teams across a wide spectrum of sports, including WorldTour squads Lotto-Belisol and Europcar, but the repercussions of the USADA case saw his company almost drop cycling altogether.
“We’ve got very clear values about fueling the true spirit of competition,” he says. “If we’ve got a partner, whether it’s an individual or a team and they don’t espouse those values or do things that don’t reflect that, then we have to terminate our relationship. We have examples of having done that in the past. You have to do that, otherwise you’re a hypocrite. But this isn’t an individual. This isn’t a team. This is the governing body. These are the guys that run the sport, ergo we might have to drop the sport, and say ‘we can no longer be partner in cycling’.
“We sat down and worked out that if we had to drop the sport and write off all our investments… all the products we have developed, the research, the advertising, marketing, sponsorship, all the people, all the investment we’ve made… we did the calculations, deducted the gross revenue and ended up with a $2 million shortfall. So we went to the lawyers and they said ‘Absolutely! You have every right to say that because of this man’s actions, this is a consequence to your brand, this is what you’re going to do and this is the cost’. We then issued a letter of demand to McQuaid, Verbruggen and the UCI for $2 million. I sat back and I thought, this will get a response.”
Fuller throws his arms out and shrugs. “Nothing! Some one-liner from him, that he doesn’t care, doesn’t have to care. It’s not about the sport, blah, blah, blah. He has the power to do what he wants”.
Fuller’s next step was to form an action group entitled Change Cycling Now, which brought various experts together in one room to discuss the ongoing situation in cycling and how they could help overhaul the sport and get rid of doping once and for all.
“It was a thought,” says Fuller. “It was just to bring a bunch of people together, people who are passionate, people who have been affected, all united with one thought which is ‘we’ve got to eradicate doping’. We sat down. We went through it. We swapped experiences and came up with ideas. We put it on paper and said ‘there we go’. It was never going to be formalized, with a president and director, a constitution and statutes.
“At one point, a couple of people talked about that, but I said ‘hang on guys, the moment you do that, it means that all of us are bound to think this way and act this way and I’m sorry but there’s 15 of us. We all agree on one key thing, which is doping has got to be eradicated, how we get there is by different ways. The way one person thinks it should be done and another person thinks it should be done is different. I’m not going to tell anyone else how to think and they’re not going to tell me how I should think. It was never about creating an institution. It was just a thought and frankly it was a pretty powerful thought.”
But was the whole thing not just a massive publicity stunt as McQuaid had suggested?
“If I did it under the Skins banner I knew there would be a number of people who’d say ‘I don’t believe. I’m not going to listen to it or report it’. There was no Skins anywhere near it. I didn’t want to be accused of it being a publicity stunt,” says Fuller. “McQuaid says a lot of things. McQuaid says ‘I’m very confident of my Cycling Ireland nomination’. McQuaid says ‘I’m very confident about my Swiss nomination’. Less than 48 hours ago McQuaid says ‘I haven’t been dumped by the Swiss. Everything’s fine. I’m going to be in Zurich on Thursday with my documentation’. Where the fuck is he? McQuaid says a lot of things. The man’s full of shit.”
Change Cycling Now, Fuller insists, is part of a bigger campaign which also included the open letter to McQuaid, the $2M demand, and more recently, the support of the Swiss Cycling members who overturned the Swiss nomination.
“They’re all for one clear objective,” says Fuller, “to eradicate doping from cycling. It’s fundamentally obvious that we can’t eradicate doping with that man at the helm of cycling. There are a number of things about the Swiss nomination. First of all, I’m pretty simple. If I’m sitting at a meeting like that and I’m going to nominate a man I say ‘right, here’s my motion. Swiss cycling nominates Patrick McQuaid for president of the UCI’. Pretty straightforward, right? As opposed to ‘Swiss Cycling recognizes Mr. McQuaid’s democratic right to run for election’.
“What they did is they worded it in such a mealy mouthed way that enabled (Swiss Cycling president Richard Chassot) to interpret it in a matter convenient to him and McQuaid. It was a sneaky, underhand, grubby, dirty little trick and it’s backfired on him.
“Another problem we had was conflict of interest and the relationship between Chassot and McQuaid was such, so intertwined, that he should have excused himself from any discussions, nominations or voting. The interwoven relationship between the Chassot family and the McQuaid family stinks. He should have excused himself and he didn’t. Obviously we had a source on the board. I knew that meeting was happening on Monday the 13th of May. I knew the previous Friday, which is why I wrote to them all in French, German, and English, saying that I understand you’re doing this but number one: you’ve got to let the Irish have their chance. Don’t usurp the Irish their rights. There is no need. The window closed 10 days after the Irish vote. The Swiss could have got together a few days after the Irish vote and then nominated him. And you know what? I think there’s a reasonable chance he would have got the Irish vote. The simple fact that he swapped plan A for plan B would have pissed off a lot of Irish people.”
While McQuaid is Irish, and therefore had a right to the Irish nomination, Fuller is willing to concede to the fact that the Irishman lives in Switzerland and thus the Swiss nomination could be vaguely interpreted as the ‘federation of the candidate’. But he is appalled at the recent Moroccan and Thai nominations, feeling that McQuaid is ‘making it up as he goes along’.
“One thing is interpretation,” says Fuller. “The other thing is a complete lie. He’s saying he’s got a valid nomination in Thailand and Morocco. Our argument is that he can’t have those nominations because Article 51.1 is very clear. It talks abut ‘the federation of the candidate’ and in McQuaid’s case, ‘the federation’ is Ireland. He can interpret it to mean Switzerland as his resident federation but to turn around now and claim ‘I’m the president of the whole world and I can be nominated by any federation’ is just delusional.
“I’m sure there are people who are looking at that and working out the best way forward. His position is that blah, blah, blah, ‘I’m president of all federations. You’re all my children’. Where was that on the first of July when he announced he had a Swiss nomination? Why didn’t he tell us then that he had a Thai nomination and Moroccan nomination? Why didn’t he address it then? Why is he very, very cunningly now trying to interpret ‘the federation’ as ‘any’ federation. Why hasn’t he done this in the past when it was clear that his federation, ‘the federation’ was Ireland?
“I think everybody universally accepted the fact that the federation was your home federation or even the federation where you’re resident, which is why we never challenged the Swiss nomination on the basis that he was incapable of taking that as a Swiss resident. Pat McQuaid has decided to ignore the rules. Article 51.1 is there. It says ‘the federation’. Pat McQuaid has chosen to put his own twist and interpretation on that. I know that he has spent a significant amount of money, from the UCI, not his own, to get an opinion written by Baker McKenzie, who are one of the most expensive groups of lawyers in the world. I also note that in their opinion they did not address the issue of Article 51.1 and whether the Thai and Moroccan nominations are valid as ‘the federation of the candidate’. I think that’s very telling, because the whole thing swings around that one clause. He’s issued this opinion which doesn’t address that. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s spent north of fifty grand on that opinion, which again, is not his money. All so he can keep his job.”
Fuller has his own theories as to why McQuaid wants to keep his job so badly, though he was not willing to divulge them here — but he was willing to express his feelings on what the next UCI president needs to do upon appointment.
“If I was the new president, I’d come in with a machete and identify some key people who need to be gotten rid of,” says Fuller in his no-nonsense manner. “For example, we saw some political interference from the executive two weeks ago. You have the director general writing to federations, suggesting and coercing to make things retrospective, purely for the benefit of Pat McQuaid. I mean, he’d be top of my list. Actually he’d be number two after Hein Verbruggen.
“The first thing the new UCI president should do is pick up the phone and ring John Fahey and David Howman at WADA. I think one of Brian Cookson’s first points in his manifesto was to rebuild the association with WADA and that is critical. To get rid of doping, there needs to be a true will. You’ve got to have a relationship with WADA. You’ve got to sit down with the key stakeholders and you’ve got to want this to happen. You can’t do that with Pat McQuaid in charge.”
So what does Fuller think of the British candidate?
“I like him,” he says. “I’ve met him several months ago, well before he put his hand up for the role. I contacted him. He didn’t contact me. I asked for a meeting. I wanted to have a discussion with him about doping and what his thoughts were. We had a very good meeting and I said to him ‘I think you should run for the presidency’. He was very non-committal at the time but has since announced his nomination. If Cookson gets in I think the independent investigation into the UCI will be done. It won’t be done with dueling lawyers, where everyone is lawyered up with a six-million franc bill. It doesn’t need that. I believe that Cookson will also be able to say ‘let’s have a look at what went on,’ without any fear or favor about what happened. He can do that. He’s not conflicted.”
Although the sport has begun to clean itself up — with a younger generation of riders much more outspoken about doping — Fuller still believes a truth and reconciliation process of some sort is needed to finally purge the sport of its murky past.
“The fight against doping is a never-ending story, which is why we’ve been advocating a truth and reconciliation process or something like that. Until you do that we will die the death of a thousand cuts. Somebody else will get popped. Old samples will get tested for something else. Like Erik Zabel, ‘I only did it between here and here (he puts his hands out, before stretching them even wider)… well actually I did it from here to here’. Stuart O’Grady, ‘I only puffed it twice, and I didn’t inhale’. You know, that’s just going to continue on and on. You need to create an environment for people who have been engaged in doping to come forward and tell their story. It’s as simple as that.”
But what about the cost implications and what of the repercussions for those who do come forward?
“I’d start by suggesting you don’t spend the six million francs on a UCI independent commission that you then try to handcuff. Then, ideally, there would be amnesty. But there are hurdles to putting an amnesty in place so you look at what they have like ‘substantial assistance provisions’, which is what Travis Tygart used when he did the Armstrong thing, which is how these guys got six-month bans in the winter. There are ways of doing that. There’s a complexity about it. There are some people who haven’t doped and won’t want those guys who beat them to walk away with it. But this is the time for strong leadership and for belief in the best way forward for the sport. If it’s done right and you set the framework right and set it up so that the guys can come in and get it off their chests, they won’t lie any more. You think Pat McQuaid wants a truth and reconciliation? No! He says he does. That’s right Pat, you wanna rip the scab off and have a look at all the stuff that’s been going on. Full transparency? Let’s see it. While you’ve been at the helm? He’s conflicted. Get rid of him. Bring in the new guy.”
In his quest for ways to rid the sport of doping, Fuller spent three days in the company of Lance Armstrong recently and he firmly believes the Texan has more to add to the story.
“I know he does,” says Fuller. “Lance said to me ‘I don’t have to lie any more. I feel free. I just tell the truth.’ He wants to talk more and we want to hear more, but he’s trapped. He’s gagged by the lawsuit, the $100 million suit against him. He’s got to work through that and somehow unbind himself so that he is free to tell his story, but it could drag on for another three years.”
Before that though, Fuller believes there must be changes, not least in the way UCI presidents are elected.
“I think the whole presidential system needs a total overhaul,” he says. “The fact that the United States has the same voting power as Burkino Faso, or wherever, is just bizarre. But when you have the guy who controls that making up the rules, what do you expect? I’ve just heard they proposed that [UCI general counsel] Philippe Verbiest play the role of independent vote counter at the elections. He’s McQuaid’s and Verbruggen’s lawyer. Seriously! You can’t make this shit up. [Zimbabwe dictator] Robert Mugabe would take lessons from McQuaid. He’d look at this man and he’d be taking notes. But what do I know? I’m just some fat idiot from Australia stirring the pot.”