Jaimie Fuller: Why our hand has been forced into taking legal action against the UCI

Monday, 05 November 2012
Jamie Fuller head and shouldersThis weekend, Skins served a demand on the governing body of world cycling seeking damages of $2 million (£1.25million/€1.5 million) as a consequence of alleged mis-management in the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

For more than five years, Skins has been a proud supporter of world cycling and has partnered with teams, riders and international cycling organisations across the world. As a company we have invested heavily into research and development to build a sports-specific product range aimed at those who participate at every level.

We did all this while under the impression that cycling had been fundamentally reformed after the Festina affair in the 1990's and that coordinated management from the International Cycling Union (UCI) to contain doping activity had minimised the risks and scandals with which the brand of any sponsor would be associated.

The events of the last several months or so have made it abundantly clear that world cycling has not been the sport the general public and the corporate partners thought it was.

Consequently, as chairman of a company that has made a significant financial and emotional investment, I am acting in order to send a message to the UCI and its senior office bearers that gross mis-management and betrayal of trust is completely unacceptable.

Lance Armstrong celebrating as he crosses the lineThe doping scandal involving Lance Armstrong proves that cycling continues to have a major problem

The recent report from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) which blew the lid off Lance Armstrong's systematic control of widespread doping, proved that the UCI and its two leading figures, President Pat McQuaid and Honorary President For Life, Hein Verbruggen, have failed to eradicate cheating within the sport.

In fact, Mr. McQuaid and Mr. Verbruggen refused to even acknowledge that the problem was so entrenched until USADA forced them into submission. In short, we say that the UCI, Mr. McQuaid and Mr. Verbruggen have failed us, the sport and the public who love cycling.

We also believe the USADA revelations of widespread doping activity have raised wider, cultural issues within the UCI relating to an apparent inability to rid the sport of doping over an extended period of time.

Consequently, it is now clear that Skins' financial and emotional investment into cycling has been damaged and our legitimate commercial expectations have been betrayed. If the public no longer have confidence that cycling is "clean" they may question those who support its existence.

The UCI's decision to uphold the USADA report and strip Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles, was proof of their acceptance that he cheated in order to be successful.

Pat McQuaid with Hein Verbruggen shaking handsHein Verbruggen, right, and Pat McQuaid, left, are responsible for the problems that cycling finds itself in now, according to Skins chairman Jamie Fuller

As a sponsor and commercial partner in the sport, and as a company that produces high performance sports compression wear off the back of cycling's supposedly clean, vibrant and healthy image, our trust in those at the top has been crushed. Our credibility as a company that promotes true competition, fitness and overall health and wellbeing has been affected by our own promotion of its "virtues".

In addition to sending out a message about our commercial position, it is important that organisations such as ours also look to the future and in taking this course of action I'm also advocating a path towards redemption. Let's not just bleat about the core problem, let's consider the wider solution.

The UCI has announced that it will invite an independent commission to investigate cycling's obvious problems but the fact that it took another organisation's report to force them into action (and greatly delayed action) is a disgraceful reflection of incompetence at best.

It fills me with absolutely no confidence that the UCI is either capable of leading global rehabilitation or commissioning a suitably independent and unrestricted group to conduct the forensic enquiry the sport crucially requires. Those at the top have presided over the mess, so how can they possibly be given the responsibility of commissioning and overseeing its review?

Skins' demand against the UCI sends out a serious corporate message that the support of partners and sponsors in any world sport cannot be abused and must be preserved by unimpeachable leadership.

The unequivocal overhaul of cycling can only be achieved by a credible and capable governing body. In serving this action, Skins' is also serving notice that the UCI is not currently the organisation that cycling needs it to be. For the last 22 years, there have been two people at the head of this organisation and we allege that they are directly responsible for the culture of denial within the UCI.

It's past time for change.

Jamie Fuller is the chairman of Skins. To follow him on Twitter click here.
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