Compression clothing supplier Skins sues UCI for $2 million for failing to rid sport of doping
Publicity stunt or genuine grievance? Either way action reflects mounting criticism of governing body and past and present presidents
Skins, the Australia based compression clothing company, is threatening to sue the UCI, its current president Pat McQuaid and the man he succeeded to that position, Hein Verbruggen, for $2 million for allegedly failing to clean up the sport of cycling. While some view the company’s action as a publicity stunt, it also reflects growing concerns about the UCI’s actions and management.
In a letter dated 2 November reproduced in full below signed by Cédric Aguet of Swiss law firm Bonnard Lawson – who also represents Irish journalist Paul Kimmage – it is alleged that Verbruggen, McQuaid and the UCI have “betrayed” the company’s “legitimate expectations” that the sport had been cleaned up by 2008, when it entered the market.
It adds that the Lance Armstrong scandal “is the main cause for the total loss of confidence in professional cycling by the public, which harms SKINS, as well as any other sponsor or supplier.”
It’s not the first time the company has had a run-in with the UCI – its compression clothing is banned from competition under current technical rules, and Skins’ chairman Jaimie Fuller has been a vociferous critic of the governing body, particularly in recent weeks.
Last month, he penned an open letter to McQuaid in which he warned that the UCI “currently stands at the precipice of universal disgrace,” partly because of its decision to accept donations from Armstrong.
However justified the criticism of the UCI – and certainly there are many who support Fuller’s stance – for a variety of reasons it’s difficult to see any court of law upholding its complaint.
But even if the governing body were found to have been culpable in its stewardship of the sport, it’s stretching legal principles to order it to recompense a commercial concern capable of undertaking its own risk assessment for perceived financial loss.
As Bonnard Lawson’s letter states, “Skins has been an official supplier and a sponsor of national federations and professional cycling teams since 2008.”
While it’s true that specific allegations against the UCI relating to the Armstrong case have only emerged recently, no-one entering the sport at that time could have been unaware of the ongoing problem posed by doping, with for example the scandal surrounding Astana in the previous year’s Tour de France.
Indeed, some see this latest action from Skins as a pure publicity stunt, but if so it's one that reflects widespread unease about the way the UCI has run the sport and conducted itself in the wake of the Armstrong affair and is in line with calls from many critics, including Greg Lemond, for those who can to hit the UCI where it hurts – in the pocket.
In the past fortnight, British Cycling, the Dutch national cycling federation and the World Anti-Doping Agency, for example, have strongly urged the UCI to ensure that the inquiry it has ordered to examine the Armstrong scandal is truly independent and brings about real change in the sport.
Coming at a time when the UCI and its present and past presidents are under fire from a number of quarters due to their handling of the Armstrong affair and alleged role within it, however, the action threatened by Skins is guaranteed not only to get the company’s name in the headlines but also to generate more bad publicity for the governing body.
It also comes hot on the heels of a countersuit against the UCI, Verbruggen and McQuaid by Kimmage, which was filed just days after they had put their own defamation suit against the journalist on hold in response to widespread condemnation of their pursuit of him.
On the Skins website, a statement from Fuller says that since entering the sport, the company has “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 ‘90’s and that co-ordinated management from the 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.”
Bonnard Lawson letter dated 2 November 2012 on behalf of Skins to the UCI, Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen
I inform you that I represent and defend Skins International Trading AG (hereinafter referred to as "SKINS"), which elects domicile in my Law Firm. A copy of the power of attorney in my favour is attached hereto.
As you know, SKINS has been an official supplier and a sponsor of national federations and professional cycling teams since 2008, among which Cycling Australia, BikeNZ, USA Cycling, Rabobank Professional Cycling Team, Team Europcar, Team NetApp, Team Telekom and professional teams managed by Highroad Sports. In addition, SKINS sponsors numerous individual athletes sanctioned by the UCI.
As a supplier and a sponsor, SKINS is particularly concerned by its brand image and since it strongly believes in the true spirit of competition, it is firmly against doping.
When it decided to invest in cycling not only as a sponsor but also in extending its product range through massive investments in R&D, SKINS was under the illusion that professional cycling had been fundamentally reformed to contain doping and to minimise the risks of scandals with which the brand of any sponsor could be associated.
It has now been proven that these legitimate expectations have been betrayed on the grounds you are aware of, which the press published at large. It has also been proven that the way the UCI, Henricus Verbruggen respectively Patrick McQuaid have organised the fight against doping, have communicated in that field and have then dealt with the case of Lance Armstrong is the main cause for the total loss of confidence in professional cycling by the public, which harms SKINS, as well as any other sponsor or supplier. Therefore, the acts and omissions by the UCI, Henricus Verbruggen respectively Patrick McQuaid have caused the prejudice SKINS now suffers, which prejudice exceeds the amount of USD 2,000,000, sum which the latter intends to recover through the Courts.
Before proceeding, I would be thankful if you could let me know by return of mail if a settlement could be envisioned.
While expecting your news,
Cédric Aguet, att.