Swiss lawyers acting for compression clothing firm Skins in legal action against the UCI and its president Pat McQuaid and former president Hein Verbruggen rate its chance of success at upwards of 50 per cent, Skins chairman, Jaimie Fuller has told road.cc. The outspoken Australian also went in to further detail about the company's reasons for taking the action and once again vehemently denied that it was a publicity stunt.
We spoke to Fuller after he had revealed that he was “stunned” by the support he has received since the Australian company announced its lawsuit last week, and invited other individuals or organisations with concerns or information over the governing body’s management to get in touch.
That appeal was made via an open letter headed ‘Help us cut the cancer out of cycling for good’ (full text below) published on the company’s website yesterday – coincidentally the same day that UCI President Pat McQuaid himself wrote an open letter to the sport’s riders outlining plans to set up a hotline to enable them to contact it confidentially on issues related to doping.
In his letter, Fuller acknowledged the support and advice he had received from the cycling community, and posed the questions: “What if there are other individuals, teams or organisations who have evidence that they couldn’t normally afford to offer up to legal process? Supposing there is someone reading this who knows something, or knows someone who knows something, that they can’t find a suitable outlet for?”
He went on to invite “anyone out there who thinks they’re in possession of evidence of potential malfeasance, complicit behaviour or even corruption within the UCI” to get in touch, guaranteeing their anonymity.
He added that the company would “continue with our action unabated, but if we can offer a platform for an otherwise lone voice then please, just drop me a note and I’ll be happy to talk.”
Yesterday’s letter from the firm’s chairman follows the company’s announcement earlier this month that it plans to sue the UCI, McQuaid and former president Hein Verbruggen for $2 million for failing to rid the sport of doping, which it says has damaged the its own business as well as that of other companies operating within cycling.
That was seen in some quarters as a publicity stunt – and it's fair to say there will still be those who hold that opinion – and there’s little doubt that by aligning itself with those who see the UCI as shouldering at least some of the blame for cycling’s ills, the company will generate positive press.
Writing last week, Fuller rejected those claims, insisting that the company was not looking to make commercial capital out of its pursuit of the UCI and pledging that any money it did receive as a result of a successful lawsuit would be ploughed back into efforts to clean up cycling.
We raised that point again with Fuller over the telephone today. His language may be industrial at times, but the points he makes are eloquent and impassioned.
Speaking from Switzerland, where the company, which was founded in Australia, now has its global HQ, he drew on a real-life example to demonstrate that where principles were concerned, Skins is prepared to put it own founding values it still sticks to rigidly today ahead of its commercial interests.
That was in 2010, when the Melbourne Storm rugby league side – “the Manchester United” of its sport, says Fuller – was revealed to have been involved in a systematic abuse of the National Rugby League’ salary cap, including keeping two sets of accounts, one official, the other recording the actual payments to players.
Skins terminated its highly lucrative contract with the club immediately, and the episode illustrates something else that is central to its lawsuit against the UCI, says Fuller – which is that as he sees it, the governing body and the people who run it, far from making some honest, negligent and isolated mistake, are instead involved in systematic, longstanding wrongdoing that goes to the heart of the sport’ administration.
While Skins does perhaps have something of an axe to grind with the UCI as a result of the compression clothing it makes being banned in competition, Fuller insists that was the last thing on his mind in deciding to sue it – in fact, he sees that as giving the company an opportunity to take action that might not be open to companies within the bike trade subject to UCI approval, since pressure could be exerted on them to toe the line.
There’s certainly no doubting Fuller’s earnestness in pushing for a cleaner sport and change at the top of it, and he’s by no means alone in questioning Verbruggen and McQuaid’s management of the governing body in recent years.
Another thing that distinguishes Skins of course is that it doesn’t operate solely in the cycling sector, and Fuller does see similarities between those at the top of governing bodies across a range of sports – out of touch with the grass roots and all but untouchable in their private fiefdoms.
Fuller points out that at its zenith, it’s a cosy, closeted existence of first-class travel, five-star hotels and limousines, and that’s a status quo he is determined to upset.
Initially, Fuller tells road.cc, the idea behind the action was to make the UCI sit up and take notice in a language he believes it would understand, that of the courtroom; as he has built his case, however, he firmly believes it is one he can win.
Under English law, it would be difficult to see a judge allowing a commercial body to sue an organisation with which it has no direct contractual relationship for perceived financial loss in these circumstances. Besides the remoteness of any relationship, the fact that much of Skins’ case is based on evidence from the United States Anti Doping Agency reasoned decision in the Lance Armstrong case, would be likely to doom any such action here to failure.
Having said that, we’re not lawyers, and we’re certainly not experts on Swiss commercial law, but Fuller tells us that the lawyer Skins has engaged reckons they’ve got a much better than 50 per cent chance of making their case stick there.
To do that, he says two requirements need to be satisfied. First, that there has been malfeasance and/or corruption at the UCI, which Fuller claims is reasonably clear from the USADA decision and other evidence in Skins’ possession.
The second is to show the company suffered – for that, Fuller makes the point that despite the money it has invested in cycling, the company’s ethical stance mean it cannot operate within the sport under its current leadership.
The lawyer representing Skins, Cédric Aguet of the law firm Bonnard Lawson, is the same one acting for journalist Paul Kimmage in his dealings with the UCI, and that’s not a coincidence.
With Switzerland being a confederation, Skins, which has its global headquarters in Zug near Zurich, was unable to use its in-house counsel to file suit against the UCI and instead had to look for a French-speaking lawyer with the authority to act for them in the specific canton concerned.
Initially, Fuller was having problems finding a lawyer able to act for the company because the lack of familiarity with the sport of the ones they were speaking to meant that they weren’t able to easily grasp exactly what it was that he was trying to do – but when, midway through those discussions, he learnt that Aguet was countersuing the UCI, Verbruggen and McQuaid on behalf of Kimmage, he knew he had his man.
Irrespective of whether Skins wins its case – and Fuller underlines again, the action is not about the money, but about the principles concerned and the wish to precipitate change at the top of the UCI - if the company does get its day in court, any hearing would doubtless provide further discomfort and embarrassment for the governing body.
Text of open letter dated 13 November 2012
When SKINS announced the serving of legal proceedings on the UCI for alleged mismanagement of the Lance Armstrong affair and professional cycling in general, I was obviously confident that our position was a strong one and also that it reflected the majority of world opinion.
But, wow! In a little over a week, I’ve been stunned by the outpouring of support we’ve had from all parts of the world. People inside and outside of cycling have told us ‘way to go’ and other similarly catchy phrases. Some have even added their thoughts on legal procedure and possible evidence we weren’t aware of that we should perhaps consider… Which got me thinking.
Before we served notice, I was satisfied we were supported by genuine evidence to support our claim of mismanagement against the UCI, its President, Pat McQuaid and it Honorary President for Life, Hein Verbruggen. After all, the comprehensive USADA report documents systemic doping and an orchestrated cover up that the UCI said was never happening. It’s all there in over 1,000 pages and the UCI’s ratification of Lance Armstrong’s lifetime ban eventually upheld USADA’s evidence. That doesn’t make our case a ‘slam dunk’, but evidence that’s already in the public domain certainly makes it easier for fans around the world to see the justification for our action.
But what if there are other individuals, teams or organisations who have evidence that they couldn’t normally afford to offer up to legal process? Supposing there is someone reading this who knows something, or knows someone who knows something, that they can’t find a suitable outlet for? This is a call to stand up and be a part of change. So, in essence, if there is anyone who has a story to tell or evidence to reveal and who’s looking for an opportunity to do it without having to break cover, you might have just found your answer.
I would love to hear from anyone who feels they, or their organisation, might fit into that category. If there is anyone out there who thinks they’re in possession of evidence of potential malfeasance, complicit behaviour or even corruption within the UCI, please get in touch.
All information will be treated in the strictest confidence and will, obviously, be subject to suitable ratification and legal scrutiny. All information will be coming to me personally and I will not be sharing your identity with anyone without your consent. We will continue with our action unabated, but if we can offer a platform for an otherwise lone voice then please, just drop me a note and I’ll be happy to talk.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.