Tuesday, November 6, 2012

UCI's Legal Woes

The international body which governs cycling -- the Union Cycliste Internationale or UCI -- continues to face fallout from the Lance Armstrong affair. Today the WSJ reports that the UCI has been sued by a Swiss-based clothing company, Skins:
Sportswear group Skins International Trading AG is seeking damages from cycling's governing body in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

Skins, an official clothing supplier and sponsor to national federations including the U.S., Australia and New Zealand; and professional teams such as RabobankEuropcar and NetApp, sent a letter to the Union Cycliste Internationaleor UCI, Friday claiming its brand reputation has been harmed.

In a letter, Cedric Aguet, Swiss-based attorney for Skins claims that the way the UCI, former president Hein Verbruggen and current President Patrick McQuaid handled the case surrounding Mr. Armstrong was the main cause for the "total loss of confidence" in professional cycling and so harming Skins and other brands that support the sport.
The full letter from Skins to UCI can be found here in PDFWriting on his blog at the Skins website, CEO Jamie Fuller explains their actions as follows:
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.

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 Union Cycliste Internationale (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 7 Tour de France titles, was proof of their acceptance that he cheated in order to be successful. 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’.
It is not clear what legal basis under Swiss law Skins is filing the lawsuit, however a successful judgment would have broad implications for all of sports governance.

The lawsuit follows one filed by a journalist, Paul Kimmage, against UCI by the same Swiss law firm. A press release described the suit as follows, as summarized by Play the Game:
According to the press release, Kimmage has sent a “criminal complaint and denunciation against Hein Verbruggen, Pat McQuaid and unknown persons against whom Paul Kimmage requests the opening of a criminal investigation for slander/defamation, denigration and for strong suspicions of fraud.”

The press release further states that Kimmage has initiated the proceedings in honour of the whistle-blowers, who have been “dismissed as ‘liars’, ‘cowards,’ or ‘scumbags’ by Hein Verbruggen and/or Pat McQuaid.”
The resolution of these lawsuits will bear watching.


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