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Clean-out comes first, says suing sponsor

Date

David Sygall

Alleged cover-up … Hein Verbruggen.

Alleged cover-up … Hein Verbruggen. Photo: Getty Images

THE chairman of an Australian company suing the International Cycling Union for $2 million says he doesn't want to settle the claim in lieu of helping force a clean-out of the ''arrogant'' governing body.

Switzerland-based Jaimie Fuller, the boss of SKINS compression clothing, began a lawsuit against the UCI in November after the US Anti-doping Agency released its reasoned decision into the case of Lance Armstrong. Armstrong's interview with Oprah Winfrey emboldened Fuller's belief that those running world cycling have much to hide.

SKINS is suing the UCI for malfeasance and corruption, claiming Hein Verbruggen - president from 1999 to 2005 and now honorary president - and current president Pat McQuaid, covered up information about doping. The company is also suing McQuaid and Verbruggen personally. The action may be a world-first case of a sponsor seeking damages from a governing body for negatively impacting its reputation.

''They've put our presence in cycling at risk and left us in a position where, if we pulled out tomorrow, we would crystallise a $2 million loss,'' Fuller said. ''We should be compensated for that.''

Fuller has vowed that any settlement would be reinvested into promoting clean cycling. Last month, the outspoken businessman organised a gathering in London of a newly formed group called Change Cycling Now. Attendees included former Tour de France winner Greg LeMond and journalists Paul Kimmage and David Walsh, who pursued doping allegations against Armstrong. Central to the group's aims is the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.

''In the last five minutes [of the first interview instalment] Armstrong said 'If there is a truth and reconciliation process, I'll be the first one through the door','' Fuller said. ''Yet the UCI refuses to allow it to happen. They've appointed a panel to investigate them, but said no to their recommendations.''

The pressure is on the UCI to relent and endorse an amnesty process. The World Anti-Doping Agency has stated it was ''concerned'' the inquiry with its present terms of reference would be unable to adequately address ''such a widespread and ingrained problem''. The US agency boss Travis Tygart said there was ''grave concern that the UCI has blindfolded and handcuffed this independent commission to ensure a predetermined outcome.''

The three-member commission had been picked by the president of the international Court of Arbitration for Sport, John Coates, a lawyer who is also president of Australian Olympic Committee. It consists of retired British judge Philip Otton, Welsh Paralympic great Tanni-Grey Thompson and Australian lawyer Malcolm Holmes.

SKINS began its association with cycling in 2008. The company has held several sponsorships, including with Cycling Australia, USA Cycling and Bike NZ, as well as teams Rabobank and Europcar.

SKINS ended a sponsorship of the Melbourne Storm after the club was found to have cheated the salary cap. ''We dumped the Melbourne Storm because there was a cultural problem at the club, not just with a player,'' Fuller said. ''[In cycling], if a guy gets caught doping and it turns out that the team was complicit and organisers were complicit, we'll dump the sponsorship.''

Given that the scandal in cycling appears to extend beyond just Armstrong and teammates, Fuller said it would be ''hypocritical if we didn't look at exiting cycling in total if we can't see how the sport and the culture will change''.

''We will be a precedent for a sponsor holding a sporting organisation accountable,'' he said. ''It's never been done before but it's something I feel strongly about.''

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