Comment: We support Paul Kimmage

The UCI’s bullying of Paul Kimmage is wrong. They must withdraw their legal action immediately, says Edward Pickering

Words by Edward Pickering

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Monday September 24, 2012

Good decision-making has rarely been a strong point for the UCI. I’ve lost count over the years of the number of announcements from Aigle which have made me bury my head in my hands and wonder if their decision-making process involves throwing a dart at a list of bad ideas, or holding meetings after a long liquid lunch.

The ProTour. The Tour of Beijing. Taking money from Lance Armstrong. Reorganising the Olympic track programme to remove the best events. Feuding with the professional teams. The International Team Time Trial (and its modern equivalent, the world team time trial championship). Global Cycling Promotions. Alleged conflicts of interest. Feuding with the Grand Tour organisers. It would be a much shorter job to list the good ideas that have come from cycling’s governing body.

The problem is that the UCI is essentially unaccountable. Or at least unaccountable to the most important people in the sport: the fans, riders and race organisers. This unaccountability means that there are no real checks and balances against their power. They demonstrate the worst possible combination of attributes in a governing body – bad decision-making, along with the power to push their wishes through against little opposition.

But their latest action, legal action against cycling journalist and ex-professional rider Paul Kimmage, is highly contentious.

The UCI is suing Kimmage in the Swiss courts over an interview he conducted with Floyd Landis last year, for the Sunday Times. Although the piece that appeared in the newspaper was relatively uncontroversial, Kimmage gave the full transcript of the interview, which was much more explosive, to the NYVelocity website, who ran it in full. Other outlets also ran the transcript.

There is little consistency in the UCI’s legal action, as comprehensively explained by Charles Pelkey on the Red Kite Prayer website. If they really felt that their reputation had been irrevocably damaged, they’d take legal action against everybody who carried the transcript. Their action looks vindictive, and is intended to make an example of Kimmage. It’s bullying, plain and simple.

Kimmage has been one of the most tireless fighters for clean cycling, ever since he published A Rough Ride on his retirement from professional cycling in 1990. He is also a talented interviewer and writer, a five-time Sports Journalism Association interviewer of the year. His series of dispatches from the 2008 Tour de France, which he spent embedded with the Garmin team, was one of the finest pieces of cycling journalism in the last decade.

We support Paul Kimmage in defending himself against the UCI’s legal action. Recent events, such as the publication of Tyler Hamilton’s autobiography The Secret Race and Lance Armstrong’s capitulation to the charges brought by the USA Anti-Doping Agency demonstrate what a mess the sport became in the last two decades. The UCI have repeatedly turned a blind eye to the problems, even as the weight of evidence becomes overwhelming.

If the UCI had acted as swiftly to tackle doping as it has in taking legal action against a journalist who has done nothing more than attempt to expose cheating in the sport, cycling might have cleaned up years ago. (It’s not all been bad – while she was head of the UCI’s anti-doping effort, Anne Gripper achieved a great deal, but since she left, momentum has been lost.)

Journalists and bloggers must be allowed to investigate the sport, and be able to responsibly publish their findings, without fear of persecution from the authorities. We’re not arguing for carte blanche to just publish anything – with the right to investigate comes the responsibility to assess the evidence and apply balance. The UCI would wish to curtail this right, and we cannot agree with their decision to do so.

In pursuing Kimmage, the UCI are missing an open goal. The fallout from the Armstrong case is the  final chance to change cycling, to make up for almost two decades of mismanagement of the doping issue. The credibility of the sport could be restored. Instead, the UCI are settling petty grievances simply because they have the power to do so.

The websites Cyclismas and NYVelocity have set up a defence fund for Paul Kimmage, which has raised almost 20 thousand dollars in just a few days. You can contribute by clicking on the box below, or by visiting either site.

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