…and will Hein Verbruggen sue Google next?
Remember Floyd Landis? Chances are many cycling fans have almost forgotten about him, except for a few on Twitter who follow the exploits of his lawyers, his dog and various other online alter egos.
For non-cyclists he became famous a Tour de France winner, became infamous after testing positive during that Tour de France and then saw his prospects flushed down the great pan of life. He’s lost big time.
But I’ll admit some admiration for him. He reminds me a little of Diogenes. Diogenes was an ancient Greek philosopher who lived in a large clay pot and by all accounts was pretty content with his life and wise too. Legend has it that the conquering ruler Alexander the Great dropped by and asked if there was anything that he could do for the humble man who slept rough but dispensed wisdom across the land. “Get out of the way, you’re blocking the sunshine” replied Diogenes. Here was a man who didn’t care for wealth or prestige, he just wanted to live by his terms.
Now it’s stretching it to link Landis to a Greek philosopher but all I’m saying is that Landis seems totally free when it comes to worries about money or status and he’s not exactly sleeping in a mansion these days. Landis has little more to lose.
But along the way Landis has upset some people and they’re responding in different ways…
Compare and contrast
Lance Armstrong’s in a mess at the moment with the US authorities leading a big investigation into him and his colleagues and some of the mess has been dumped on him by Floyd Landis. Now an official “whistleblower” in the investigation Landis has also made public statements alledging some unsporting behaviour by Armstrong and others in the Texan’s entourage.
Armstrong certainly has plenty at stake. As well as a battery of lawyers, he’s hired a PR guru in Mark Fabiani who is so famous for handling tricky stories that he’s nicknamed the “master of disaster”. He’s the Winston Wolf of public relations. So what’s been Fabiani’s tactic for handling Landis? To stay well away.
Recently a statute of limitations ran out for Armstrong to sue Landis but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that a day in court with Landis is no cakewalk. There’s the possibility of reheating old stories, a wider audience and if mud flies in the courtroom, some of it might stick in the media. Fabiani’s said harsh things about Landis but has since referred people to his comments rather than blow on the embers.
The UCI approach
By contrast the UCI has just announced it’s taking Landis to court:
The International Cycling Union (UCI), its current President, Mr Pat McQuaid, and one of its former Presidents, Mr Hein Verbruggen, have lodged a case in the Swiss courts against Mr Floyd Landis regarding repeated, serious attacks against their characters.
By this step, made necessary by numerous unacceptable public statements by Mr Landis, the UCI is seeking to defend the integrity of the cycling movement as a whole against the accusations of a rider who, by breaching the Anti-doping Rules, caused cycling serious harm.
Now I’m just not sure this is the right thing. First, note its Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid that have been attacked yet it’s the UCI that is making the court case. That’s already an interesting level of protection for the “cycling movement as a whole” but I find it unusual to see an employer back its staff like this… but I can understand it.
Next there’s a procedural matter. If the UCI starts turning the wheels of Swiss justice there’s little reason for Landis to fly to Switzerland. Already penniless, spending days in court is hardly going to excite him. Put simply the UCI might win the court case but Landis won’t be there.
Finally this leads to the main point, to cite another Greek tale, that any legal victory would be a Phyrric victory. A judge might rule in favour of the Verbruggen and McQuaid but the verdict is unlikely to change people’s opinions. Even Google’s autocomplete function has a certain take on things:
Worse, Landis has now said he’s going to give a press conference at the Tour of California. Citing the right of free speech in the US, he’s effectively going to hold court in front of an attendant media, most of whom will never visit a Swiss court during their careers. The court of public opinion isn’t legally recognised but the whole point is Landis has made public statements. We end up with the irony of a bid to silence him turning into a media festival in itself.
Finally Velonews spoke to a lawyer about the case:
As one attorney looking at the case noted, “it looks like a PR move on the part of the UCI, one where they pull out all of their resources to try and shut someone up. I doubt it will go anywhere, though.”
I can’t help feeling the UCI’s picked the wrong fight. It’s got every right to defend itself but money is not infinite and the satisfaction of a legal victory in a Swiss court may well prove small compared the annoyance-factor Landis is able to deliver.
Floyd Landis has fallen a long way to the point where he hasn’t got much to lose. Far from silencing Floyd Landis, the UCI seems to have annoyed him and he’s now promising more negative news. Instead of putting an end to the story, the UCI risks making Floyd Landis famous again. It’s certainly a contrast to the way Lance Armstrong’s entourage is handling Landis.