Thin Skins

Skins was under the illusion that professional cycling had been fundamentally reformed to contain doping and minimise the risk of scandals with which the brand of any sponsor could be associated

Those are the words from sports clothing company Skins from press release issued via its Swiss lawyers as it announces legal action against the UCI. You can read the full text online as they set out their case against the UCI in a bid to claim US$ 2 million in damages.

The more I look at this, the stranger it seems and unless we get documentary evidence to show Skins have been misled then it’s hard not to view this as a publicity exercise at the expense of the sport.

Fundamental change?
The clothing company started sponsoring pro cycling in 2008 and like all sponsors, did this in good faith. However where they got the illusion of “fundamentally reform” is hard to spot.

Cast your mind back to 2007 and it was another year for scandal as several high profile riders were caught doping, for example Michael Rasmussen was ejected in the middle of the Tour de France, Alexander Vinokourov was given an extended ban and Spanish star Iban Mayo was caught for EPO. All this happened but I’d missed any talk of substantial reform to the sport although 2008 did mark the introduction of the bio-passport tool but this was a useful addition.

Come 2008 and if the names changed, the story was the same with Tour de France drugs busts, this time Riccardo Riccò and Bernard Kohl. In between 2007 and 2008 it’s hard to know what the fundamental reform was that fooled Skins to invest in the sport.

Now many would like to see the UCI and its senior officials in court and held to account. At the last UCI press conference the governing body starting proceedings saying one question per journalist. But it was when one journalist started asking repeated questions about Armstrong’s samples from the 2001 and pressing McQuaid on the suspicious vs positive data that we got some insight into the matter before the matter was stopped. In order to get to grips with the issue more probing is required rather than one question. So perhaps an experienced lawyer or even a judge cross-examining officials could be useful to discover more.

But the same is true for Skins. When did they think the sport had changed? Who told them this? Did they do any homework before investing in the sport. And the claim for US$2 million is a very round figure rather than a precise calculation or even an assessment of any damages incurred. Above all what assurances did the company get that the sport had changed before it started sponsoring the sport? For the legal action to have any chance of success it should show that it was misled by the UCI.

Pincer movement?
We should note the legal action is brought by the same lawyer who is representing Paul Kimmage. Is this some sort of tandem action where Skins work one side of the UCI whilst Kimmmage does another?

UCI strategy
Indeed the trouble here is the UCI’s defence is not very satisfying. It needs to point out the sport is the persistent victim of scandals and that the governing body does not control everything. In a way this is the King Cnut defence, named after the English and Danish king who was supposedly the ruler of the waves but stood on the shore and the rising tide soon made his royal robes damp: even the King cannot control the seas. So the UCI could stand up in court and admit it can’t it cannot stop the tide of scandal.

PR stunt
This could all be a marketing operation. Had you heard of Skins before? For the price of a letter from a Swiss lawyer now everyone knows they side with anti-doping and demand UCI reform.

What could be better? Well plenty actually. The chairman of the company went public with calls for the UCI to resign and this was fine, public campaigning that did look like positioning. But legal action is something else. The risk is this looks like a firm that spends more time talking with lawyers to squeeze money out of sport than it talks with athletes about compression wear. Plus there’s the question of where the money goes. Were Skins to win, the money comes out of the UCI and goes to Skins and its lawyers, meaning none of us get to see much of this.

Skins invested in cycling and the risks but now it’s gone sour they’re complaining. It’s a bit investing in a high risk scheme and complaining when things go wrong. A more enlightened view might allow the company to set out its stall for UCI reform, committing resources to reform rather than legal action, giving money to athletes and advocates rather than lawyers?

Still all of this remains to be seen and perhaps Swiss law allows companies to go after sports governing bodies. If Skins feels it has lost $2 million, imagine the sums available to companies like Festina, T-Mobile, Astana or Lampre?

Many want to see the UCI reform itself and legal pressure like this only adds to the chorus of voices. Perhaps the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” doctrine has some supporting Skins. But it’s one thing to offer ideas or just plain old criticism but another to start legal action.

I can see why Paul Kimmage is using the Swiss courts after he’s been sucked into this but Skins have only been a small sponsor and hopefully they’re not in financial peril. Seeing a firm suing the governing body is rare and seems odd, especially as there’s little contractual basis between the UCI and a clothing company that’s decided to sponsor teams and athletes.

Short of any documents, contracts or other agreements – and there was no obvious change in the sport around 2008 – it’s hard to see this as a genuine legal action. But that’s as things stand today and it’ll be interesting to see what happens and whether Skins and its Kimmage-connected lawyer can show evidence otherwise. If so everything changes.

43 thoughts on “Thin Skins”

  1. Couldn’t this be more to do with the UCI ban on compression clothing? That’s pretty much all that Skins do so the ban impacts on them more than most clothing companies, it’s the whole point of their range. Specifically the ban is on high compression socks but given this is the UCI I’d not be surprised if it isn’t expanded to cover compression clothing and this might be a pre-emptice strike, so to speak.

    • Excellent point. If you are correct then we should watch for an out of court and confidential settlement of the lawsuit, the terms of which involve a change to the rule you mention banning compression clothing. But irony of ironies, under your theory this lawsuit itself places the UCI and Messrs. McQuaid and Verbruggen in a conflict-of-interest in which they are pressured to change the UCI rules. This time it is not an athlete but an equipment supplier that uses its economic clout to persuade the governing body to bend its rules.

      • Chris is on the money. Skins want some publicity and the UCI to relax the rules on compression, the doping aspect is just smoke. It’s smells like a really cynical move. Hopefully we will not see any similar suits from Cannondale or Felt or some other bike brand who are keen on a reduction in the minimum weight limit. Or maybe Cervelo or Specialized, pushing for the aspect ratio maxima to be increased to 1 in 7 or 1 in 13…

  2. I’ve been wondering about the “pincer movement” aspect of this. Given how difficult it would be to have McQuaid removed, maybe this is part of a growing movement to embroil him directly in efforts that A) put him in a setting where cross examination happens, and B) costs the UCI money. If he becomes a financial liability, perhaps the seat of his throne becomes a bit more slippery.

  3. I don’t know how much Skins have put into the sport since 2008, but can you blame them for this? If they haven’t received a great RoI, this not only gives them increased exposure, but also puts them onside with the majority of cycling fans who are railing against Pat and the UCI.

    I don’t know if they can realistically expect to even get to court, let alone be awarded a lump sum, but it just adds more pressure on the UCI and adds momentum to the feeling that change is necessary. Another sponsor expressing their unhappiness at the sport’s governing body is another driver for change.

      • Well…how else can you call the UCI to account? They are not open to market forces as they are a monopoly so you cannot just simply stop buying their product or service, they do not report to “shareholders” but to a chumocracy so nobody affected can effectively disagree with them, they are not listed as a commercial entity but as a special Swiss form of not for profit organisation so most corporate governance laws do not apply.

        UCI are not obliged to talk to anyone about anything and they exercise that right freely. They also do not have to explain their decisions to anyone as they are a sports association and thus effectively a law onto themselves.

        So, if suing them is the only way to call UCI to account, then sue they (we) must. UCI is welcome to reform and become more transparent and accountable and thus avoid the need for legal action just to get them to engage and work with those outside of the inner ring (ha!).

        Lastly UCI is not cycling, therefore do not feel too sorry for them if they find themselves being pushed into a chasm they themselves created. Cycling will go on with or without the UCI.

  4. Maybe everyone should stop suing each other for five minutes. Is a full-on shit fight between Kimmage and McQuaid really the answer? Of course all the facts need to come out and McQuaid and Verbruggen need to go, but isn’t there a danger that all this just ties everything up in courts and lawyers? I’m not convinced that a court case will bring anything to light that couldn’t be done outside court in the press. Armstrong’s exploits in court have proven beyond any doubt that the idea that a court necessarily results in the truth coming to light is clearly bullshit.

    • My hypothesis is that many of the “cases” brought forth on behalf of the various litigants, be they UCI, Landis, Hamilton, Kimmage, etc., are often linked to the strong “counsel” being received from the litigants’ “legal counsel.” It is a NO LOSE after for the legal firms involved. The more things drag on, or legal blood drawn, the larger the cumulative tally of billable hours. In USA, average base barrister fees start at $250/hr. Incentive to encourage anyone with some cabbage in their mattress to have their day in court. 🙂

  5. “This could all be a marketing operation. Had you heard of Skins before? ”

    Sure – its good kit – I have their bibshorts and a summer shirt – but anyway it seems the marketing exercise is paying off already, at least with your readers : )

  6. Cynical PR stunt. Interesting though because a lot of cycling sponsors (Skins I don’t know about) probably spend more on marketing or whiteboards than the annual budget of the UCI.. If others want to play games or see real value in siding with the wronged fans Pat et al could find themselves under siege and short of ammo.

  7. If you can forget your history lesson from the dark ages and cast your mind back several months when Paul Kimmage was a sitting duck to the current and departed UCI presidents, you would have seen a man standing Alone.
    Yes, in that short timeframe things have improved, but why would he want to be standing alone once more?
    This move by the same law firm that represents Kimmage will bolster his case and lead to change in the UCI, which is desperately needed.
    Tweaking the current UCI system is what was done after the Festina Affair and Operation Puerto. Lemond, Kimmage and now Skins have the right idea.

  8. yes, this gets skins onside with cyclists by showing them to be against the drug problems etc.
    however i’m not sure that my enemy’s enemy is my friend applies. is the uci our enemy or just some of the people within it? to some extent you can say that the uci is competitive cycling. are we against competitive cycling? no, so then we’re not against the uci (in principle anyway) and so skins become our enemy. the risk is that this could bankrupt or otherwise destroy the uci. while that could lead to a rebirth of competitive cycling, it could also destroy it. so i hope skins know what they are doing. the association with kimmage gives hope that there is a plan… we’ll see

  9. I was somewhat surprised by the move but Im not so sure its a PR stunt at all. The revelations of this monumental doping mess and the the UCI’s continued display of denial and blame shifting are likely to have had a massive impact on pro-cycling’s credibility in the eyes of the general public. If I was developing a company’s exposure through this sport, I would feel wounded and lay much of the blame at the UCI’s doorstep.

    From what I understand, Skins are truly dumbfounded by the UCI’s governance of cycling and this action, in my opinion, is just another means of mounting pressure on the UCI to rid themselves of McQuaid and Verbruggen. Also, it puts the UCI (and other sporting bodies for that matter) on notice that they have real obligations to other parties who have Skin in the game (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) beyond themselves and need to act accordingly.

    On the $2 gazillion dollar claim, I personally think its more about applying leverage on the UCI to remove McQuaid and Verbruggen rather than being pursued for damages sustained (or otherwise) to the Skins brand.

  10. Forgotten Kimmage and Landis already have we? The lawsuit thing was started by the the scum running the UCI who attacked a bankrupt ex doper and an out of work journalist. Any kid can tell you the only way to get rid of a bully is to fight back. If Skins are willing to do this on the behalf of the UCI’s victims for the price of a little free publicity good on them.

    • so brian let’s see that i have this right. if the idiots who undertook the columbine shooting years ago had been photographed wearing nike shirts then you would expect nike to be donating money realised from completely unrelated events to the families of the columbine victims?
      sorry mate but your attempt to try and tie 1) our action against the UCI with 2) some unhinged lunatic who perpetrated one of the most bizarre and disgusting events of my lifetime and 3) my brand; makes me want to throw up
      i agree with Paul

      • Jaimie, no offence was intended to your brand or to anyone else with my comment. I offered an observation- thats all. Rather than cause any more rancour on this site Ive requested it to be deleted..

  11. It seems to me you’ve been very quick to condemn Skins and Fuller as strictly in it for the PR. You’re making assumptions, and as such it demeans your reputation for rational thinking. Your claim that there hasn’t been a statement of fundamental change is wrong, prima facie. You know this is the very reason so many long-time fans remain embittered today – “fundamental change” has been promise every year for more than a decade now. The bio passport itself was “fundamental change” – and if properly managed – it CAN be so.

    Regardless of this, Skins is deeming it more likely to obtain real change in the UCI through legal action against it, rather than through financial support of the bottom rung. I have to agree. The UCI is not subject to our popular vote. Nor do they have to answer to our “vote”. But they do have to answer to legal challenges. Even if Skins wins – I would think it quite possible that legal fees will eat up that $2M – so the point won’t be making money for Skins.

  12. Hmmm – my browser didn’t show me the last comments – it seems I’m a bit behind on my timing in my last comment. Jaimie Fuller himself has taken part in the comments, and inrng has apparently seen new comments from Skins that seem to be changing his opinion.

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