The Kimmage Defence Fund and global sports governance – a high-level view

Paul Kimmage is a former professional cyclist turned journalist who was one of the first to break the “omerta” about doping in his memoir Rough Ride.  As a journalist, he’s continued to ask rude questions of the cycling establishment.  

Currently underemployed thanks to the continued unraveling of the mainstream media (he was formerly employed by The Times), Kimmage published an extended interview with Floyd Landis, in which Landis accused the UCI of helping to cover up Lance Armstrong’s doping.  The UCI, cycling’s governing body, has responded by suing Kimmage personally. Parts of the interview were covered in L’Equipe and The Sunday Times; however, the UCI is suing neither of these organizations.  It’s also worth noting that Tyler Hamilton’s new autobiography, The Secret Race, makes the same claim.  

In response, Cyclismas, a cycling satire and commentary site, quickly set up the Paul Kimmage Defence Fund<.  And a funny thing has happened.  The Internet’s community of cycling obsessives of all sorts – even the decidedly apolitical; and relentlessly glass-half-full Wade Wallace of Cycling Tips – has thrown its support behind the fund.  Last I looked, the fund was up to over $25,000. 

While this is, in part, a reaction to a particularly outrageous specific attempt to silence a critic, for at least some donors – and I include myself in this – a way to send a “screw you” message to cycling’s governing body, the UCI. While the UCI’s approach to doping in the sport is a big part of this, it’s by no means the only complaint – the shoddy treatment of women’s cycling, the conflict of interest between the UCI and the shady Global Cycling Promotions; the list goes on.

While I don’t necessarily agree with every single criticism that’s been made of the UCI – I think their broad approach to technical regulation is actually quite defensible – a house-cleaning that sees Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen out of cycling governance would be a very good thing.  But – and for those that have read any of my writings on other topics this will hardly be a surprise – my view is that McQuaid and Verbruggen are in large part a symptom of the sick culture and structure of the organization (and thus the sport) they run, rather than the cause.  And, as such, just replacing them isn’t enough to fix things.

The solutions?  That’s a hard one.  But there are people who think about issues of sporting governance, in much bigger and even more corruption-prone sports than cycling.  The Danish government (of course, who else but a northern European social democratic Utopia would do this?) funds Play The Game, a biannual conference devoted to improving the governance of global sport.  If anybody is serious about tackling the issues of cycling governance, looking a the themes coming out of that organization and conference would be a very good place to start.

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