Tuesday 12 November 2019

Vincent Hogan: Anti-doping campaigners deserve gratitude, not a lawsuit

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

It felt strangely uncomfortable listening to Sean Kelly address the epic lie of Lance Armstrong on 'Morning Ireland'. Because, as elephants in the room go, the one splintering furniture in a Donnybrook studio was pretty difficult to ignore.

Doping in cycling is nothing new -- it is now 45 years since Tom Simpson died on Mont Ventoux after taking amphetamines. So, to hear Kelly describe the Armstrong era as "the real, real bad years" of cycling snagged a little in the consciousness for a sport that, just now, has trouble selling any part of its history as authentic.

When Kelly then took the opportunity to laud Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) president Pat McQuaid as the man who has "turned things round", an obvious follow-up question was remarkably overlooked.

The Armstrong swindle came to light only because of the campaigning work of a small coterie of journalists, prime among them Ireland's David Walsh and Paul Kimmage.

The lurid detail now filling news and sports pages, courtesy of US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) findings, is utterly consistent with what Walsh and Kimmage have been highlighting for a decade or more. Yet, in his hour of vindication, Kimmage is being sued by McQuaid and the UCI's honorary president, Hein Verbruggen, for defamation.

The lawsuit, filed in a Switzerland court, is due to be heard in December, by which time -- presumably -- we will have had some kind of formal response from world cycling's governing body to the staggering, 1000-page USADA judgment.

McQuaid and Verbruggen have chosen to sue Kimmage as an individual, thereby isolating him from the defence funds of the publications he wrote for.

Intended or not, the UCI act accordingly looks personal. And that's certainly the interpretation of those who have contributed to a fund set up to help the journalist's defence. That fund currently stands at close to €46,000.

Kimmage isn't everyone's cup of tea. He can sometimes come across as abrasive in his journalism, a trait that habitually draws him into conflict with those who don't seem to share his outrage. Over time, he has fallen out with many people, this writer included.

It's 22 years since the publication of his book 'A Rough Ride' alienated him from so many in a profession that considered him to have "spat in the soup" by exposing widespread doping. Yet, almost a quarter of a century on, cycling has never quite left the dock.

Kelly may have been correct on Wednesday in his depiction of a sport that has "cleaned up a lot" and begun "catching all the big names".

No sport, though, has ever seemed more clearly defined by a single personality than modern cycling has been by Armstrong.

And yet what is now emerging as evidence of cavalier doping and, worse, aggressive coercion of team-mates into the use of performance-enhancing drugs by cycling's biggest name.

They have 21 days to respond to this week's shattering findings and you sense professional cycling needs few things more urgently right now than a dose of cold humility.

The pursuit of Kimmage -- with a stated aim that he take out full page apologies in 'L'Equipe', 'The Sunday Times' and Swiss paper 'Le Matin', -- smacks of an organisation incapable of recognising that need.

Dropping the case, would be an acknowledgement that, however stridently they might reject some of Kimmage's conclusions, they know that cycling ultimately owes a debt to those who have carried the fight against doping.

The villain of this story is, after all, "hanging" with friends in Austin, Texas.

Irish Independent

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