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Football purist, realist and general sports fanatic. Interested in all aspects of the game, from all corners of the earth.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Kimmage's Endless Pursuit for Justice

Paul Kimmage looks toward his mantelpiece, home to six consecutive British Sports Interviewer of the Year awards, wondering how many more would have saved his job. No other industry in the world would consider such success obsolete, yet the world of journalism is different. When The Sunday Times relieved one of their prized assets of his duties in 2011 the former cyclist initially accepted the decision but as time progressed he considers himself an employee sacrificed due to his determined reporting.

Coolock reared Kimmage, a crusader against doping in sport, is particularly passionate about the sport that gave him such a journalistic platform. He believes the relationship between his former employers and the sport’s leading team Sky (both fall under Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. umbrella) stands as an impermeable barrier to the reporting at the paper which has exposed a number of cheats in the past.

At the beginning of the year Kimmage told Frankfurter Allgemeine “you look at how dominant their teams were: Postal for Armstrong, Sky for Wiggins. They had a core of four, five riders, who rode strongly for three weeks without one single weak day. Is that logical”?

The absence of the critical journalism surrounding Sky from The Sunday Times that helped dethrone Lance Armstrong over the past decade has resulted in the fracture of the Dubliners friendship with fellow reporter David Walsh, who still works at The Times. While the duo used holiday together with their families in the past and speak five times in a quiet week, there has been no communication in almost five months.

“There is a little bit more to it, the fact that I was shafted and he might have done more, but ultimately it’s about the stuff he’s written about Sky in the last few months”.

The two time winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year feels the fundamental difference between himself and Walsh is that the matter has always been more than writing for him, coming from a family with a strong cycling background. Walsh’s role in his life cannot be overstated. Kimmage owes his second career to his fellow Irishman; he first met him the day he first met his own wife, Anne. “He’s been an incredible mentor, anything I ever learned about the business I’ve learned from David”.

The regret is obvious in his voice, as to be expected for a man with enough close friends to count on one hand. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, whether I’m going to pick up the phone or he’s going to or whether the phone will ever be picked up”.

This isn’t an isolated instance in the 51 year old’s career however; his personal and professional lives have dove-tailed since he was a young road cyclist. He was born the same year his father, Christy, became the Irish national champion, and was destined to work within the sport. However after publishing Rough Ride, his account of life in the drug-fuelled peloton, his family who were deeply immersed within the cycling community found themselves ostracised.

His anger at the recently disposed president of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) Pat McQuaid is amplified by the close relationship the two once shared. Last year McQuaid filed a defamation case against his fellow Dubliner in response to allegations that the organisation aided a cover-up surrounding a failed drugs test from Lance Armstrong. “Hate is a strong word”, declares Kimmage, attempting to force himself to rise above such an emotion, “but I’ve known this guy since I was five years of age, my father managed him, I’ve known his family way back and when I see the efforts he made to destroy me knowing I was telling the truth, there’s no other way to describe it”.

In the last month, to the Rough Rider author’s reflief, new UCI President Brian Cookson informed him that all UCI legal action against him has been dropped as he attempts to cleanse the sport from corruption. While initially skeptical as a result of Cookson’s previous role in the UCI, the writer has been encouraged by his early work at the helm.

“Since he has taken over he’s been making changes, he got rid of (Philippe) Verbiest (UCI legal council), he brought in a security firm to secure laptops so that when an investigation takes place medical information on riders will be available and he’s talking with WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency)… he’s going to need time but he’s made a positive start”

Time is necessary as the culture within the sport is as bad as ever, as is the prevailing attitude of the majority of professional cyclists. Kimmage, currently ghost writing Brian O’Driscoll’s autobiography, is extremely critical of Ireland’s own Nicolas Roche for joining a team under the leadership of Bjarne Riis and Alberto Contador, two previous Tour de France winners with asterisks next to their name.

In an extract from his upcoming autobiography At Speed Mark Cavendish’s argues “we’re asked to comment on Armstrong and have our morals judged on the strength of what we say when a lot of us are too preoccupied to have an opinion”. Kimmage’s interprets these quotes as further proof that the attitude of current cyclists translates to “I care about cycling, but mostly I care about what I can earn from it, what it can do for me… and that’s not good enough”.

His suggestions for Brian Cookson are undoubtedly ambitious but he considers them necessary. He feels it’s essential to show the riders that talking about doping is positive. Putting himself in Cookson’s shoes, he begins assertively tapping the plate his coffee has been presented on. “For every media gathering in my first term I would insist each team stands up and declares ‘firstly we’re going to talk about doping. Is there anything you’re not happy with? Any member of staff you’re not happy with? Anything about our performances that are raising your suspicions?’ The message that this would send out is that it is good that this is so high on the agenda”.

After speaking for over sixty minutes about his admiration of the sport and how it can finally turn the corner under new leadership Paul speaks conclusively on the future of cycling. “I’m not convinced at all (cycling can be cured), it’s so deep-rooted now”. Potentially he regards the Tour de France as the most fantastic sporting event in the world, but his battle scars prevent him from seeing any hope upon the horizon.

The conflict that has shaped Paul Kimmage’s life the most is the one within him. The pain the sport has inflicted on him over the past 30 years has damaged his professional and personal life, yet he just can’t ignore it. “I don’t know why I keep fighting, when I went back in July I felt maybe it would come full-circle for me, (I could) move on with my life. But if I walked away, I’d have given up.”

“I’m not sure I’ll go back next year” he ponders as I reach to switch off my recorder. Eight seconds later he hopes his new employers at the Irish Independent ask him, because he’ll definitely go.

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