Jaimie Fuller: “My role is as a catalyst to bring people together and to agitate”
As the leader of the Change Cycling Now movement Jaimie Fuller knows that he and his motives are going to come into question. He insists, however, the main reason he does what he’s doing is simply because there is a need to agitate for change. In part two of his interview with RIDE, we ask him about the notion of compression wear, his relationship with the UCI, and about his organisations suggestion to introduce Greg LeMond as an “interim caretake president”…
[Part 01: Fuller wants to change cycling]
Jaimie Fuller interview (part 02): answering the critics…
– Interview by Rob Arnold
“There are some people who say that Skins is all bullshit,” said Jaimie Fuller during his interview with RIDE. He was responding to a suggestion that the compression wear that his company sells offers little more than a placebo effect for the user. “Well we’ve got 16 independent studies published in peer reviewed journals that say otherwise.
“We didn’t invent this technology, it’s been around for 70 years. We just took it from being a functional thing for old, sick and infirm people and used as dreadful pink stockings and we brought it into modern fabrics. We sexed it up and made it applicable to healthy people – particularly healthy people, to sportspeople. And it’s a simple concept: you enhance the blood flow, you deliver more oxygen to your muscles. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying what we deliver is as good as EPO – I know it’s not, but it’s in that same context.
“There are 16 peer reviewed journals that have published studies that show specifically on Skins that it does help so anyone who wants to come to me and say, ‘Oh Jaimie, I think your stuff is full of horseshit…’ bring it on baby!
“I’ve got the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Australian Medical Journal, the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine… I’ve got lots of these things that answer questions for people who want to take the view that compression is a load of bollocks. They might want to do a little bit of research first.
“I will disregard any possible link between that and what we’re doing now [with Change Cycling Now].”
RIDE: I wonder then, if your disdain for the UCI relates to their banning of compression wear for competition.
Fuller: “I’ve seen the comments saying, ‘Just wait, because the next thing is there’ll be a deal done where compression will be allowed in cycling. And I will say to you what I’ve said to everybody: I couldn’t give a flying fuck!
“If the UCI continue the ban – and I’ve got to tell you, I don’t understand the ban… what determines a compression product [to the UCI’s scrutineers] and a non-compression product?
“Compression has been broadened with lycra. What’s the first sport that embraced lycra?
“The ban was completely farcical in the first instance and, as far as I’m concerned they can do whatever they want on that matter – it does not bother me one iota. If they want to continue banning it, go for it! If they want to stop the ban, go for it! It makes no difference.”
RIDE: There are other compression wear manufacturers too… and I’m trying to come to terms with how they would come to the conclusion that they would ban it in the first place. Do you understand it?
Fuller: “No, not at all. And if you asked me, if I’ve looked into it or have I tried to discuss it with them, the answer is no! Why? Because it’s never bothered me, never affected me, I don’t care about it. Seriously.
“If this was some cynical attempt to reverse that, I think I probably would have attempted to engage with the UCI before to understand why they’re imposing the ban and what it means and what I’ve got to do to get it reversed.”
RIDE: We see scrutineers at the races measuring time trial bikes but I want to see someone going up to a rider and pulling on their clothing and saying, ‘No, that clothing is too tight – go and put on some baggy clothes!’ What?!
Okay, then we move on.
You’ve talked about hypocrisy [in part one of this interview] but there was a case when you deliberately put an upside down ‘swoosh’ on a baseball player’s face in an advertisement more-or-less just to wait until Nike sued Skins. And you’ve told me before that you had a contingency in place so that part of the budget would pay the legal bills.
Fuller: “Correct. We are an aggressive marketer, there is no question about that. And when you’re a small company like us an you’re competing against the big boys, you’ve got to cut through. Absolutely, we’ve done some stuff that’s pushed up against the line and we’ve done stuff that’s gone across the line.
“We had some problems with the ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] back in 2006, for deceptive and misleading advertising.”
RIDE: What did it cost you and can tell the story behind that?
Fuller: “That cost me more than half-a-million dollars. It didn’t have to cost me that much but I got some really bad advice. All I had to do was enter into those discussions with the ACCC along the grounds of, ‘Look, I’m sorry. I see what we’ve done. It was all done under good intentions but we realise that we’ve done the wrong thing. Let’s fix it.’ But my lawyer at the time said, ‘No Jaimie, you have to fight it and fight it hard.’
“What had happened was that when we did our first television advertising, the tagline was ‘We don’t pay sports stars to wear our product, they pay us’. And that was routed in truth. That ran in June and July in 2005 in Australia. And we had relationships – we didn’t have one sponsored athlete who we were paying. They were all paid products that we were selling to all of these guys.
“After we ran that in June and July of 2005, we then started to convert some of those relationships into sponsorships. What we did was, we swapped cash payment for the assets… instead of these sporting organisations paying us cash, they gave us commercial marketing benefits. We were able to use their logos, and so on. And there were a couple who we paid a bit of cash to, for example Michael Milton – the one-legged skier and cyclist – we started supporting him with a bit of cash. Brett Lee [the fast bowler] got a little bit of cash. And, separately, there was an agreement in place for the Melbourne Demons – an AFL club… we didn’t give them cash but what we did as part of our relationship was spend about $130,000 on ground signage.
“All it takes is one sponsored asset that you change over in that fashion – from them paying us to us paying them – and suddenly you’ve got a problem with your claim. I think we ended up with seven or eight relationships we converted into sponsored deals. And that was out of about 100, so there were still 90-something who we continued to sell product to. That was after we ran the ad campaign in 2005.
“We then came into 2006 and we had an opportunity to run the same TV campaign with SBS during the Tour de France. And we ran it. And that was technically in breach.”
RIDE: So let’s explain the SBS deal…
Fuller: “The SBS deal, if I remember correctly, is that they came to us with an absolutely ball-tearer of a deal because they’d just picked up the live broadcast of the Tour de France – they just got the rights and they got it about six weeks before the race, they had no time to sell ads so they came to us. I still remember the deal: it cost me $32,000 for a national campaign for advertising during the Tour de France and it was doubled up: during the live coverage as well as the repeats, remember what they run at 6.00pm… and we got top-and-tail: ‘Presented by Skins’. We had our ad running during both the re-runs and the live for just $32,000… it was as much bigger deal but we got a bargain.”
RIDE: And this is a public broadcaster, a tax-payer funded network…
Fuller: “The reality was that they had this asset and they got it late and they didn’t have any advertising for it.
“What do you do? They can’t go and pre-sell the advertising when they don’t yet have that asset. They can’t do that.
“I would imagine that they said to themselves: ‘We’ve got this deal signed up for many years, we’ll take a bath on year one but we’ll try and make it back in the future.’
“So we ran the ad again in 2006 and technically we were in breach because we didn’t have the time to create a new advert. Again, in terms of intent – because more than 95 per cent of our relationships were still on a sales basis – personally, I didn’t grasp the fact that all it takes it one and you are open to the accusation of being deceptive and misleading. That wasn’t the biggest mistake, the biggest mistake was listening to my lawyers advice to fight it.
“The thing that screwed me was the legal fees.
“It’s still floating around. I did some stuff with the NY Velocity guys and somebody got onto their website and dug up some old stuff… someone, I might add, from a place about 15km from Aigle in Switzerland – that’s where the IP address was traced back to. And, interestingly, not only that but there were two ‘different people’ who made comments from exactly the same IP address. I understand it’s called, ‘Sock Puppetry’ – being a sock puppet is when you go and log onto a site, put in your comments as ‘Man A’ and then you log off and relog on as ‘Man B’ and say, ‘Oh, I agree with ‘Man A’.’ There’s stuff going on like that which is a bit dirty but that’s okay, you expect that.”
RIDE: It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Is someone going to get hurt out of all this?
Fuller: “Depends on what you mean by someone getting hurt. Are people going to be held accountable for what they’ve done? I bloody hope so! I hope Hein Verbruggen particularly, and Pat McQuaid, are held accountable for what’s gone on.”
RIDE: Is that ‘End Game’ for you, if that happens?
Fuller: “I look at myself in this situation as a catalyst. That’s what I am. I’m not an expert on doping. I have a very strong-held belief about doping and the need to eradicate it. I have a very strong sense of social justice as well. And when I look at the way that the UCI has enabled Lance Armstrong and his team – and I don’t only mean his guys on the bikes, but I mean the Bill Stapletons, the Chris Carmichaels, and the Johan Bruyneels and what they did particularly to the likes of [Paul] Kimmage and David Walsh, Emma O’Reilly and Betsy Andreu… it makes me feel sick. Through this unbelievable power structure that Armstrong was able to wield, it’s just wrong.
“My role is as a catalyst to bring some people together and to agitate.
“I can’t fix it and I have no intention of fixing it but if I can bring the right people together and help create a strategy that gives them the mouthpiece to get the message across publically, my job is done.”
RIDE: From your forum in London, you come up with Greg LeMond as an option for an interim, caretaker president…
Fuller: “It wasn’t a question of him going in to challenge Pat McQuaid. It was a case of, if McQuaid wants to step down tomorrow and they want someone to go in there tomorrow, he’s a candidate. There’s only a few things that need to be done: one is to ensure maximum cooperation with an independent investigation, the next is to oversee the call for a new president. That’s all that was about.”
RIDE: There is a lot of baggage coming out because of the ‘Reasoned Decision’ and we’re learning about the ways of people who have, until recently, said they’ve never doped. A lot of people would be cynical about LeMond because of the times of his successes. He raced and won in a time of severe doping. Do you expect that he was a clean rider?
Fuller: “Let me put it to you this way: all I’ve heard in the time that I’ve been involved in this game – all I’ve heard for years – is LeMond advocating strongly for no doping.”
RIDE: Do you think he advocated that when he was a rider?
Fuller: “We’re going back to the 1980s. I have no idea. I was still at school.”
RIDE: Sure. But have you spoken to him about his history?
Fuller: “Yeah, and he maintains that he was clean.”
RIDE: How difficult would it be to have an interim president who has lashed out with vulgarity-filled open letters…?
Fuller: “Oh come off it! You want to talk about vulgarity? You’re looking at the worst example! It’s not about vulgarity or anything else.
“There are just two basic beliefs – number one: the first priority is the sport of cycling. Absolutely no question that this is the first priority, not fucking filling our own pockets, not self-serving political objectives!
“Number two: the first way to sort out cycling is to eradicate doping.
“I don’t care how much you swear. I don’t care how much you say fuck. I don’t care how much you write the word fuck. If you embrace those two things – and I know Greg does, wholeheartedly, then you’ve got a role to play in this. And he’s got a great reputation and enormous credibility.”
RIDE: So you don’t think his reputation suffered any detriment because of his note to McQuaid?
Fuller: “If you read the whole thing… I don’t know how many words it was but how many times did he use the word ‘fuck’? Once or twice?”
RIDE: Enough to make it, while passionate, less-than-diplomatic…
Fuller: “I’m sorry, tell me what diplomacy is. For example, you take what we’re doing with this whole Change Cycling Now… I would imagine that the UCI would say, ‘This is ridiculous, we have a process for this sort of feedback. You should write to your president of Oceania and he can then table something at the next management committee meeting…’ blah, blah, blah. You know what I mean? What the fuck is diplomacy?
“I read Greg’s letter and I thought, ‘What a great piece. That came from the heart.’ It was an impassioned plea and to try and disregard that because he used a rude word is the wrong conclusion.”
– By Rob Arnold
Part 01: Fuller wants to change cycling now!
[Part 03 coming soon…]
RIDE Media publishes RIDE Cycling Review, a quarterly magazine all about cycling.
RIDE Cycling Review is now available in a digital format via Zinio.