Little Troll

The downfall of Lance Armstrong and the exposure of the extent of his doping and global duplicity was the result of relentless tenacity by two Irish journalists, David Walsh and Paul Kimmage, backed to the hilt financially by the UK’s leading newspaper, The Sunday Times. They left no stone unturned in their pursuit spanning multiple years, uncovering the link between Armstrong (and many others in the pro-peloton) with the Italian doctor Michele Ferrari.

The allegations were hard to stick, lawsuits flew, and as Armstrong continued to dominate the Tour de France and move culturally to moral high grounds as a beacon of cancer-survival, Walsh found himself persona non grata. Armstrong nicknamed him the ‘Little Troll’ but Walsh got his man eventually and the rest, as we know, is history.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

The journalism awards that followed were many. Sports Writer of the Year in 2000 and 2003. Journalist of the Year in 2012. A lifetime achievement award in 2013. Walsh’s books on the scandal that rocked the cycling world sold strongly and ‘Seven Deadly Sins: My pursuit of Lance Armstrong’ was adapted into a film called ‘The Program’ – I’ve watched it and it’s as dull as a wet weekend in Morecambe. There are far better chronicles of these times.

And I have to say that whilst I naturally admire Walsh for his fearless journalism around Armstrong – and I have read all of his books and regularly read his columns as I like to see what writers better than I do – I have for a while thought his powers to be massively on the wane. A sort of clever-dick persona has pervaded his writing. A holier-than-thou-ness. An I-am-oh-so-rightness that actually makes him hard to read.

Today, in the Sunday Times, he plunged to an unbelievable low in his take-down of Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Ineos framed around a restaurant meeting with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff at the Harvard Business School in Boston. The fact that this educational establishment was even a mention shows the vanity pervading his writing in his attempt to impress us – he simply had to get that one in.

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“There were seven or eight of us around the table and I thought the moment was right. “How do you feel,” I said to Toto Wolff, “to be burdened with the curse of Ineos.” – was the quote, published today in The Sunday Times and qualified with no less than twelve preceding paragraphs justifying his crass, clever-dick and downright disrespectful question.

Walsh opens and headlines his article with the take-over of the America’s Cup team from the then struggling BAR syndicate by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, safe in his assumed knowledge that he really, truly knows the back-story and is such a colossus of Cup wisdom that he 100% appreciates the circumstances that led to that pub meeting between Sir Ben and Sir Jim. He hasn’t got a clue.

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But the sporting fact that the British boat lost 7-1 to Luna Rossa in the Prada Cup Challenger Finals is a primary lever for Walsh to then qualify a complete take-down of the Ineos Sports Group highlighting the relegation of the Ineos-backed FC Lausanne in the Swiss Super League, the demise of Team Ineos (formerly Team Sky) in the Tour de France cycling world – no mention of the multiple successes along the way and the fact that the current world time trial champion wears their colours – and of course, the current woes of the Mercedes F1 Team, just two races into the season after having the 2022 World Driver’s Championship effectively stolen on the last lap in Abu Dhabi.

Now I’m certainly not qualified to talk about soccer, cycling or Formula 1 but what Walsh fails to appreciate is that without Sir Jim’s backing, the very simple truth is that Britain would not have an entry in the America’s Cup – and certainly would not be in a position where we have the best, gold-plated chance in 170-odd years to create sporting history.

We may well have a sticking-plaster of a syndicate, similar to all previous challengers from these shores, a dollar late and a pound short but Ineos with the fusion of Mercedes F1 talent, design and process management, is on the cusp of something that in my lifetime, I never thought was even a possibility. I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure that I am not dreaming what I see before me.

So I despise and utterly condemn Walsh’s assessment of that loss to Luna Rossa in the Challenger Finals as “Not good” and I wonder whether this self-appointed titan of yachting journalism had seen the incredibly low-base from where they started at the pre-Christmas regatta. I very much doubt it.

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“Hopefully our performance shut a few people up at home,” was the pointed remark that Sir Ben made dockside (no offence taken Ben) after exiting the competition in Auckland, and he was right. It did shut me up, if I were indeed the intended target as some have suggested to me, as I could see and thoroughly appreciate the monumental effort that was required and expended to get in to the Challenger Final.

Personally, and I say this with deference, I admired their tenacity and particularly the way that Ben and Giles Scott sailed a slow design that barked at the moon, out of their design window weather-frame, to within shouting distance of the America’s Cup Match. The simple truth is that since that moment, Ineos Team Britannia has not put a foot wrong and occupies a truly respected place in the competition, as Challenger of Record no less, leading up to Barcelona 2024.

Hardly a ‘curse,’ Sir Jim’s largesse is a golden blessing.

David Walsh is prone to well documented mis-steps. The Sunday Times, so often the preferred media organ of Ben Ainslie (quite why, I have never truly appreciated), is turning here on Ratcliffe and making very public fun of elite sporting endeavour and in turn, one of the greatest backers of sport the UK has ever seen. Even the Ineos sponsorship of the All Blacks is highlighted with sporting defeat to Ireland and France, probably the two top teams in the rugby world today, being laid at the door of the Ineos involvement. It beggars belief in its crassness.

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I wonder if Walsh will publish the reverse when Team Britannia makes the Finals in Barcelona or, heaven’s forbid, wins the America’s Cup. I doubt it.

And I simply don’t understand the angle – what would David Walsh and the Sunday Times like to achieve out of publishing this dire commentary? Sir Jim Ratcliffe to pull stumps? A bit like in New Zealand, the British press loves to take a scythe to Tall Poppies. Perhaps it’s jealousy, and the continual reference to the monetary fortune of Team Britannia’s principle cheque-writer is a heavy clue, but you wonder why on earth this pettiness of spirit is tolerated by the sports editors. A scythe needs applying internally methinks.

As someone close to me growing up said: “Nothing succeeds like success,” and I will file today’s story to remind the ‘Little Troll’ in October 2024 of just what the Ineos involvement at the apex of our sport has achieved. Win or lose, it will be far more than he can ever appreciate or understand.

Armstrong met his match in Walsh. Walsh might just have met his.

7 thoughts on “Little Troll

  1. Can we really be sure there would be NO team without him? There certainly was a team without him in 2017 and Ben seems to have a few ties to other folks like Branson he could have tried to call on instead.

    When we see Ben still trying to retain his reputation as an environmentalist in SailGP and elsewhere but having people rightly point out that in the America’s Cup he is taking money from an infamous polluter— then yes, it does seem that INEOS is a curse upon his reputation, a scarlet letter (well, gray on black) on his shirt.

    Yesterday I mentioned how there is often a measure of ambivalence and cynicism among US fans about US teams in the AC. Perhaps most famously with the “Go The People’s Boat” campaign in San Francisco, there are definitely Americans who dislike DeVos and disliked Ellison and chose to support another team instead of American Magic or Oracle because they did not like such a person representing them on an international stage.

    Especially in this day and age, as nationalism leads nations to war, we must remember that there is no obligation to support a team simply because we share the flag on their sail. If we cheer for an unsavory individual simply because they wrap themselves in the flag, are we not also being corrupted by a sort of curse?


    1. Kai,
      without Sir Jim Ratcliffe it is unlikely Sir Ben and his Team would have challenged for AC36.
      Remember this: Ben struggled heavily before teaming up with INEOS. There was even talk about withdrawal for the Event in Bermuda and if Oracle Team USA had not downsized the Boats from the AC62 Cats to the more OD AC50 I sincerely doubt Ainslie would have made the Start Line in Bermuda.

      As for AC36 if Land Rover had stayed Ben & his Team would have only built one Boat because of the Financial Restrictions.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ‘Yachting’ – that single word, in British/English culture, still speaks loudly in the national mythos, not of dynamic and exciting wrestling with the wind on the water on whatever thing with a sail that takes your fancy, but of money, elitism, privilege and arrogance – an open target for anybody with a chip on their shoulder, or wanting to take a pop at ‘them’ who presume to rule us.


  3. From a commentator to Kiwi media: I can’t believe the shock at Team New Zealand’s departure for Barcelona. It’s not our team. It’s Grant Dalton’s.

    Oracle was never America’s team. It was Larry Ellison’s. That’s why they ended out defending it in Bermuda, a British territory.

    Prada is not Italy’s side it’s Patrizio Bertelli’s.

    And INEOS Britania is not the British team. It’s Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s team.

    How long have critics complained that it’s a rich man’s sport? That’s because it is.

    Take Jim Ratcliffe. The man’s worth 18 billion dollars. He has a global brand that needs promoting and considering it’s based on petrol and chemicals it’s a hard one to promote. So, he owns a Tour De France team, he sponsors the Mercedes Formula 1 team and football teams in France and Switzerland. He even sponsors the All Blacks. You’ll see INEOS on the ABs shorts for the next 6 years.

    This is the guy who when he learnt that Land Rover would no longer build the Defender decided to build his own, the INEOs Grenadier.

    He’s loaded and he’ll stop at nothing.

    And here’s little old Team New Zealand. Who managed to bring a nation and a handful of corporate sponsors with them to fund the challenges and defences and what a glorious ride.

    But for the next event, Team New Zealand needs every cent it can get. The boat design is no longer a surprise and the billionaires are frustrated and they’ll spend anything.

    Dalton has been honest about this all along.

    The government and Council’s offer was inflated by including urban infrastructure but at the end of the day there was just not enough cash to fund a very expensive sport.

    And there was never going to be because the government knows that a large part of the population resents the fact that it’s a rich man’s sport and has no desire to see taxpayer money thrown at it at all.

    It’s short sighted and petty but it is what it is. All we needed to do was find our own crazy rich person to throw cash at the thing.

    I would much rather win than lose horrifically at home.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “But, Lizzy, you look as if you did not enjoy it. You are not going to be missish, I hope, and pretend to be affronted at an idle report. For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

    Arguably the best use of the word sport ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The motivation is Jealousy. Pure and simple. Jealousy. As my Mum used to say repeatedly to us, “never be jealous of anyone, it destroys you”. And here, those words could not be more true of the critic rather than the subject matter. A self damaging hit to his own writing reputation. I am afraid I found the Sunday Times article insulting to a readers intelligence and arrogant in the extreme. No one has the font of all knowledge. People take Ratcliffe as they find him because as far as I know there is no “side”to him and he is pretty clear on his aims and motives. But jealousy once taken hold is difficult to be rid of. Let’s hope the writer of this vitriol reflects on the consequences of his actions.

    Liked by 1 person

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