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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.