The former professional cyclist who exposed the scandal of Lance Armstrong’s drug-assisted victories was in Belfast on Wednesday at a special event on whistleblowing.
Paul Kimmage represented Ireland at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and realised a boyhood dream by competing in his first Tour de France two years later.
However, the dream quickly turned sour when he realised his new life was dominated by performance-enhancing drugs – not taken to guarantee you a place on the winner’s podium, but just to make sure you finished some of the most gruelling physical races imaginable.
He quickly turned his back on professional cycling to become a sports journalist and, in 1990, wrote a book exposing the law of silence surrounding the issue of drugs in the sport.
Rough Ride has been critically acclaimed and began a one-man crusade to expose the drugs cheats – including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
At the PwC ‘Fraud Academy’ event on Wednesday night, Kimmage spoke candidly about his love for cycling despite the backlash he endured for blowing the whistle on the wrong-doers.
He told the News Letter it wasn’t an easy decision to speak out at the time.
“Initially when I saw the impact on my family – my father and my brothers who were still very active in the sport – I think that was my only regret. While I took responsibility for my own actions, everything I said and wrote in the book, I’m not sure I really took into account the impact it might have had on them. I know that they were very hurt – not by the book but by the reaction to it.”
The 52-year-old former Sunday Times journalist added: “I think generally that whistleblowers in society are regarded as a good thing and are treated very positively, whereas whistleblowers in sport, and specifically which was doping, that really is a message that people don’t want to hear.
“If I’m totally honest, Rough Ride changed nothing. If it had been written by someone who had a higher profile, if say Sean Kelly or Stephen Roche had written that book, I think definitely it would have made a difference.”
The event, chaired by BBC’s Mark Carruthers, addressed the contentious issue of whistleblowing and “its impact on business, government and those who stand up and try to address the problems they see”.
As well as guest speakers at the Riddell Hall event, Mr Kimmage conducted a Q&A session on how it impacts on organisations and individuals.