Who is this cyclist? Why is this photograph embarrassing? Where was he riding? Why was he using a false name? When did he shave off his moustache? So many questions. Are we watching the dirty deed that got him a life ban from the Olympics? Why should he care? Thirty-eight years later he’s a member of the IOC! Funny thing: If you look at his official IOC biography, they forgot to mention that 1976 life ban.
This fellow can hand out medals at the Games but, unlike nearly every other citizen of the planet, is refused the opportunity to win one.
Meet Patrick “Pat” McQuaid, born September 1949. Let’s wind back his biographical clock. In the mid-1970s he was one of Ireland’s top amateur cyclists, determined to be selected for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. His fear was that he might not be fit enough. Pat won the 1975 Tour of Ireland but the Irish cycling season ended in September 1975 and he needed more road racing. And not just for Ireland and the Olympic Ideal.
If Pat raced well in Montreal his chances were greater of getting a pro cycling contract and giving up school-teaching. So he was open to offers. And, Pat says, he ‘got an offer he couldn’t refuse’ – to secretly break international bans on competing in apartheid South Africa.
Six thousand miles later, in early October 1975, he left “Pat McQuaid” on the plane and emerged into the bright Spring Cape Town sunshine relabelled as “Jim Burns.” First thing he needed was a leak. OK, there’s the sign for the Gents but with the baffling Afrikaans words, “Net Blankes” – but underneath was the comforting translation “Whites Only.” Phew, no black man was going to peer at JimPat’s penis.
He needed transport into Cape Town, to meet his sponsors. He could take a bus. There was that comforting sign again, he was learning auto-translation. Was there a choice? Could he take a cab? JimPat was attempting to mouth the unfamiliar “Huurmotor Staanplek Vir Blankes” when he spotted “Taxi Rank For Whites.”
This wasn’t a big surprise for JimPat. At home in Dublin he’d seen the TV news when he was younger, of that massacre. One word, Sharpeville. The cops wading into the crowd protesting at having to carry the hated passbooks, the gunfire crackling, the 69 bodies, all black, stark on the street.
As JimPat grew up in Dublin in the nineteen-sixties he would be hearing the condemnations of South African apartheid in the press, radio and television and even from the pulpits. Highly-publicised calls for boycotting South African goods were matched by demands for ending investment.
In 1966, a decade before Pat temporarily became Jim, the growing Irish Anti-Apartheid movement opposed the visit of an all-white amateur boxing team. In 1970 thousand of demonstrators flooded the Dublin streets, protesting the visit of a South African rugby team. The game had to be played behind barbed wire. In 1974, a year before JimPat slipped out of Ireland to embrace segregation, there were more demonstrations, this time against Irish players joining a British Lions rugby tour of South Africa. Prominent public figures signed petitions and Foreign Minister Fitzgerald said the government ‘regretted’ Irish participation.
JimPat had joined-up handwriting, he’d been to college, knew he’d landed, by choice, in a police state where the Black majority had no votes, no civil rights and endless, cruel exploitation by the white minority. Sod that. JimPat had come to do what he liked doing and maybe make money.
JimPat also knew that most of the world, except for a few athletes like him with a morality deficiency, marched their streets calling for the release, from the grim prison island he could see out there in the bay, of a guy called Mandela.
JimPat hadn’t arrived in South Africa to make a courageous stand against the evils of apartheid. He wasn’t, as others did, smuggling money to the lawyers representing the activists facing life sentences and execution for resisting apartheid. He hadn’t come to bring succour to families forcibly evicted from newly created White Areas and squatting in barren lands, perishing.
JimPat McQuaid had come to reinforce the system. The world of sport was excluding South Africa. Their all-white teams were not welcome. The International Federations banned athletes from competing in South Africa.
The sport-crazy White community craved foreign competitors. Some athletes did break the embargo, risking bans back home. Earning good money in the winter was attractive to poorly-paid English county cricketers, unlikely to be selected for international duty. JimPat, with a secure job in teaching, was coming to enjoy the opulent lifestyle of the White Masters, heal their mental and physical isolation and win himself selection for the Olympics.
The lure for JimPat, his brother Kieron and Sean Kelly, together with two Scots riders, was the Toer Rapport, three weeks of stage racing, speeding sixteen-hundred kilometres from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Rapport was an Afrikaans language Sunday newspaper.
Mr McQuaid, ashamed of his name, changed it. In the archives of Rapport helpful staff, apartheid a distant memory, dug out a file photo for us of their visitor complete with a moustache. On the back, in Afrikaans is the caption, ‘Jim Burns (25) Irish teacher and captain of the British team.’
Did JimPat fancy a quick swim off the Cape’s beautiful beaches before the racing began? More of that pesky quasi-Dutch stuff but he would be sharing the company of his friendly hosts; it was a ‘White Area.’
On the way to the beach JimPat might encounter ‘Beware of Natives’ signs. But they were only a problem when the oppression became too much to bear. Patrols of the sullen townships by rifle-toting cops and their terrifying dogs would have eased his concerns.
Every cyclist’s worry is access to swift medical treatment after a bad crash. Before accepting the invitation JimPat would have been reassured by a report six months earlier in March 1975 from the World Health Organisation. It revealed that medical treatment for Whites was tickety-boo, they had longer life expectancy and experienced less infant mortality than Blacks, paid poverty wages, and exposed to more ailments.
If it all went wrong on a gravelly descent JimPat could be happy that he’d get faster medical treatment than the glum fellows sweeping the streets.
A few stages into the Toer, the wheels came off JimPat’s race bike.
A freelance photographer figured that this Jim was more likely a Pat and on October 16, 1975 both of them suffered the rage of the London Daily Mail. The Mail, in tune with Margaret Thatcher, had always been relaxed about apartheid and sanction-busting but three Irish persons masquerading as Brits was intolerable.
JimPat knew instantly that he wouldn’t be going to Montreal the following year. He told the Irish Times, ‘That’s it, I won’t see the Olympics now.’ In the years that have passed JimPat has had a changeable version of events, as nifty as his 10-speed derailleur.
Talking to reporter David Walsh many years later JimPat explained, ‘I expected they’d be hard on us. Going to South Africa was even then considered a major crime in cycling. But, deep down, I thought we were too good for them (the Irish Cycling Federation) to fuck us out.’
JimPat sometimes blamed his exclusion from the Montreal Games on a rival Irish cycling family who saw the chance to replace him with the son of an official. This forgets that the IOC reads the papers and, in May 1976 their Eligibility Commission unsurprisingly banned the JimPat warriors for life.
JimPat’s mission to South Africa didn’t help make life better for the majority. In 1976, a month before the Olympics, 13-year-old Hector Pieterson became a name on the lips of the world. As he was dead he never knew. South African police were at it again, firing randomly, this time into crowds of schoolkids in Soweto protesting a law that said they must study in a foreign language, Afrikaans. Over the following days of rage 176 people were killed and more than a thousand wounded.
JimPat turned pro for a few years, retired, and began the climb up the cycling ladder. From the Irish Federation he got a job in Switzerland with the International Cycling Union – the UCI – and was eased into the President’s saddle in 2005 by retiring president and IOC member Hein ‘Armstrong is clean’ Verbruggen. JimPat’s elevation arrived as the scandal of Lance Armstrong’s doping was engulfing the sport.
JimPat says he never knew and of course he wasn’t told anything by Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong’s team manager through the ingestion years. JimPat is adamant; there was no cover-up at the UCI although it was accepting donations from Armstrong to improving testing. It looked like a love-in with Lance sending birthday greetings to JimPat’s mum and her tweeting thanks back.
This Armstrong stuff has put JimPat under a lot of pressure and last weekend he took a break. Now he’s world boss of a popular sport he gets better than hard roadwork in South Africa; he gets to cuddle the Top Thug.
Here is JimPat in Belarus for his World Track Championships, provided by President Alexander Lukashenko, a man who like apartheid all those years ago, can’t get a good press outside his own country.
Like the warm and welcoming White Supremacists of JimPat’s cycling days, Lukashenko locks up anybody he doesn’t like; that’s people rash enough to stand against him in his rigged elections, journalists and youngsters on the street celebrating Human Rights Day. Maybe JimPat’s there, not trusting the protestors, checking it out for himself. Like he said he was with his sanction busting. It helps when the locals spend a fortune on your commercial activity.
Although Lukashenko’s economy is heading south and living standards following, he diverts money into sports events knowing he’ll get a bundle of uncritical press clippings and youngsters enthusing about the joy of competing in Minsk.
The Top Thug has appointed himself president of the Belarus National Olympic Committee but didn’t make London 2012 because of a travel ban imposed by most nations other than those of Putin and Mugabe.
Olympic medals do travel to Belarus but tend to return quickly. Hammer thrower Ivan Tsikhan got caught on the illicit sauce in Athens and that’s silver being melted down. After Beijing two of the new generation of Belarus hammer throwers, weighed down with extra testosterone, had to send back their silver and bronze medals. It was the women’s turn in London with shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk the first to win gold – and the first to send one back DHL.
The Armstrong affair won’t go away, however much JimPat blusters. He’s under new pressure to resign from the Change Cycling Now pressure group of cyclists, reporters and scholars. Doping expert Professor John Hoberman from the University of Texas, summarises the similarities between JimPat and Lance.
‘Pat McQuaid and Lance Armstrong – both former riders, cycling power brokers, and excoriators of anti-doping cyclists – share that unconditional sense of entitlement that is so common among the worst of the little emperors who run international sports federations,’ says Hoberman.
‘McQuaid’s utter inability to transcend the self-serving view of his South Africa adventure is perfectly matched by Armstrong’s pathetic inability to even imagine what it must be like to have a conscience.’
Another CCN member, Irish cyclist turned writer Paul Kimmage, turned the tables on JimPat who sued him last year for defamation. JimPat has backed off but Kimmage is back on the case, counter-suing the UIC boss.
‘I have initiated these proceedings not for myself but on behalf of the whistle blowers,’ says Kimmage,’ and every other cyclist who stood up for truth and the sport they loved and were dismissed as “cowards” and “scumbags” by Verbruggen and McQuaid.’
Greg Lemond, once again the only American to win the Tour de France, offers the thought, ‘I want to tell the world of cycling to please join with me in telling Pat McQuaid to fuck off and resign.’
Additional Research by Karrie Anne Kehoe – @karriekehoe