Androni Giocattoli team manager Gianni Savio has hit back at accusations that he forced riders to find sponsors in exchange for places in his team, confirming he will take legal action against key witness Matteo Mammini, who accused Savio of requesting €50,000 in exchange for a place in his team.
Last Thursday Savio, Angelo Citracca of Wilier-Southeast and Bruno Reverberi of Bardiani-CSF were cleared of any wrong doing at the end of the ‘pagi e corri' – 'pay and ride' investigation and hearing in Rome - despite formal statements gathered during the investigation claiming that riders are often put under pressure to find sponsors to cover their salaries and secure places in the teams.
The full verdict of the hearing has yet to published but Cyclingnews understands that the UCI has obtained the written statements and documents as it considers team licences for the 2017 season.
The 'pay and ride' hearing was sparked by a detailed investigation by journalist Marco Bonarrigo which was published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Savio told Cyclingnews he spent the weekend writing a carefully worded letter as he fights to save his reputation. The experienced and astute Italian manager moved to separate his case from that of Citracca and Reverberi. Savio openly admits that he often signed riders who help secure sponsorship or riders put forward by his sponsors but denied any wrong doing.
"After the verdict of acquittal some media wrote, 'the acquitted celebrate'. I have not celebrated because I was and am angry and bitter about being accused of a wrongdoing I never committed. You cannot celebrate when you have bitterness in your soul. Bitterness at being libeled by a former rider - Matteo Mammini - whose obvious intent was to take revenge with me for not being hired in the team I directed in 2013," Savio writes in his letter, going on to describe the quality of the riders on his 2013 roster, claiming that none of the riders some how needed to pay to ride.
Savio dismissed suggestions from several other former riders that it was common practice in Italy that teams pushed riders to find sponsors, with some of the money being retained directly by the manager.
Rider statements seen by Cyclingnews suggest that family businesses and friends often helped fund places in teams and that title sponsors pushed for certain riders over others. If the sponsorship was high enough the sponsor’s logo could even appear amongst the multitude of names on a jersey. The ability to find a sponsor often counted for more than a rider’s results.
Bowing to sponsor pressure to sign riders
Savio admits he often bows to pressure from sponsors but never forces riders to find a sponsor in exchange for a place on his team.
"During the trial, I had already said it is necessary to make a distinction between two opposite positions. The first is a deplorable action when teams expect money from an athlete to let him ride. The second position concerns the teams who agree to the request of a company that insists on the signing of a certain rider as a condition of the sponsorship. In this case, there is no violation, under a legal aspect or if the riders is any good, in terms of ethics."
Savio cites the case of Patrick Facchini as an example.
"The signing of Patrick Facchini was requested by the Consorzio Val di Chiese and by the BM Group, two companies with whom I had signed a sponsorship contract," he said.
"I accepted him because I thought that Facchini was a good athlete, he’d won ten races as an amateur, including international classics. I had not sought out the rider because I had already completed the team roster and I no longer had the economic resources available. It was the athlete’s father who got in touch and asked me to meet the executives of the two companies. Which rule have I broken by completing such an operation?"
Savio concluded his letter by confirming he will take legal action against Mammini for defamation. He suggested that Mammini’s statements contained several errors and claimed that lawyer Giuseppe Napoleone was at the lunch in question and so is a key witness in the case.
"From what I have said, it is undeniable that Mammini lied just to harm me," Savio writes. “Besides the absolution, the damage of image and media that I have suffered is huge."
"Mammini will have to answer for slander both in civil and in criminal proceedings. Fortunately I have been supported by many messages of solidarity received from sponsors, colleagues, riders and fans, whom I thank very heartily."