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UCI really doesn’t like OnlyFans sponsoring Lewis Buchanan

Cycling governing body tries to ban enduro racer because of his arguably unsavoury associations

Lewis Buchanan in his new OnlyFans full face helmet Photo by: Lewis Buchanan / Instagram

When Lewis Buchanan announced his new sponsorship for 2023, it quickly made waves on the internet. Which is exactly what it was supposed to do, of course. Now, it looks like the enduro racer’s sponsorship is attracting the wrong kind of attention. The notoriously stuffy Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) notified Buchanan that he would not be allowed to race while representing his new sponsor. Which puts Buchanan in what he describes as an “awkward situation.”

Why does the UCI have a problem with his new team?

Lewis Buchanan is the first mountain biker sponsored by OnlyFans. That is, for those pretending not to be familiar, an online platform known primarily for adult content, though it is trying hard to change that image.

Why is that a problem? According to Buchanan, UCI sent notice  in February that his association with OnlyFans violated article 1.1.089 of the UCI Cycling Regulations.

Under Chapter 1 of the regulations, covering “License Holders” Article 1.1.089 reads:

Without prejudice of the applicable law, no brand of tobacco, spirits, pornographic products or any other products that might damage the image of the UCI or the sport of cycling in general shall be associated directly or indirectly with a licenceholder, a UCI team or a national or international cycling competition.

As defined in the present article, a spirit is a beverage with a content in alcohol of 15% or more.

Buchanan says that UCI objects to OnlyFans on the basis that it is a pornographic product. He objects on several grounds. Buchanan says he has communicated with the UCI, acknowledging that the platform is used to promote adult content, but also other content. He’s also pointed out that Twitter, which the UCI is very active on, is also used to promote adult content.

What’s at stake?

If Buchanan chooses to try and race despite the notification from UCI, a couple of things could happen. The organizer or commissars could prevent him from starting the race. Or, if he does race, UCI could fine him anywhere between 1,000 and 25,000 Swiss Francs.

Since enduro, Buchanan’s primary racing discipline now falls under the umbrella of the UCI, not being allowed to start any UCI-sanctioned race closes a lot of doors.

Buchanan is still attempting to carry on a conversation with the UCI, though he says that efforts seen little progress since February.

“I understand that they can do whatever they want, and I understand that they have to protect themselves,” Buchanan states. “Fingers crossed that we can come to some sort of an agreement.”

A question of ethics?

Buchanan obviously isn’t happy with UCI’s decision. And, whatever you think of OnlyFans’ attempts to diversify its content offerings, he has grounds to be frustrated.

First, the UCI is quite happy to court sponsorship from alcohol producers when their products fall under the 15 per cent maximum. That maximum is conveniently set just above the 12 per cent alcohol content that champagne typically has. Where a podium doesn’t include bubbly, it often includes a cartoonishly large beer stein. And it’s hard to imagine a Giro d’Italia podium without a bottle of prosecco, even if it now has to be uncorked ahead of time.

Then there’s the more general part of Article 1.1.089 which states athletes must not be associated with “any products that might damage the image of the UCI or the sport of cycling in general.”

The UCI does not, apparently, have a problem with teams being associated with gambling. Several prominent teams are supported by lottery or gambling sites, especially on the road side of the sport.

Some might argue that the UCI already does more than enough to damage its own image by pursuing questionable associations. Though they are not products, the governing body has pursued close ties with several countries ruled by dictatorships with very questionable human rights records. And several mainstream WorldTour sponsors are accused of using cycling to improve their public image. Enough that it has its own term: sportswashing.”

And plenty of observers pointed out the irony of Amgen, the makers of EPO, being the primary sponsor of the Tour of California while it existed.

What’s the cost to cyclists?

Why should we care that UCI won’t let Buchanan be supported by OnlyFans? Well, it limits the opportunities for athlete sponsorship at a time when many riders are struggling to find support to race, for one.

It also impacts racing fans as consumers. Most riders and teams have a frame manufacturer as one of their primary sponsors. That creates a shadowy space where riders and teams are not only promoting a product but, in some cases, doing what they can to hide any potentially damaging coverage when, say, a frame fails in a race.

One of the interesting things Buchanan’s OnlyFans sponsorship does is let him choose his own frame. And give an honest account if, as has already happened, that frame fails. Instead of quietly moving on, Buchanan detailed how one of his frames broke, what was he was riding that led to the failure, and what happened next. That kind of freedom helps fans as consumers differentiate between quality and the appearance of quality.