April 16, 2021 0 Comments
Words and photos by Shane Stokes
The Richard Freeman investigation may have concluded, but there is a sense that questions about British Cycling may only be multiplying. As WADA begins to delve into the federation’s past, Conquista speaks to one whistleblower about his ongoing concerns and where he believes previous enquiries have fallen short.
The past month has been a concerning period for British cycling. And, indeed, for the British Cycling federation itself. Consider the recent timeline:
• On March 12th the federation’s former doctor Richard Freeman was found guilty of ordering testosterone. Britain’s General Medical Council (GMC) ruled that Freeman did so ‘knowing or believing it was to be administered to an athlete to improve their athletic performance.’
• One week later, Freeman was permanently struck off the medical register. Unless he manages to overturn via an appeal, the ruling effectively ends his long career as a doctor. In addition to working for British Cycling, he also had roles with Team Sky and, prior to that, Bolton Wanderers Football Club.
Former British Cycling and Team Sky chief doctor Richard Freeman struck off https://t.co/nINkXuMlMU— The Guardian (@guardian) March 19, 2021
• On March 26th the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times reported that UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) has been placed under formal investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency. It related to a 2011 decision by UKAD to allow British Cycling to conduct its own investigation into traces of the steroid nandrolone found in the urine of a track rider in late 2010. UKAD has admitted it has no record of what happened; under the WADA code, UKAD should have carried out any investigation, not British Cycling.
• On March 31st, the Guardian reported that UKAD has ramped up its retesting of previously-stored urine samples of riders, seeking to determine if any past doping had been overlooked.
• Finally on April 1, the BBC reported that WADA is to investigate a request made by Freeman prior to the Rio Olympics. In 2016 the doctor had proposed seeking rider biological passport data from UKAD. In a British Cycling internal letter, he had suggested then that riders should submit their test results for analysis ‘similar to that performed by the anti-doping agencies. This is an opportunity to assess frequency of testing and give warning of targeted testing.’
UKAD indicated it would not grant the request and now, five years later, WADA are looking into the matter.
The succession of stories in recent weeks further damages the reputation of both Freeman and the federation itself. The reputation of Team Sky, too, has been affected as Freeman also had a role there. However, notwithstanding the gravity of the situation, the-then British Cycling performance director Dave Brailsford did not appear at the GMC inquiry into Freeman. He and the then-head of medicine Steve Peters have remained silent since the verdict against the doctor.
Dave Brailsford speaks with Bjarne Riis in the early days of Team Sky. He headed up that team and also British Cycling for many years, yet was absent from the Richard Freeman hearing and has not commented since. Photo © Shane Stokes
‘Statements to make, answers to give’
Since Team Sky was first conceived, Brailsford took full control at the helm, much as he did when working with British Cycling. He explained the dominance of riders from both setups as being due to marginal gains, a phrase used to define making countless small improvements which he said made all the difference.
At the same time, Brailsford made clear anti-doping statements, saying that one of the key aims of Team Sky was to show that it was possible to win the Tour clean. He took a strong hands-on approach, with much of the success being attributed to his management style and attention to detail. He sat centre stage in press conferences at races such as the Tour de France, and the first five to ten minutes of those conferences often featured a monologue by Brailsford to the press.
The message appeared to be that he enjoyed the spotlight, and welcomed being seen as the man behind the team’s success.
However when problems have surfaced, he has tended to be a lot less visible. He was absent from the Freeman enquiry and, like Peters, has not commented since. Given their seniority and power within both Team Sky and British Cycling, and given Brailsford’s firm commitment to transparency when Team Sky was established, it seems remarkable that neither have stepped forward to give their thoughts.
The void in information led to Labour MP Clive Efford calling for Brailsford and others to be suspended. “Until this is cleared up, all those involved shouldn’t be anywhere near the sport,” the former shadow sports minister, and current Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) select committee member told the Telegraph.
“Clearly, there are questions to be answered and people should be suspended while this is properly investigated.”
Clive Efford, a British Member of Parliament, has called on Ineos Grenadiers to suspend Dave Brailsford following Friday's damning verdict in the Dr. Freeman investigation: https://t.co/71N5hAhtEF— VeloNews (@velonews) March 12, 2021
Former DCMS select committee chairman Damian Collins also told the paper that he wanted to see a deeper enquiry. “It’s really important now that we understand which cyclist or cyclists this was for and whether he ordered this of his own initiative or whether someone asked him to do it – and who those people were.
“It’s so important that investigations should continue to determine whether this was a one-off incident, what else had he been ordering, at whose request, and who was he treating?”
This feeling is echoed by Ken Matheson, a former senior manager and coach at British Cycling. He worked at the federation between 1999 and 2003, but left under a compromise agreement following what he says was bullying and harassment that caused him to have a nervous breakdown.
In 2016 he submitted documents as a whistleblower to the Cycling Independent Review. This review was carried out into British Cycling after former track riders Jess Varnish and others made accusations of bullying and harassment. Matheson contributed details to what he said was a worrying culture at the federation.
Matheson’s decision to act as a whistleblower was repeated when the jiffy bag affair was being investigated by the DCMS select committee. He contacted Collins, who was heading that enquiry, and provided more information, including sworn affidavits about Shane Sutton. However despite what he said were guarantees given to him by Collins that his statements were published, they ultimately did not appear.
Speaking to Conquista, Matheson has called for a deeper WADA investigation into the Freeman case. He hopes that such an investigation will determine the full picture about what did or did not happen at British Cycling and Team Sky.
Note: This article has been amended to reflect the fact that Steve Peters did attend the medical tribunal in November 2019. He said then that Freeman had lied to him.
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