British Cycling staff carried out unauthorised doping tests on elite riders in 2011, an investigation by an anti-doping body has revealed.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) launched an investigation following media reports in March 2021 that alleged British Cycling staff carried out internal tests after a prominent rider had trace amounts of a banned substance in their system.
Dubbed ‘Operation Echo,’ the summary report from the investigation was published on Tuesday evening (October 19), as WADA found that former British Cycling staff did break anti-doping rules by carrying out unauthorised tests on elite riders for the anabolic steroid nandralone. The tests were carried out as part of a study into the potential contamination of supplements.
WADA said that the samples from riders were collected by BC staff, not official doping control officers, and riders were told that the results would never be shared with UK Anti-Doping.
The investigation also revealed that the samples were analysed by a non-WADA accredited laboratory and that UKAD was never received the results, while at least one UKAD employee was aware of the study.
WADA said that UKAD and British Cycling will face no further action, as all those who were involved in the events of 2011 are no longer employed at UKAD or British Cycling, while UKAD said that no riders tested positive for nandrolone during the study.
In a statement, WADA director Gunter Younger said: “Operation Echo confirmed potential wrongdoing by individuals in both British Cycling and UKAD at that time.
“Operation Echo makes no corrective recommendations as those involved in the events of 2011 are no longer employed by UKAD, and UKAD has already put safeguards in place to avoid a repeat occurrence. It is important to acknowledge that WADA I&I [Intelligence and Investigations Department] received the full cooperation and transparency of British Cycling and UKAD throughout our investigation.”
British Cycling under scrutiny in recent years after former doctor at the national governing body Richard Freeman ordered banned testosterone to the BC headquarters in 2011.
Freeman has since been struck off the medical register.
In the wake of Freeman’s medical tribunal, WADA launched its investigation into claims that BC carried out its own internal drug testing after a prominent rider allegedly tested positive for trace amounts of nandralone.
In response to the WADA report, British Cycling said: "We would like to thank the World Anti-Doping Agency for their efforts in reviewing this matter. The study covered by the WADA review took place over a decade ago but it is vital that any concerns regarding the decision-making processes of anti-doping authorities are properly scrutinised whenever they are raised.
“We have been very happy to offer WADA our full and wholehearted help and cooperation throughout their review of the 2011 study and we welcome their recognition of the diligence with which we have pursued this responsibility.”
BC said it has made a number of changes to its structure following the events of 2011, including the appointment of a chief medical officer, the creation of a clinical governance committee, achieving Care Quality Commissions status, and the use of electronic medical note-keeping.
BC added: “These improvements demonstrate the standards to which we hold ourselves and which British Cycling members and fans of our sport rightly expect us to achieve.
“Notwithstanding that WADA attached no fault to British Cycling, these improvements mean the 2011 events described in the WADA review could not be repeated at British Cycling today and, while there can be no room for complacency, we are proud of the progress we have made towards our ambition of becoming a world-leading governing body.”
A spokesperson for UKAS said: “We welcome the findings of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s report today into alleged events in 2011. The report makes no recommendations for UKAD to follow, and notes that all samples related to their investigation were negative. The report also notes that the employees involved in the 2011 events are no longer employed by UKAD, and praises UKAD’s ‘diligent cooperation and transparency’ with WADA’s investigation team.
“The report from WADA makes clear that the results of the testing carried out by British Cycling were all negative, and notes the negative results from UKAD’s own extensive testing of British Cycling athletes at that time.
“We agree that anti-doping organisations should be held to the highest standards and we will fully consider the contents of the report, however WADA has not made any recommendations for action by UKAD."
WADA also investigated allegations that UKAD released riders’ biological passports to British Cycling in 2016, and that UKAD allowed two athletes who had returned adverse analytical and were using a contaminated supplement defence to privately test products, with UKAD then allegedly accepting the results of the analysis at a subsequent anti-doping hearing. WADA said it found no evidence to uphold these allegations.
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