A report published by the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee concludes that Team Sky‘s use of the corticosteroid triamcinolone was “to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need” and that the team crossed an ethical line despite being within anti-doping rules.
Team Sky issued a statement in response to the Committee’s report, saying that they “strongly refute” that they used medication to enhance performance.
The 54-page ‘Combatting Doping in Sport’ report criticises the failure of sports bodies – including British Cycling – in their governance of anti-doping rules in the wake of “overwhelming evidence of the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs in sport”.
Numerous athletes, team staff, members from sports bodies, UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and whistleblowers gave evidence during Combatting Doping in Sport hearings held by the DCMS Committee since they started in August 2015. This evidence was used to prepare the report and its conclusions.
Among those giving evidence were Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford, former rider Nicole Cooke, former British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton and British Cycling president Robert Howden.
“Our long inquiry has relied on detailed oral and written evidence, academic research, investigative journalism, and whistleblowers, to uncover this covert and pervasive activity across different sports,” said the report.
“The inquiry studied both agencies responsible for policing the use of performance enhancing drugs, and the programmes that, as our report will demonstrate, have used them in questionable ways.
“In particular, our inquiry has found acute failures in several different organisations in athletics and cycling: a failure to share appropriate medical records with anti-doping organisations; a failure to keep proper internal records of the medical substances given to athletes; and a failure to outlaw the use of potentially dangerous drugs in certain sports.
“All of these failures have occurred in an under-resourced national anti-doping infrastructure, which has had neither the financial means nor powers of enforcement. Some steps have been taken to alleviate this context and the failures it has permitted, but these measures have come too late. We call on those bodies identified in this report to pay serious attention to our recommendations; we cannot afford to allow these same failures to happen again.”
As part of its hearings, the Committee looked into the use of Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) certificates by British Cycling and Team Sky riders, including a TUE for the corticosteroid triamcinolone for Bradley Wiggins.
“From the evidence that has been received by the Committee regarding the use of triamcinolone at Team Sky during the period under investigation, and particularly in 2012, we believe that this powerful corticosteroid was being used to prepare Bradley Wiggins, and possibly other riders supporting him, for the Tour de France.
“The purpose of this was not to treat medical need, but to improve his power to weight ratio ahead of the race. The application for the TUE for the triamcinolone for Bradley Wiggins, ahead of the 2012 Tour de France, also meant that he benefited from the performance enhancing properties of this drug during the race.
“This does not constitute a violation of the WADA code, but it does cross the ethical line that David Brailsford says he himself drew for Team Sky. In this case, and contrary to the testimony of David Brailsford in front of the Committee, we believe that drugs were being used by Team Sky, within the WADA rules, to enhance the performance of riders, and not just to treat medical need.”
With regard to the contents of the jiffy bag delivered to Team Sky during the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné, the Committee says it is “not in a position to state what was in the package delivered to Team Sky by Simon Cope at La Toussuire on 12 June 2011”. However, it says that Brailsford “must take responsibility for failures” in record-keeping relating to the contents of the package.
“Team Sky’s statements that coaches and team managers are largely unaware of the methods used by the medical staff to prepare pro-cyclists for major races seem incredible, and inconsistent with their original aim of ‘winning clean’, and maintaining the highest ethical standards within their sport,” says the report.
“How can David Brailsford ensure that his team is performing to his requirements, if he does not know and cannot tell, what drugs the doctors are giving the riders? David Brailsford must take responsibility for these failures, the regime under which Team Sky riders trained and competed and the damaging scepticism about the legitimacy of his team’s performance and accomplishments.”
Sky and Bradley Wiggins ‘refute allegations’
Team Sky said in their statement that they take “full responsibility for mistakes that were made” but that they “strongly refute” widespread use of triamcinolone.
Sky’s statement read: “The Report details again areas in the past where we have already acknowledged that the Team fell short. We take full responsibility for mistakes that were made. We wrote to the Committee in March 2017 setting out in detail the steps we took in subsequent years to put them right, including, for example, the strengthening of our medical record keeping.
“However, the Report also makes the serious claim that medication has been used by the Team to enhance performance. We strongly refute this. The report also includes an allegation of widespread triamcinolone use by Team Sky riders ahead of the 2012 Tour de France. Again, we strongly refute this allegation.
“We are surprised and disappointed that the Committee has chosen to present an anonymous and potentially malicious claim in this way, without presenting any evidence or giving us an opportunity to respond. This is unfair both to the Team and to the riders in question.
“We take our responsibility to the sport seriously. We are committed to creating an environment at Team Sky where riders can perform to the best of their ability, and do it clean.”
Bradley Wiggins posted a short message on Twitter refuting the “claim that any drug was used without medical need” and saying that he would make a further statement.
“I find it so sad that accusations can be made, where people can be accused of things they have never done which are then regarded as facts,” said Wiggins.
“I strongly refute the claim that any drug was used without medical need. I hope to have my say in the next few days & put my side across.”
More resources for UKAD
The Committee’s report concludes that more power and funding should be given to UKAD in the fight against the use of performance-enhancing substances.
The Committee also wants to see the supply of doping products made a criminal offence, although it does not want to see individual athletes subjected to criminal procedures if they are caught doping. However, it does suggest that first-time doping offences are met with a five-year ban.
“The Government should give serious consideration to criminalising the supply of drugs to sportspeople with intent to enhance performance rather than to mitigate ill-health, and in so doing defraud clean athletes they are competing against.
“This would send a stronger message about the unacceptability and the dangers of doping, not only to the suppliers but also to the athletes.”
British Cycling response
British Cycling issued a statement in response to the report, in which it commented on the former close relationship between itself and Team Sky, saying: “Never again will we allow a situation to develop whereby our independence as the national governing body is called into question because of our relationship with a professional team”.
Frank Slevin, the new British Cycling Chair, said: “With the strong working relationship we have developed with UK Anti-Doping we are now looking forward to taking the next step by becoming the first national governing body to partner with UKAD and build on the recommendations in the Tailored Review of UK Anti-Doping published in January 2018.
“Together, we will explore several key areas – from powers and deterrents, to education of competitors, ethics and the testing regime, through to the appropriate use of TUEs, ‘timed out’ offences, medical governance and new forms of performance enhancement – which are influencing and shaping the fight against doping in modern sport.
“This will require significant commitment by British Cycling and it is one we are happy to make so that, with our colleagues at UKAD, we can better anticipate both the challenges of the future and also avoid a repeat of the issues that have been evident in recent investigations.”