Team Sky and its principal, Dave Brailsford, have been attacked for “inexcusable and unprofessional” failures in anti-doping, by a British government report into combatting doping in sport, produced by the British Parliament’s House of Commons.
The report, from the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), increases the intense pressure on Brailsford and Team Sky, with Tour de France champion Chris Froome still awaiting the results of the UCI investigation into his Adverse Analytical Finding for Salbutamol.
The report was produced from evidence given by witnesses from Team Sky, British Cycling, and UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), including Brailsford, Bradley Wiggins, and Shane Sutton, to the DCMS select committee investigating the Wiggins Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) controversy and also the so-called ‘Jiffy Bag scandal’ at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné.
The DCMS select committee scrutinized the three TUEs given to Wiggins in 2011, 2012, and 2013, to ensure that all proper anti-doping procedures were followed. It also examined Team Sky and British Cycling’s failures to keep medical records of what products were being given to which athletes.
The report said: “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.”
It went so far as to say that the team appears to have used drugs for performance enhancement, not therapy: “… 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.”
The report also had harsh words for Brailsford’s leadership during this time.“Brailsford must take responsibility for these failures, the regime under which Team Sky riders trained and competed and the damaging skepticism about the legitimacy of his team’s performance and accomplishments.”
In the case of Wiggins and his use of TUEs, the report criticizes Team Sky for its lack of medical records, which it describes as “a serious failure both for Team Sky and British Cycling. It is also a failure of management at Team Sky, led by Brailsford.”
But the committee was most highly critical of the lack of records to explain the package sent to the final stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné at La Toussuire in June 2011, and delivered to Sky doctor Richard Freeman for Wiggins’s use, which Brailsford told the committee was Fluimicil, but which once source alleged was triamcinolone.
The report stated: “there is no verifiable evidence of what was in the package and there are no medical records to establish what was in the package.”
“The system at Team Sky was either not as robust as David Brailsford states, or certain information was deliberately not recorded …”
However, in a statement to the committee, Wiggins denied knowledge of any breach of any anti-doping regulations. “As far as I can recall,” Wiggins told the committee, “I did not receive any treatment after the race other than the usual recovery packs.”
But the committee did believe that Sky and Wiggins had been using triamcinolone to prepare the British rider for the 2012 season, during which he won Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie, the Critérium du Dauphiné, and the Tour de France.
“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 report said.
Former Team Sky and British Cycling coach Shane Sutton said in written evidence to the committee that “what Brad was doing was unethical but not against the rules.”
But Team Sky has refuted this claim. “The Report also makes the serious claim that medication has been used by the Team to enhance performance. We strongly refute this,” a team statement said. “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,” the Team Sky statement said. “We are committed to creating an environment at Team Sky where riders can perform to the best of their ability, and do it clean.”
Further criticism in the DCMS report targeted the team’s use of controversial painkiller Tramadol, which three former Team Sky riders, Michael Barry, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, and Josh Edmondson, claimed was “quite prevalent” and used “frequently.”
The report added that “the use of Tramadol would not appear to be only in rare cases where extreme pain has been caused by injury, but rather as part of the pre-race preparation for certain riders.”
The committee also called for a complete ban on the use of corticosteroids and added: “We were also concerned to hear evidence about the negative health impacts for riders resulting from the abuse of the painkiller Tramadol. Again, we believe that WADA should consider introducing a ban on the use of Tramadol.”