'A devastating blow to the reputations of some of the biggest names in British sport'

Dave Brailsford and Bradley Wiggins
Sir Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France with Team Sky

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee's report into combatting doping is a devastating blow to the reputations of some of the biggest names in British sport.

To Lord Coe, the most powerful figure in world athletics and architect of the London 2012 Olympic Games, who is accused by the select committee of misleading parliament about when he first knew of corruption allegations.

To British Cycling, for so long the country's best-funded, most successful and respected sports governing body, where a "serious failure" to keep basic medical records, was deemed "unprofessional and inexcusable".

And to UK Athletics, whose former chief medical officer Dr Rob Chakraverty - now the Football Association's chief doctor for the senior men's England football team - the MPs want investigated by the General Medical Council (GMC), after being "shocked" he gave an injection of L-carnitine to athlete Sir Mo Farah without recording the dose on medical records.

But it is Sir Bradley Wiggins - Britain's first winner of the Tour de France and most decorated Olympian - and his former boss Sir Dave Brailsford - the man credited with turning cycling into the driving force behind Britain's ascent into an Olympic superpower, and in charge of the sport's dominant team - for whom the 50-odd pages make for particularly grim reading.

Both are effectively accused of cheating. And if not cheating the actual rules in the strictest sense, then certainly the spirit of them. Of flouting their own commitment to be a team the sport could finally be proud of.

"Crossing the ethical line" is how the MPs put it.

Even Shane Sutton - Wiggins' former coach and right-hand man - tells the committee that the rider's use of powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone was "unethical but not against the rules". Ouch.

It was the 2016 revelation that Wiggins applied for TUEs (therapeutic use exemptions) to use triamcinolone before the 2011 and 2012 Tour de France races, and 2013 Giro d'Italia, that first triggered this saga.

Wiggins and Team Sky have always insisted that the drug was only ever used to treat asthma and pollen allergies, and insist there has been no wrongdoing.

But in damning testimony, an anonymous but "well-placed and respected source" tells the committee that Wiggins and other riders were using corticosteroids before the 2012 season "beyond the requirement for any TUE".

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Watch: Brailsford's tense grilling on Team Sky

Team Sky dispute this claim. And regardless, some of their fans will point to the fact that TUEs are not required to use such a drug 'out of competition'. But the implication of the unnamed source's evidence is clear; that the same motive - enhancement of performance - would have applied 'in competition'. And even with those three TUEs granted to Wiggins, that constitutes a major problem, because the rules state such exemptions are only meant to be applied for if there is a medical need.

The MPs clearly do not believe that was the case.

See page 29 of the report where we're told that Wiggins may have been treated with triamcinolone on up to nine occasions, during a four-year period, and that: "It would be hard to know what possible medical need could have required such a seemingly excessive use of this drug... [it] seriously calls into question David Brailsford's assertion that Team Sky only use medicines to treat medical need."

And then there's page 32 of the report for the central claim that Team Sky used medication to enhance performance;

"…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 World Anti-Doping Agency (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."

Team Sky issued a firm denial in response, and reiterated their commitment to clean cycling.

But it does not matter any longer. Just like it does not matter that some believe Team Sky merely took advantage of the rules as another 'marginal gain'. Nor does it really matter that the MPs could not with absolute certainty state whether the infamous 2011 'jiffy-bag' delivery to Wiggins contained, as alleged, triamcinolone (which, without a TUE would be a rule violation and potentially see him stripped of the 2012 Tour win), or as Sky's former chief medic Dr Richard Freeman insisted, a mere decongestant. Nor, that British Cycling and Team Sky have overhauled procedures (and leadership in the governing body's case) in a bid to prevent such scandals happening again.

What ultimately matters is the sense that this represents perhaps the gravest blow yet to Team Sky's already tainted reputation. The mounting suspicion and scepticism that now surrounds Britain's first winner of the Tour de France, and those that helped him to achieve it.

Add this report to what we already knew:

  • The absence of any references to any asthma illness in 2012 by Wiggins in his book.
  • The timing of Wiggins' medical exemption applications, just before major races.
  • Sutton's admission in a BBC documentary last year that Team Sky used TUEs to "find the gains".
  • The inconsistencies and inaccuracies in Team Sky's initial explanations for the 'jiffy-bag' delivery, and Brailsford's apparent request to the Daily Mail to consider a deal that would make the story 'go away'.
  • The absence of any medical records at a team that prided itself on its attention to detail, and which has conveniently made establishing what was in the 'jiffy bag' so far impossible.
  • The unavailability of Dr Freeman, now under investigation by the GMC, supposedly due to illness.
  • The apparent theft of his laptop while on holiday in Greece on which data was kept.
  • British Cycling's "chaotic" medical storeroom which they shared with Team Sky, compounding the potential hindering of the Ukad investigation, as revealed by a secret letter the BBC obtained and published in January.
  • The unexplained mystery delivery of testosterone patches to the national velodrome in 2011.
  • The BBC's exclusive interviews with two former Team Sky riders - Josh Edmondson and Jonathan Tiernan-Locke - both of whom spoke about the unethical use of controversial painkiller Tramadol while on the team's books.

Oh, and don't forget that four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome - the man who, for many, represented the road to reputational recovery for Team Sky after the controversy of the Wiggins era - is fighting to clear his name after returning an adverse drugs test which showed twice the permitted levels of another asthma drug - Salbutamol.

By now many observers will have made up their mind what was in the jiffy bag. Others will have decided how Wiggins won the 2012 Tour. And some will have given up on ever trusting cycling again. So much for the theory that the demise of Lance Armstrong, and four years of British leadership of world federation the UCI under former British Cycling boss Brian Cookson, would heal the sport of controversy. Team Sky's stated aim of zero-tolerance, crusading for clean cycling, has been exposed as hollow. Instead only hypocrisy remains. At best.

There are many questions to be answered in the coming days and months.

Could this prove the final straw for Brailsford? Will he, as the MPs seem to suggest, "take responsibility" and resign? What will Wiggins' next move be? And how about Dr Freeman? What will the General Medical Council unearth? Will Froome be cleared or suspended? Regardless, can cycling's richest team survive? Will paymasters News Corporation pull the plug? Will the UCI now open their own inquiry? Will Ukad re-open theirs? Will the government listen to the committee and force sports to fund the national anti-doping agency? Will Wada outlaw corticosteroids and Tramadol? Will the MPs continue their inquiries into some of the unresolved matters this report has highlighted? Will British Cycling and Team Sky, as the committee suggests, have to pay Ukad compensation for the legal costs they have accrued? Will this wonderful sport, enjoyed by so many recreationally, suffer a dip in popularity after years of growth?

As with Team Sky, and Wiggins, and Brailsford, there are now just too many questions.

Last week, many British athletes will no doubt have been dismayed to see the IOC lift the suspension of Russia following its state-sponsored doping scandal that resulted in the country being banned from the Winter Olympics. But their right to judge has just been weakened.

The MPs conclude the report by saying that their long inquiry "highlights the failure of sports bodies in their governance and policing of anti-doping rules". For years we have been told that British sporting success is down purely to world-class preparation, wise investment choices and raw talent.

This is a sobering reminder that when it comes to standing up for clean sport, Britain is far from perfect.

Sir Bradley Wiggins
Sir Bradley Wiggins is a five-time Olympic cycling champion and has eight Olympic medals overall

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