Why Sir Dave Brailsford will believe he can ride out Richard Freeman storm – Reuters
A little-known fact about Mary O’Rourke, Dr. Richard Freeman’s QC in the long-running medical hearing, which has just blown the door wide open on possible doping at the highest levels of British cycling a decade ago, is that she trained at the same drama school as Liam Neeson in Belfast.
It was undoubtedly with a theatrical flourish that O’Rourke invited the tribunal panel to speculate on the role that Sir Dave Brailsford may have played in the drama that was going on in Manchester in her final summing up last month. “He [Brailsford] is the specter missing from these proceedings,” O’Rourke declared. “He would have been able to answer a lot of questions about what was going on in British Cycling and Team Sky. He was never called.”
She had a point. It was extraordinary that Brailsford was never called as a witness. It certainly would have been interesting to hear his views on some of the allegations brought up in the hearing. Of course, we already know the man who was performance director of British Cycling at that time, as well as team principal of Team Sky, denies any knowledge of the testosterone package Freeman ordered to the national velodrome in 2011, and which a tribunal has now ruled he did “knowing or believing” that it was to be used to dope a rider.
Many have wondered aloud how that can be given Brailsford’s famously meticulous approach. However, it must be said no one – not Freeman, not Shane Sutton, not the psychiatrist Dr. Steve Peters, not the physio Phil Burt who first discovered the package – has ever claimed otherwise.
But even if he was in the dark, that poses other troubling questions. Shouldn’t he have been on top of this? Why did no one think to alert him to the existence of what amounted to a ticking time bomb on his premises? A time bomb which, if it ever went off, could lead to precisely the sort of backlash we are now seeing.
So many questions. Why was Brailsford not briefed by Peters? British Cycling’s former head of medicine was told of the Testogel immediately upon its arrival. Why did Peters not a) alert UK Anti-Doping immediately and b) not confiscate it or send the Testogel back himself? Peters’ explanation to the tribunal was that he did not need to tell Brailsford about the package. Instead, he said he trusted Freeman to send it back and asked him to get written proof that he had done. He then did not ask to see that proof until five months later.
When Freeman did finally get written proof for Peters, of course, it was a lie; a cover-up. He “panicked” and “compromised” Trish Meats, his contact at Oldham-based medical suppliers Fit4Sport, asked her to email him stating that she had sent the package in error. It was that lie that eventually led to UK Anti-Doping finding out about the Testogel and, in turn, the GMC investigation, which is still rumbling on even after Friday’s ruling, with Freeman’s fitness-to-practice next up for review.
None of this looks suitable for Brailsford, who once again is facing mounting pressure. Where was he in all of this? What does he make of Friday’s ruling that Freeman ordered the testosterone “knowing or believing” it was for the purpose of doping? Can we really be expected to believe that no one else at Team Sky knew what he was up to?
We’re still waiting to hear. Brailsford remains silent. While MPs including Damian Collins and Clive Efford have called for Brailsford “and anyone else in charge at British Cycling and Team Sky at the time” to be suspended pending an investigation, all we have had is a brief statement from Team Ineos (nee Sky) acknowledging Freeman fell “short of the ethical standards required of him as a doctor and acted dishonestly”. The information added: “The team does not believe that any athlete ever used or sought to use Testogel or any other performance-enhancing substance. No evidence has been provided that this ever happened.
“We will continue to give our full support and cooperation to Ukad, as we have done throughout this process, as they continue to investigate his conduct. We will not be making any further comment.” Brailsford knows that will not wash. That he will be required to give a fuller response, and not just to Ukad as it continues its almost certainly doomed investigation into who may have been the intended recipient or recipients of the Testogel. But this has always been his pattern; alternately speaking up or shutting up.
What he will not do, though, is stand down. That may surprise some considering Friday’s bombshell finding, but the truth is precise as Ineos stated in their statement: there is no evidence of doping. Only a smoking gun. Many have failed to understand that the Medical Practitioners Services Tribunal’s purpose was not to establish whether doping had taken place.
It was to establish whether Freeman had ordered the drugs “knowing or believing” that was the intention. In the end, the panel determined, on the balance of probabilities (this was not a criminal case, remember, so there was a lower burden of proof), that he had. It is for Ukad to establish the rest.
Brailsford will indeed not walk unless they do. If he did not go in 2016 after the Fancy Bears exposed Sir Bradley Wiggins’ use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions – something even Shane Sutton, Wiggins’ coach at the time, described as “unethical” and which MPs concluded amounted to “gaming the system”; if he did not go after the “Jiffy bag” saga.
Should he? That is the troubling thing about this entire affair. The Freeman hearing was ugly. It was tawdry. It painted a dysfunctional picture of British Cycling and Team Sky at the time. It has undoubtedly destroyed poor Freeman’s career, assuming he does not successfully appeal, a subject on which he needs to decide before his hearing finishes on May 5. But at the end of it, we are still mainly in the dark. Who did Freeman order the drugs for? Did he really wash those gels down the sink? Are we honestly expected to believe he acted alone?
Until or unless Ukad can establish the answers to those questions, innocent riders will be unfairly tarnished by Friday’s verdict. Keyboard warriors will write off a golden generation. And Brailsford can continue to insist there is no evidence of any doping having taken place.