The department for culture, media and sport select committee (DCMS) have this week, under the protection of parliamentary privilege, issued a damning indictment of Team Sky and Sir Bradley Wiggins, by suggesting they used performance enhancing drugs under the guise of treating a legitimate medical condition in order to win the 2012 Tour de France.
Wiggins immediately described the findings as “malicious” and claims he was 100 per cent clean.
This is the latest development in the long running government investigation begun in 2016 looking into how Team Sky - who professed not to use forbidden drugs - came to allow Wiggins the use of the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone to treat his allergies.
Clearly, no matter badly things are stacking up against Wiggins and Team Sky, this latest and most serious allegation sprung on us by the Select Committee begs the question, have they overstepped the mark?
Except no news report I have seen is asking.
To criticise the team’s ethics over the sanctioned use of a known performance enhancing drug to treat an allergy while competing is one thing.
To now accuse them – on the basis of “evidence from an anonymous source” -of using this medication for the “express purpose of allowing Wiggins, and possibly support riders, to take powerful corticosteroids to prepare for the Tour de France,” is different, far more serious, matter entirely.
It is clear that Sky have dug themselves into a deep hole over their handling of this investigation, claiming, for instance, that riders’ medical records were lost. Team boss Sir Dave Brailsford’s holier than thou attitude got up a lot of noses.
As for Shane Sutton, Wiggins coach at the time, by admitting on television they would consider a TUE if it provided a marginal gain did their case no good at all.
It is perfectly understandable to think the worst of them.
But surely, until that anonymous person is revealed and the evidence they provided the Select Committee is presented for the “defence” to respond to, it cannot be right for the select committee to go public with such serious accusations?
I sought the opinion of a legal acquaintance, a respected cycling official, and he described the DCMS as: “amateurs passing judgement on a professional sport where the rules and practice are alien to them.”
He reminds us that Wiggins and Sky were acting within the rules of the sport and although those rules may be ethically dubious, they applied equally to Wiggins' fellow competitors in the TdF peloton who may have been competing on the same basis, that is, some of them perhaps, also on TUEs.
He suggests that the DCMS slant on the facts is intended to create controversy - since it is quite clear that morally the UCI’s rules are almost impossible to morally justify.
However they are the rules under which the sport is governed and therefore legally define the correct practice, he told me.
“In over 50 years of legal experience I have found countless examples of the law being contrary to ethics or morals. However the law always prevails no matter how morally unjustifiable it may be.”
He makes the point that the DCMS are powerless to intervene as the law relating to the UCI and the Grand Tours is that of the country where the events take place and not within their jurisdiction.
“In those circumstances,” he says, “it seems to me downright cowardly to use their parliamentary privilege to libel people when they are otherwise powerless to intervene.”
How did we get here?
In case you missed it, this is the Team Sky TUES story which came to light in 2016 when confidential medical information was hacked and leaked to the world by the so-called Fancy Bears - thought to be Russian.
TUES (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) permit an athlete to take, for medicinal purposes, a banned drug he would otherwise not be permitted to take.
I share the view, as do a number of professional riders, that anyone who needs a powerful drug to treat allergies in order to enable them to continue competing should not be competing, they should be resting. But the rules allow it.
In Wiggins case the drug was a powerful steroid known to enhance performance. Wiggins use of this drug while racing was sanctioned by all the relevant sports authorities. So his use of it was unquestionably legal. The question then became was it ethical to use a powerful drug in a team boasting they ride clean?
That’s what kick-started this sorry saga which has besmirched reputations.
Clearly, Team Sky’s whiter than white image was now tinged grey.
When asked if by taking this drug for his breathing allergies could Wiggin’s performance also have been enhanced when he won the 2012 Tour, Brailsford said he couldn’t know if it was or it wasn’t. So that was the first great unknown. And with it came the doubt.
And then along came the second unknown, a tip off to the Daily Mail about a jiffy bag containing something or other being flown out to France for Team Sky at the Criterium du Dauphine in 2011. What did it contain? No one was saying. So more suspicion. More doubt.
And then, under pressure from the MPs, Brailsford claims it contained a harmless medicine.
But there was no way to verify this since the team doctor’s lap top containing medical records had been stolen…..
And then…just when you think it can’t get any worse, another story breaks late in 2017, this time concerning Sky’s four times Tour de France champion Chris Froome who had an “adverse analytical finding” during that year’s Tour of Spain which he won.
Now he is under investigation following a test which recorded twice the legal level of the asthma medication, Salbutamol.