And so the whole sorry Sky saga staggers on with the publication of the Commons Select Committee report into doping in sport. Their investigation of British Cycling and Sky is only one part of the report, but it is the part that has garnered the most headlines. But one has to ask – why? What precisely is their criticism and what is it that Wiggo is supposed to have done? Our national hero, greatest living Olympian, inventor of the sideburn, 2012 Tour de France winner – what has he done that is so wrong?
The committee accepts that he has done nothing illegal, and yet the headlines in the papers, the stories in the news, the Newsnight interviews, the comments of Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, all seem to suggest that this man, this tallest of tall poppies, is to be brought low; our greatest ever champion is no longer the hero we thought he was and his feats are of clay.
But are they really? The report suggests that Wiggins took Triamcinolone, under a TUE, when he wasn’t really ill and that this was a key factor in his wining the Tour de France. Wiggins accepts and admits that he has an asthma problem; so do a lot of cyclists, a lot of swimmers, a lot of professional sports people. Is he lying? Does he really have asthma? I don’t know, but I’m happy to believe that he does. Should he have taken Triamcinolone? Again, I don’t know; trust me, I’m not a doctor.
He says that he consulted his doctor and it was prescribed. It can be used as a performance enhancer – one of the side effects is believed to be that it leads to weight loss with no loss of power. And there is no doubt that Wiggins at the Tour de France in 2012 was seriously deficient in weight but still capable of serious power. But is that a sign of taking Triamcinolone or is it a sign of serious training, up and down Mt Teide in Tenerife? I prefer to believe that it’s the latter. And in any case, the Triamcinolone was taken under a TUE, a Therapeutic Use Exemption, accepted and approved by the UCI. Again, Wiggins was not the only athlete or the only cyclist, then or since, to have a TUE.
So, why the criticism? And what does it mean to say that he crossed an ethical boundary. The committee has no proof that he took Triamcinolone without being actually ill. There’s nothing unethical about having a TUE, there’s nothing unethical about taking a medicine that is going to assist his asthma, there’s nothing unethical in what Wiggins has done at all. If there is criticism to be made, and there is criticism to be made, it is of Team Sky and their lamentable record-keeping. Who can say why their record-keeping was so poor? Who can say why their governance procedures did nothing to check whether the elusive, reclusive, seriously unmemorable and un-remembering Dr Freeman – he of the stolen lap-top – prescribed the medicine that he did? (Well, the GMC may, but we’ll have to wait for them). He seems unable to have maintained the basic records and this may well be something that brings Sky down, and in some respects, it deserves to bring Sky down. Brailsford set up Sky on the basis that they would be a clean team, the first team that one could truly believe in, the first team one could truly trust.
And yet over the years, there has been a litany of what can only be described as stupid, stupid, mistakes; and as the old Japanese proverb has it – once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time is enemy action. There have too many problems within the Team Sky set-up, but that doesn’t mean that an individual athlete, like Wiggins, is guilty of doping. What it means it that he worked for a team whose desire to win led to them, not necessarily cutting corners and doping their athletes, but cutting corners and not maintaining proper records, cutting corners in not having effective governance procedures, cutting corners in not checking on what their doctors were actually doing. Brailsford’s argument that this was in some way connected with medical confidentiality just doesn’t hold water and Brailsford himself, I’m afraid, has run his course. His achievements are legendary, what he did with British Cycling and what he did with Team Sky will always be remembered. But his performance now, his performance in front of the press, his performance in front of the committee, his performance when confronted with a difficult question by a journalist, is poor. It doesn’t mean that he’s lying, it doesn’t mean that he’s got something to hide, it just means that when it comes to doing a key part of his job, he falls short.
Wiggins appeared on the BBC, expressing and maintaining his innocence of any wrong doing. Do I believe him? Yes, I do. Why has he got any reason to lie? (Actually, he has every reason to lie but let’s leave that there). If Wiggins has doped, his career is over, all of his achievements are as nothing, to be ground into dust like the ashes of Armstrong’s career. Now, I know that there are plenty of athletes who thought the risk was worth taking and it probably was, as they didn’t all get caught. But somehow, I don’t believe that Wiggins is one of them and I just hope I’m proved right. Only time will tell.
The newspapers will have a field day, the newspapers have had a field day; the BBC interviewed Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, a man sacked by Team Sky for transgressing doping rules. Was this made clear when the BBC interviewed him? No, it wasn’t. And the usual suspects crop up. David Walsh, who did good work on Lance Armstrong, has always been suspicious of cycling, always believed that there is more to the story – but he’s a journalist, he wants there to be more to the story. If there is no more to the story – David Walsh, himself, is no more. He’s mined this particular vein in the Sunday Times for weeks after weeks of not very interesting journalism. Move on, David, find something new, there’s nothing to see here.
Maybe there is something to see here, but we haven’t seen it yet. Maybe the real story is still to come out. But this, this Select Committee report, this isn’t it, it’s not the real story. Wiggins is not the real story. The Committee Chairman himself, Damian Collins, says on TV – he (Wiggins) did nothing wrong, but he crossed an ethical boundary. Well, MPs certainly know how to cross an ethical boundary; it takes one to know one. But it doesn’t mean that Wiggins has crossed that ethical boundary.
The real problems for Sky, though, are yet to come. Wiggins, after all, never failed a drugs test.
But Froome did.