Michael Pavitt

Explosive and damning have been the two words most commonly uttered when summarising the Combatting Doping in Sport report, published in Britain last week by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Nearly a week on and its conclusions are still dominating the sport pages in Britain, having shamed some of the grandest sporting achievers.

However, did it really tell us anything that we did not already know?

The lead line on athletics was that International Association of Athletics Federations President Sebastian Coe was accused of misleading Parliament. Well, the MPs conclusion was apparent from about halfway through Dave Bedford’s evidence over a year ago.

While it is obviously not a positive to have that accusation against you in a Parliamentary report, the IAAF chief has been able to point to their strong stance on Russia and reforms to the organisation in his defence. There is almost the sense that the report’s findings would blow over, particularly given its assessment of Team Sky, which has garnered most of the headlines.

In the greatest achievement of the Fancy Bears' scatter-gun approach of leaking documents, the Members of Parliament increased the smoke billowing out of the Team Sky death star with their conclusion, despite not providing a smoking gun.

The MPs report is certainly interesting and it is positive that they have been prepared to delve into issues surrounding some of the leading lights of sport in the country. Contrast that to the Russian response to their doping scandal or the sheer reluctance in Spain to get to the bottom of Operacion Puerto over the years, much to the frustration of their own anti-doping agency.

The Parliamentary Select Committee have not brought much more evidence to the table beyond what journalists have already done brilliantly in bringing to light.

Sir Bradley Wiggins has been at the centre of claims made in an MPs report ©Getty Images
Sir Bradley Wiggins has been at the centre of claims made in an MPs report ©Getty Images

Clearly, concerns over the use of therapeutic use exemptions (TUE) at Team Sky remain, as well as the mystery package delivered at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine. What has been presented is an image of the team operating in grey areas, with questions over ethics. 

While they have not been able to find any evidence of any anti-doping rule violation or anything that would legitimately stand up in a sporting court, the MPs have rendered a judgement in the court of public opinion.

"We believe that this powerful corticosteroid [triamcinolone] was being used to prepare Bradley Wiggins, and possibly other riders supporting him, for the Tour de France," the report’s key conclusion stated. "The purpose of this was not to treat medical need, but to improve his power-to-weight ratio ahead of the race."

The newspaper that provided stick on sideburns to celebrate Bradley Wiggins' Tour de France triumph at London 2012, led with “Wiggo Doping Shock” on their front page as a result.

While Team Sky have strongly denied wrongdoing, their lack of medical records and differing accounts when providing evidence has left people to fill in the blanks. Had they provided those, they could have nipped this in the bud in, well, a jiffy.

However irresponsibly it seems the MPs have rendered their judgement, published under Parliamentary privilege, there is no question that Team Sky have had the whiter than white image they founded themselves upon, damaged beyond repair.

There has been much soul searching from people as to whether more should have been done to tackle Team Sky’s hypocrisy at the start, with assertions that the reputations of its principal Sir David Brailsford and Wiggins ever truly recover, even if they prove there was no wrongdoing.

Clearly, they will never regain the trust of everyone, just as Chris Froome will never have full faith regardless of the outcome of his salbutamol case.

In truth, they never really had it. Wiggins railed against comparisons between Sky and US Postal during the 2012 Tour, while Froome has fended off accusations after his donkey to race horse transformation.

The Sun newspaper celebrated Sir Bradley Wiggins' Tour de France victory in 2012 but have now helped turn the public against him following the publication of the Combatting Doping in Sport report last week ©The Sun
The Sun newspaper celebrated Sir Bradley Wiggins' Tour de France victory in 2012 but have now helped turn the public against him following the publication of the Combatting Doping in Sport report last week ©The Sun

It is the same with every sport.

You can scour through twitter and there are accounts that constantly cast scorn on any victory by an athlete, which seems an equally as unhealthy way to view sport as those who view athletes and teams as white knights.

You ultimately choose your own narrative.

Some view Lance Armstrong as the biggest doping cheat in sport, while there are still those who claim stripping him of his Tour de France titles was wrong as he was the best of an era where there was widespread cheating.

Alberto Contador was shunned by some but roared on by others, with his farewell victory at last year’s Vuelta a España celebrated as a fitting farewell. David Millar is another disliked by some, but heralded as the standard bearer for the reformed drug cheat by others. Stages of races have been dedicated to fallen heroes, who have been exposed in the past.

In athletics, is Justin Gatlin the villain of the piece or a redemptive story? Britain’s Dwain Chambers was viewed sympathetically towards the end of his career by many journalists. By comparison, my Grandad chanted "drug cheat" at him throughout the duration of one of his races. Thank god he was a sprinter, not a marathon runner.

Sport and spectator’s relationship with doping controversies is inherently hypocritical, with opinions differing from person to person.

Athletics and cycling are shamed in the MPs report into doping in sport, but these are the two sports with arguably a hypersensitive view on anything that might be deemed an offence. 

If you had said a decade ago that the biggest controversy in cycling would be around backdated TUEs and grey areas, I am sure those involved in the sport would have bitten you hand off. As damaging an episode as it is, Festina it is not.

Britain's Dwain Chambers is among those to have divided public opinion regarding doping cases ©Getty Images
Britain's Dwain Chambers is among those to have divided public opinion regarding doping cases ©Getty Images

Last week a clenbuterol positive in boxing was blamed on contaminated meat, with reaction being more concerned with the fight being able to go ahead, rather than treating it as a scandal. Olympic super heavyweight boxing champion Tony Yoka was given a one-year suspended ban for four whereabouts failures in 12 months.

In the past year, Premier League club’s Bournemouth, West Ham United and this year’s runaway leaders Manchester City have been fined for whereabouts sanctions.

Given that Team Sky’s medical record keeping is being rightly criticised, it seems hypocritical that barely anyone has batted an eyelid to these cases.

There is also the irony that having been found not to have lived up to the standards they set themselves, Team Sky have been told to join the Movement for Credible Cycling. An organisation a couple of teams in previous years have left or been thrown out of for not abiding to its rules when push came to shove.

One wonders where this all goes next, particularly given some of the statements made in the past week.

International Cycling Union (UCI) President David Lappartient called for an investigation into Team Sky’s use of TUEs. You could argue the Frenchman was almost calling for an investigation into the governing body’s own processes, given that 468 TUEs were awarded between 2009 and 2013, let alone the applications that were rejected. Perhaps it might prove to not merely be a Team Sky issue.

We already know the UCI are keen to address issues surrounding TUEs, while Lappartient has repeatedly called for use of corticosteroids and the painkiller tramadol to be banned.

Others have gone further and claimed for TUEs to be banned entirely, which would wave goodbye people suffering from conditions like diabetes from competing in elite sport.

Hopefully more a measured resolution could be reached.

One wonders what the MPs are going to do next. Having published the explosive and damning report, will they be returning to deliver a follow up to see whether concerns are addressed? Will they opt to look into other sports?