Tuesday, 27 September 2016

TUEs your poison

TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions).  TUEs we are told are required by athletes to treat a medical condition. But this may also enable them to legally use and benefit from drugs which they may otherwise be banned from using.  Which raises the question, is this ethical?

That is the question.  And we have the Fancy Bears leak to thank for this, for exposing the medical records of many athletes across the world.  

Fancy Bears, it is thought, hacked this information online on behalf of the Russians smarting from being accused  of operating a state run doping system which led to various of their athletes being banned from the Olympic Games when hey, why let dopers from other countries off the hook.  Fair enough.

Caught up in the poisonous fall out of these revelations is the most famous British Olympian of all time, our very own top bikie, the charismatic Sir Bradley Wiggins who, when riding for Team Sky, had a TUE when he became the first Brit to win the Tour de France on 2012. Also in 2011 and 2013.

It must be said that Wiggins and Team Sky insist they have acted within the rules in applying for TUEs.

TUEs! This  arrangement has been agreed to by all the agencies concerned –  the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the international sports governing bodies.  It was decided it can be only fair to allow medical treatment for athletes with  allergies and/or ailments, such as asthma.

But now  everyone is asking, well it may be legal but is it moral if, by taking certain drugs legally, athletes are unfairly, perhaps knowingly, enhancing their performance?

No we are not, cry the athletes.

But are they in a position to judge?

Is a by-product of a TUE also a means of extending the marginal gains achieved through diet and nutrients and equipment and clothing and so allowing the athlete into forbidden territory?  

Are the athletes themselves so completely wrapped up in their own world of training and racing that they can no longer see why TUEs are being considered wrong – morally.

Wiggo has been put on the spot.

He looked ill at ease when featured in a pre-recorded interview for Sunday’s Andrew Marr show. But Wiggo got off lightly, it was felt, because Marr failed to press him over his explanation for the three TUEs he was permitted in 2011, 2012 and 2013 which allowed him to take the powerful and banned corticosteroid, triamcinolone.

Those TUEs were to “cure a medical condition” Wiggins explained. “This wasn’t about trying to find a way to gain an unfair advantage; this was about putting myself back on a level playing field in order to compete at the highest level.”

Owen Gibson in The Guardian the next day (September 26) delved more deeply into the enigma.  Wiggins, in explaining his need for TUEs to Marr,   said he had really struggled with respiratory problems in the run-up to the 2012 Tour.

But, as Gibson pointed out in his article, he’d said nothing about that in his autobiography.   Wiggins had been in the form of his life, only been ill once or twice with minor colds; he’d barely lost a day’s training.

On the other hand, I am thinking, by the time he came to write his autobiography, had the issue of those respiratory problems paled into insignificance in his own mind, when he came to look back at what he had achieved that year?

And three weeks on the Tour can feel like an age, in a good way, mind.  But those three weeks seem like a lot longer than   three weeks at home, with each day divided up into all those compartments, breakfast, getting to the start, warming up, the stage itself – hours of riding – then the warming down, the podium, the press calls, driving to the hotel,  massage, meal, set up for the tomorrow, bed. Three weeks of that.

One day on Le Tour is a week doing anything else.

Not making excuses for him, mind. But when you look back, it’s always the good things you remember.  You gloss over the bad bits.

Wiggo may also simply have left that episode out because it spoilt the story. A film maker may do that. If they are trying to portray a superman you don’t include bits which show he’s human, like the rest of us.

That had been fantastic season, remember? Wiggins had practiced for taking the yellow jersey in the Tour by winning three prestigious stage races that season: Paris – Nice, the Tour of Romandie, and the Criterium du Dauphine. No Tour winner had previously won all three in the same year.

Then after Le Tour, he wins the Olympic time trial title.

Sod mentioning the breathing issues. Doesn’t fit the picture.

But then there is the contradiction about needles, they don’t fit the picture either.  When he said in that autobiography he wouldn’t take needles that was a reference to needles for doping, he explained. Not to be confused with needles used to inject 40mg of the banned drug triamcinolone - allowed him under a TUE on the way to his 2012 Tour de France victory.

And so the story rolls on.

The following day’s papers carried interviews with Team Sky boss Sir David Brailsford who robustly defended Wiggins and said  that Team Sky did nothing wrong over TUEs.

On the question of whether an injection of a powerful corticosteroid provided Wiggins with performance enhancing benefits that helped him to the 2012 Tour de France victory, Brailsford said, that “the question was more about whether it mitigated the illness that he presented for. I just don’t think it’s possible to answer that.”

So doubt remains.  In which case, maybe TUEs should be cast into Room 101.

I must admit I was quite taken aback when I first learned some years ago now, that a great many athletes from different sports are registered as asthmatics, including cyclists and a great many cross country skiers. Because I thought, how does anyone compete when they have asthma?

My memory is of a teenager who had asthma and how his condition prevented him taking part in schools sports. He struggled if he ran for a bus.

So I have difficulty squaring that vision of a weakened young man with top athletes who also claim to have asthma, yet who can compete at international level, in the world’s toughest events.

Does asthma affect people in varying degrees? I suppose it must.

What did athletes so affected do before there were TUEs?

I don’t know. Give up; get dropped, probably, when they had a bad turn.

But now they can get a TUE, and take medicines for their condition and so keep on running and riding at the front of the race.

The question being asked is, what is the dosage allowed them? And is that dosage performance enhancing?  The answer is always no.

Will the public buy this? Who knows?

If they don’t, will it mean that the fabulous Gold Rush by British cyclists is to become tainted by the revelations about the legal but morally questionable use of medicinal aids taken by Britain’s most famous Olympian Sir Bradley Wiggins? Is the story of the century about to unravel?

It is two decades since British Cycling raised itself from the ashes of its near bankrupt former self to become the UK’s most successful Olympic sport in history. They ushered in a new age, gave us hope after the disgraceful and shocking drug-fuelled career of Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories (1999- 2005).

The sport of cycling in the UK transformed itself  and British riders became world beaters on the track and, with Team Sky, made history winning Le Tour while all the time proclaiming themselves to be clean.

Sunday, 18 September 2016


GOOD news.  This makes a change.

This weekend we hear of tougher penalties for drivers who commit the very dangerous offence of using hand-held mobile phones and also how West Midlands Police are to prosecute drivers who do not give cyclists a wide berth when overtaking them. The Highway Code says drivers should give cyclists a metre and half space when overtaking.

But few do, and most pass too close for comfort.

As for the millions of drivers who regularly use hand-held mobile phones while driving, doubling the fine to £60 and dishing out three penalty points on the driving licence is still too lenient. Because at that rate, a driver can be caught using a mobile another four times before losing their licence.

And that’s if he or she is ever caught again! Which is not very likely given that the police don’t have the manpower to be policing the roads?

Still, the increased penalty is to be welcomed because it will draw attention to this huge and very irresponsible problem.

Inspector Brian Rogers, of Cheshire Road Policing, said on The Guardian Blog:  'After the initial flush of publicity throughout the country when the new mobile phone law was introduced in December 2004, many drivers took heed and we issued few fines.

'Drivers are now lapsing back to using their mobile phones at the wheel. In Cheshire, we held a two-month enforcement campaign during early summer and the number of fines issued to drivers using hand-held phones has increased by an astounding 1,000% plus.'

Many people do not appear to understand that using a mobile phone when driving renders a driver’s response times to worse than if he was drunk.  The effect of talking to remote person as distinct from a passenger in the same vehicle is completely different. Talking on the phone cuts you off from the reality of what’s going on the other side of the windscreen. It is not the same as twiddling the radio tuner.

As for texting, which means you have taken your eyes off the road, anyone caught texting at the wheel should be banned from driving for life.

The scientific findings into the effects of mobile phone use on your behaviour are accepted worldwide which is why many countries have outlawed their use by drivers. And the only reason hands free phones were not banned as well is because police said it would be nigh on impossible to detect if someone was using hands-free at the wheel.

But having a law prohibiting mobile phone use by drivers is next to useless if there are no cops out there looking for offenders. And we know that the police numbers are down due to government cuts.

So this means most drivers will continue to get away with it. And that it is more than likely that the only time a driver will find himself in court for using a phone is after he’s had a collision and the police called!

Meanwhile West Midlands Police in partnership with Birmingham City Council are taking action to tackle another serious safety threat, prosecuting drivers who pass too close to cyclists.

The West Midlands trials were carried out by police traffic officer Mark Hodson in mufti, cycling along a road towards where a colleague in a police car lay in wait. Any driver who past Hodson giving him less than the 1.5 metres recommended space was pulled up.  Drivers who pass cyclists really close are reckoned to be doing what the police term a “punishment pass”!

Drivers pulled over were then “offered” a choice: prosecution or 15 minutes education on how to overtake a cyclist safely.

During the trial which lasted four days 80 people were pulled over for passing too close.

The worst drivers, or those who repeat the offence, simply faced prosecution. 38 drivers are to face prosecution.

The worrying thing is in that most cases drivers were not looking out for cyclists. Two drivers when pulled over, said, “What cyclist.”

West Midlands police say that in about 98 per cent of cases, collisions in this area were down to driver action, nothing at all to do with the cyclist.

Following the trial, West Midlands Police plan an initial three-month blitz in pulling drivers over and educating them on the error of their ways. They will then move to enforcement and anyone caught not giving a cyclist the recommended wide berth will be prosecuted.

The problem is to be taken as seriously as drink driving offences.

Cycling UK, the national cyclists’ organisation, praised West Midlands police, saying this is the best ever cycling safety initiative by a police force.

Some 530 cyclists have been seriously injured or killed on West Midland's roads over the four years.