Thursday, 22 December 2016

Just a jiffy


While browsing in one of London’s temples to cycling excellence – Rapha’s cool cycling shop in the West End – I pondered is this as good it gets?  I don’t mean their coffee, which is excellent. Neither do I mean the smart range of clothing which is very expensive – imagine crashing and writing off such costly kit?

No, it’s the future of the sport I worry about.  More specifically it is the damage done and being done by the Team Sky TUEs and mystery package stories under scrutiny by government and UK anti-doping.

All those wonderful performances by British riders these past 16 years have attracted some two million newcomers to the sport. Now these allegations of “possible wrong doing” have put cycling’s reputation on the line.

On Monday, at the Parliamentary committee enquiry, there came a chance to clear the air.

But the explanations provided by our sport’s big wigs failed to satisfy and they found themselves sinking deeper into the mire.

After 10 weeks of prevarication and two hours of cross examination by the Parliament culture, media and sport select committee, they finally got the answer as to what precisely was in that jiffy bag.   

Suddenly, after a lot of stonewalling, Team Sky boss Sir David Brailsford spilt the beans.  It was revealed in a jiffy - if you like!

The contents of the infamous jiffy bag flown out to Team Sky with coach Simon Cope at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine was apparently nothing more terrible than a legal medication called Fluimcil, which is used to rid the airways of mucus. It was for Sir Bradley Wiggins’ use.

And we are all asking ourselves, well, OK, why didn’t you say so before all this shit was kicked up?

They couldn’t, it was claimed, because of medical confidentiality. What?

Or, as the comedian Tony Hancock would be heard to cry when he couldn’t quite believe his ears, “Oh, dear, OH DEAR, oh dearie me.”

After several years of unprecedented success by British cyclists amassing those few dozen gleaming Olympic gold medals, plus the crème de la crème, that historic first Tour victory by a British rider courtesy of Wiggins in 2012, followed by three more Tour victories to revelation Chris Froome, cycling is in the spot light as distinct from the limelight. Cycling is in the dog house.

The Jiffy bag story came about following a Daily Mail allegation a few months ago revealing that a package was delivered to Team Sky in France in June, 2011 and it was claimed that the team official carrying it didn’t know what was in it.

That set tongues wagging. Would you or I accept being asked to carry something through customs if we didn’t know the contents?

That story poured fuel onto the fire already raging over earlier story of Sir Bradley Wiggins’ legal use of a banned steroid in 2011, 2012 and in 2013. 

Eyebrows at UK Anti-Doping were now raised and they launched their investigation into “an allegation of wrong doing in cycling.”

Eventually, Parliament decided to join the party.

This is the Team Sky TUES story, which came to light when confidential medical information was hacked and leaked to the world by the so-called Fancy Bears - thought to be Russian. They were reacting, it is presumed, in revenge for all the flak hitting Russia over WADA’s (World Anti-Doping Agency) accusations of state controlled doping which led to calls for Russians to be banned from the Olympics. Their message is take a look what’s going on in the rest of world, not just in Russia.

TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) permit an athlete to take, for medicinal purposes, a banned drug he would otherwise not be permitted to take.  

In my view, anyone who needs medicine to enable them to continue competing should not be competing, they should be resting.

In Wiggins case the drug was a powerful steroid known to enhance performance. Wiggins was permitted this drug to treat his breathing allergies, we are told.  So its use was legal. But was it ethical?

Immediately, the news provoked outcry because clearly Team Sky had moved from being whiter that white to being tinged with grey.

The question everyone has been asking is, was it ethical for a team fond of telling the world they ride clean, then to allow the use such a powerful steroid?  

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, the Daily Mail story of a jiffy bag flown out to France for Team Sky. 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.

Understandably, he is now being called on to provide independent evidence in support of this claim.

Otherwise this story will run and run.

Especially as the Daily Hate Mail have now got their hooks into Brailsford.

They are alleging that he tried to persuade them not to run story in the first place by offering them another story instead.

Whatever the truth in this, it pains me that it is the Mail putting our sport on the rack. Very clever paper, the Mail, combining good informative features with malicious deceit, such as the grossly exaggerated stories of migrants flooding into Britain which influenced the Brexit vote!

But back to this public relations disaster facing Team Sky and British Cycling.

There can be no doubt that the biggest sports story of the New Millennium, British Cycling’s stupendous rise from nowhere to top UK Olympic sport. And then Team Sky gave us Tour de France champions, all this in one decade. Now it has been overshadowed by – by what exactly?

By allegations of wrong doing but with no actual proof of wrong doing. Certainly Team Sky have spoilt their copybook by allowing a rider legal use of an illegal (in sport) drug. And British Cycling and Team Sky between them have made a mess of their handling of the Jiffy Bag story, giving the impression that they had something to hide?

Yet neither Team Sky nor British Cycling has been found to have broken the rules, no one has failed a dope test.

Brailsford told the committee he is confident that when Ukad report on their findings, it will be clear there has been no wrong doing.

In the meantime, doubt remains.  And doubt – unless cleared up – can be poisonous.