The answer is that each has given evidence before DCMS Committee’s Combatting Doping in Sport Enquiry, launched in September 2015. This blog post takes a whistle-stop tour through why that has been necessary and asks, more importantly, what do we still need to know about our British representatives…?
Not even the most loyal fan could deny that Sport has suffered many doping scandals: Balco (athletics and baseball), Festina (cycling), Armstrong (cycling) and Operation Puerto (cycling) to name just a few. However, in December 2014, German broadcaster ARD/WDR published a documentary produced by German investigative journalist Hajo Seppelt. The documentary, ‘Top Secret Doping: How Russia makes its Winners’, was made on the basis of information provided by former Russian 800m runner Yulia Stepanova (nee Rusanova) and her husband Vitaly Stepanov and alleged that up to 99% of Russian athletes were guilty of doping.
That documentary was to be the catalyst to a series of incredible yet terrible doping revelations across a wide spectrum of sports. It was the sporting equivalent of the revelation that sub-prime mortgages packaged together, traded as credit default obligations and bearing an inflated rating were, in fact, worthless.
Following Seppelt’s documentary, it was almost impossible to keep pace with the twists and turns of one of sport’s most startling falls from grace. And it was not just athletics that was to face its unpleasant moment(s) in the sun. A few ‘stand out’ milestones:
- 2 August 2015 – The Sunday Times published a number of articles concerning blood doping in athletics and, in particular, concerning a secret database of blood testing results stored at the Monaco headquarters of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). A whistle-blower had leaked the contents of the database to ARD/WDR giving the Sunday Times and ARD/WDR access to the results of 12,000 blood tests from 5,000 athletes between 2001 and 2012;
- 9 November 2015 – Professor Richard H. McLaren publishes his first report into doping in athletics. Amongst other things, it accuses Russia of ‘State sponsored doping’. Russia is provisionally suspended as a member of IAAF;
- 8 March 2016 – Maris Sharapova, global tennis superstar, admits to failing a drugs test for repeatedly taking Meldonium over a 10 year period. Sharapova is banned by the ITF for 24 months, later reduced to 15 by the CAS, and will be eligible to play again on 25 April 2017;
- 16 June 2016 – WADA publishes its own report that provides details of the evasive and extensive actions Russian athletes took to avoid doping control officers;
- 24 July 2016 – the IOC took a complex decision not to accept the entry of any Russian athlete into the Rio 2016 Olympic Games unless it fulfilled certain criteria, to be assessed by the International Federations. Following criticism of that decision, eligibility to compete was ultimately decided by a three-person IOC panel;
- 7 August 2016 – the IPC took the decision to suspend the Russian Paralympic Committee, a decision upheld by the CAS on 23 August 2017;
- 15 September 2016 – Russian hackers leak WADA Tue lists naming GB cyclists, Team Sky compatriots and former Tour de France champions Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins. Bradley Wiggins’ reputation comes under attack after it is revealed that he required TUEs on three occasions between 2011 and 2013, each before his major race for that season. Team Sky’s ‘zero tolerance’ to doping USP is questioned. It later transpires that an unidentified package was couriered to Wiggins’ doctor, Richard Freeman by Simon Cope, the British Cycling women’s road coach, during the 2011 Tour de France. The package is the subject of a UK Anti-Doping investigation; Brailsford informed the DCMS Committee that the package contained the ‘mucus-clearing drug Fluimucil’ but that has yet to be independently verified;
- 2 December 2016 – Lord Coe, deputy President of IAAF from 2007 to August 2015 when he was elected President, is questioned by the DCMS Committee as to his knowledge of extent of the doping crisis in athletics. During questioning, Coe denies having any explicit knowledge of the extent of Russian doping in athletics prior to Seppelt’s documentary being published. That claim is contradicted by later evidence given by David Bedford OBE who claims he emailed, called and texted Lord Coe on the subject of the Russian whistle-blowers in August 2014. Lord Coe’s previous tenure at IAAF had previously led veteran journalist Jon Snow to accuse Coe of being either ‘asleep on the job or corrupt’; and
- 9 December 2016 – Richard H. McLaren publishes his second report into doping in Russia and confirmed ‘institutionalised manipulation of doping control processes’ and revealed that more than 1,000 Russian athletes were involved in a ‘doping conspiracy’ across 30 sports.
As at 30 January 2017, the DCMS Committee has heard from, amongst others,:
- Sir Craig Reedie, the President of WADA and Olivier Nigglli, WADA’s Director General;
- David Bedford OBE, former Olympic athlete;
- Robert Howden OBE, Dr George Gilbert, Shane Sutton and Sir David Brailsford of British Cycling;
- Dan Stevens, a whistle-blower and Jonathan Calvert, Sunday Times Insight team;
- Ed Warner and Nicole Sapstead, the Chairman and CEO of UK Anti-Doping;
- Lord Coe, IAAF President;
- Nicole Cooke MBE (in writing); and
- British Cycling (in writing).
The DCMS attendees form an impressive list of the ‘who’s who’ in British sport today. Many have been involved in the golden era of British Olympic success that we, the public, have revelled in.
However, despite their appearance, we do not yet have, in this author’s opinion, full (or satisfactory) answers to, at least, the following questions:
- How much did Lord Coe know about the extent of doping in athletics?
- If he was not aware, why, as Vice-President, was that the case?
- If he was aware, why did he take no action?
- What was in the package that was delivered to Bradley Wiggins?
- Why were such extraordinary lengths taken to transport it to France in 2011?
- Given the steps taken to ensure its safe passage, why can nobody fully remember (or verify) what was in that package?
It is legitimate to ask why, after hearing from a number of the key witnesses, these questions are still to be resolved. The answer to that is not straightforward but links to the fact that the DCMS Committee: (i) has no power to compel persons to attend, and (ii) while it is set up to scrutinise actions and hold decision makers to account, the Committee is not a court of law and its output is reportage as opposed to any punitive measures. With ever increasing amounts of public money being spent by leaders in sports organisations, is it time to have an overarching regulatory body with teeth? UK Sport and Sport England’s Code for Sports Governance aims to ensure that every penny of public funding is invested appropriately, transparently and with integrity (see Sports Short’s comments on the code here and here). British Cycling received just over £30m from UK Sport in the last funding cycle to Rio 2016 and Lord Coe was reportedly supported by over £63,000 of UK Sport monies in respect of his IAAF Presidential campaign. UK Sport is an executive non-departmental body sponsored by DCMS. If the DCMS Committee cannot command answers as to the behaviour of those in receipt of its investments, who can?
Lord Coe has been recalled to give further evidence and Simon Cope and Richard Freeman of British Cycling have been invited evidence to the Committee on 22 February 2017. Sports Shorts will be watching to see if its, and the British publics’, questions are fully answered then. The reputation of our sport stars and the wider industry are at stake.