Ex-British Cycling and Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman ordered Testogel “knowing or believing that it was to be administered to an athlete to improve their athletic performance,” a medical tribunal has found, in a ruling that could have major ramifications for both organisations.
Freeman had admitted all but four of the 22 charges brought against him by the General Medical Council (GMC), and had claimed that the testosterone patches delivered to the National Cycling Centre in Manchester in May 2011 were intended for former Team Sky and British Cycling coach Shane Sutton, whom the doctor alleged suffered from erectile dysfunction.
He maintained that the Australian – who vehemently denied Freeman’s claims – had bullied him into ordering the patches, but in its decision announced today, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service said that the doctor had constructed an “elaborate falsehood” in an attempt to “conceal his conduct.”
The tribunal’s chair, Neil Dalton, said: “In May 2011, Dr Freeman, the team doctor for a team of elite cyclists and a member of the anti-doping working group, ordered a doping ‘drug of choice’ for that sport. Upon its arrival he was dishonest about why it had been sent, removed it from the Velodrome, and it was never seen again.”
He added that the tribunal had “found that Dr Freeman has been dishonest in its regard ever since.”
There is no indication in the tribunal’s decision of the identity of the rider or riders the Testogel patches may have been intended for.
The tribunal in Manchester will reconvene next Wednesday 17 March to determine whether Freeman’s misconduct impaired his fitness to practise.
Last month UK Anti-doping (Ukad) charged Freeman with two anti-doping rule violations relating to the testosterone patches.
> Dr Richard Freeman charged with violating anti-doping rules
Ukad interviewed the doctor in 2017 as part of its investigation into alleged wrongdoing at British Cycling and Team Sky.
> Ukad confirms Team Sky and British Cycling will not face charges over Jiffy bag delivered to Sir Bradley Wiggins at 2011 Criterium du Dauphine
The anti-doping agency's probe was related to the contents of a package delivered to the doctor on the final day of the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine, and containing medicine for Bradley Wiggins, who won the race.
In 2016, Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford told a parliamentary enquiry that the package, taken to France from Manchester by a British Cycling employee, contained the decongestant fluimucil, to treat Wiggins' hay fever.
British Cycling was unable to provide evidence of records to back that up, and with Ukad unable to determine exactly what was in the package, the investigation was closed.
In response to today's decision, British Cycling CEO, Brian Facer, said:
I thank the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service panel for the time and efforts they have made to reach this decision. As a co-referrer in this case, British Cycling believes it was in the public interest and in the best interests of our sport that the allegations against Dr Richard Freeman were heard and examined openly by the MPTS.
The verdict of the panel confirms British Cycling’s own findings that he had failed in his duties as a doctor and supports our decision to refer him to the GMC for further investigation.
The finding that the 2011 delivery of testosterone gel was intended for the illegal enhancement of a rider’s performance is extremely disturbing. We leave any further action in respect of this to UK Anti-Doping, whose work will have our wholehearted support.
The wider actions of Dr Freeman described in the tribunal fall a mile short of the standards we expect. Since suspending Dr Freeman from his employment by British Cycling four years ago, we have made substantial changes to the way we provide medical services to riders competing for Great Britain, amid much wider improvements to our governance which we believe now put us at the forefront of our sector. These measures include:
The achievement of CQC status, meaning the Great Britain Cycling Team medical team are held to the same standards as hospitals – with regular audits of their work, similar to an OFSTED inspection
A Clinical Governance Committee which oversees the Great Britain Cycling Team’s medical team and reports to the British Cycling Board
A new Code of Conduct for all medical and performance support staff
An audited medical record-keeping and medicines management policy
A new concussion protocol; now widely adopted by our fellow national federations
The establishment of an Integrity Committee, accountable to the board, to oversee all ethical issues relating to British Cycling's work, including anti-doping, compliance and safeguarding
Cardiac screening protocols in a research partnership with Liverpool John Moores University; and
A new Mental Health and Wellbeing strategy to include better education and early intervention for academy riders entering the programme.
This is a day for sober reflection and we know that will be felt by the thousands of people who race their bikes in this country and love our sport, from the Great Britain Cycling Team to the grassroots. We also know that they will share our view that all those who work in our sport must adhere to the highest standards of ethical behaviour.
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