An MPs’ report was wrong to “pinpoint” Sir Bradley Wiggins for “crossing an ethical line”, Sir Steve Redgrave says.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee report said cyclist Wiggins and Team Sky got permission to take banned drugs for medical need but used them to enhance performance.
Wiggins, who has asthma, and Team Sky have rejected the report’s findings.
And Redgrave said the fact no rules were broken meant the problem lay with the system, not Wiggins or his team.
“To me, it’s black and white. It’s either a positive drug test and you are cheating or you’re not cheating and everything’s OK,” former rower and five-time Olympic gold medallist Redgrave told BBC Radio 5 live’s Sportsweek programme.
What the report said
Wiggins and Team Sky received therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) – permission to take otherwise banned drugs for medical use – to treat the 2012 Tour de France winner’s asthma with anti-inflammatory drug triamcinolone. The drug is legal to use out of competition.
Wiggins, 37, was granted TUEs to take the corticosteroid shortly before the 2011 Tour de France, his 2012 Tour win and the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
He took it up to nine times over a four-year period, said the report, which was produced following a lengthy inquiry into doping in sport.
This was done “not to treat medical need, but to improve his power-to-weight ratio ahead of the race” as the drug has “powerful” performance-enhancing properties, it added.
Former Team Sky and British Cycling coach Shane Sutton told the committee “what Brad was doing was unethical but not against the rules”.
UCI president David Lappartient told BBC sports editor Dan Roan last week he wanted the governing body to investigate whether Team Sky broke anti-doping rules after the report’s “unacceptable” findings.
Were any rules broken?
No rules were broken – but the matter has raised questions over how cycling – and other sports – are governed, said Redgrave.
“I’m a diabetic and the last three years of my international career I needed insulin. Without it I wouldn’t have been able to compete. You take what you need to and it’s down to the rule makers to decide is that a banned drug or not – do you need a TUE to get that?” said Redgrave, winner of gold medals at five consecutive Olympic Games between 1984 and 2000.
“In 2012 when he won the Tour de France then a few weeks later was competing in the Olympics, there didn’t seem to be a problem with what he was doing, he passed all the drug tests at that stage.”
And Redgrave told select committee chairman Damian Collins the report’s focus should have been on a system that allows athletes to take drugs then questions their ethics for doing so.
“You should be questioning the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency [Wada], of UK Anti-Doping [Ukad], and all the agencies and not pinpointing an individual,” the 55-year-old said.
“If the system’s wrong, we change the system. If this drug shouldn’t be used for the treatment that it is and if it has enhancing properties, get it on to the banned list, it’s as simple as that.
“People keep saying Team Sky haven’t done anything wrong but have stepped over the ethical line but if they’ve got all the right paper to prove they haven’t done anything wrong then the system’s wrong.
“If there is this grey area which has been introduced recently over the ethics of it – it’s legal or it’s not, simple as that – take away the grey area.”
Collins said Wada and Ukad had been questioned by his committee and that the report did question the framework sport – particularly cycling – was operating in.
“We’re not saying he’s broken the rules, he’s operating within the rules – we are questioning those rules,” Collins said.
“Why don’t we tighten the rules to get rid of these ethical grey areas?
“I was interested to hear the president of the UCI saying they may look into it further. If any further action is to be taken, it should be taken by people within the sport,” he told the programme.
Is the funding system to blame?
Redgrave believes the way sport in the UK is funded played a part in the issue. UK Sport and Sport England fund elite and grassroots-level sport respectively, distributing National Lottery cash. And more success leads to more money.
“At my first two Olympics in 1984 and 1988 there was one person employed to look after the whole rowing team and now there are over 50 and that’s because of the money, the support we get through Sport England, UK Sport, through the lottery, to be able to enhance the team and produce medals,” Redgrave said.
“Depending on how you do at the Olympics depends on how much you are likely to get for the next four-year cycle. So this plays a slight part in it because if you perform badly at the Olympics your funding will get cut, then you will be struggling to stay on the podium and win medals.
“That has to be looked at. Is there too much pressure of paying all those people? All the coaches are professional, all the support staff are professional.”
Collins agrees and thinks UK Sport could be doing more to ensure the will to win does not compromise ethics.
“There’s a duty UK Sport should have here,” he said.
“My concern is they give the money to the sport and if the sport is hitting medal targets they don’t ask any questions. They need to play a bigger role checking on what national governing bodies are doing, checking on medicines policy, checking that the ethical guidelines are being followed and how the results are being achieved. I don’t see much evidence of that and I think that is a failure in the system.
“We need to look at the medicines athletes are allowed to take and remove those drugs where academics and medical experts acknowledge the performance-enhancing properties it has. Let’s get rid of the ambiguity. But there have to be proper rules in place to check what athletes are taking and why.”
UK Sport has promised to consider the report’s recommendations.