Cycling in turmoil?
On 19 March 2021, Dr Richard Freeman, the former Team Sky and British Cycling doctor, was permanently struck off the medical register after the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) ruled that his fitness to practise was “impaired by reason of his misconduct”. The striking-off decision follows the Tribunal’s finding on 12 March 2021 that Dr Freeman had ordered banned testosterone gel, Testogel, in 2011, “knowing or believing” it would be administered to an unnamed athlete to improve their performance.
Testosterone is prohibited in the sport at all times (in and out of competition) by the World Anti-Doping Code. The Tribunal found that it “stretched credulity” that a head doctor at a body such as Team Sky or British Cycling would purchase a banned substance without any record of the patient, the circumstances or its eventual use.
Dr Freeman had previously admitted 18 of the 22 charges brought by the General Medical Council (GMC) but denied the central charge regarding the purpose of the Testogel order. Dr Freeman had claimed that he was “bullied” into ordering the Testogel by Shane Sutton, the former British Cycling head coach, to treat his erectile dysfunction. Rejecting that explanation, the Tribunal found that Dr Freeman’s conduct surrounding the order of the Testogel amounted to “a long and considered pattern of very serious dishonesty.”
British Cycling has issued a statement condemning Dr Freeman’s “extremely disturbing” conduct and highlighting their commitment to ensuring that all those working in the sport adhere to “the highest standards of ethical behaviour”. Indeed, since suspending Dr Freeman four years ago, British Cycling has introduced a number of measures designed to maintain ethical standards, including:
- A new Code of Conduct for all medical and performance support staff
- An audited medical record-keeping and medicines management policy
- Acquiring Care Quality Commission status, meaning that the Great Britain Cycling Team medical team are held to the same standards as hospitals, with regular audits of their work
- A Clinical Government Committee which oversees the Great British Cycling Team’s medical team and reports to the British Cycling Board
- The establishment of an Integrity Committee to oversee all ethical issues relating to British Cycling’s work, including anti-doping, compliance and safeguarding
Despite the introduction of such measures, the Tribunal’s findings will no doubt further undermine the public’s confidence in the sport which has suffered from a series of doping scandals in recent memory.
What is clear is that the saga has not yet ended; Dr Freeman has issued a statement in which he disagreed “vehemently” with the determination of the Tribunal and indicated that he would consider exercising his right of appeal to the high court, something his representatives have stated is “highly likely”.
Further revelations may follow, with UK Anti-Doping having now charged Dr Freeman with two violations under the UK Anti-Doping Rules for Possession of Prohibited Substances and/or Prohibited Methods and Tampering or Attempted Tampering with any part of Doping Control. The findings have also reignited calls to identify the rider for whom the Testogel was ordered and any other athletes involved.