Cycling: How crisis-ridden Team Sky can restore their shredded credibility

William Fotheringham
The Guardian

It might seem incongruous given recent events but late in 2012 Dave Brailsford took soundings among journalists as he sought to “reboot” Team Sky in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. I was among those whose views he asked for. At the time Brailsford was going through something of a crisis over quite how to implement the team’s zero tolerance of past doping offences and the connections with those in the milieu who had a doping past.

I forwarded Brailsford some ideas and I am sure the mere fact I did this will be cited by some as a classic example of a journalist getting far too close to his subject. I did not see it that way and I still don’t: it was an interesting academic exercise, which made me think around the whole area, and Brailsford had a perfect right to ignore what I said. I do not think it coloured my reporting of Team Sky, Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Those ideas were pretty obvious and centred on building trust: they included an independent audit of the entire team, beefed up internal anti-doping tests and bio passport monitoring, independently scrutinised by someone totally detached from the team. I cited a couple of names as examples of the kind of people who might be good for the independent auditor role, one from within business, one from anti-doping. I underlined the need for consistency and transparency.

Which leads naturally to a burning question of today: what can Brailsford and Team Sky do to restore their collective reputation after last Monday’s devastating DCMS report? How can they rebuild their credibility from ground zero? There have been calls aplenty for Brailsford to resign: that should be the first step as I – and others – wrote 12 months ago. The reason is simple: Team Sky is his watch and the buck stops with him. Precisely what the buck is might depend on your view of the DCMS report but the loss of credibility cannot be denied.

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He should go, shouldering responsibility for what has happened, because he is the guy at the top. Clean break, new start, that kind of thing.

Second, I would propose what I suggested six years ago: an independent audit of the team’s entire personnel, anti-doping policies plus, now, compliance policies and health policies, with recommendations to be published. Given that any individual called on by the team to do this would be accused of being inside the tent, one answer might be for the team to request that the UCI’s independent anti-doping body makes the appointment. They could be clear that this is not to suggest that their current policies are lacking – there is no evidence that they are – but as a measure to rebuild confidence after 18 months of revelation and innuendo.

Third, join the MPCC, Movement for Credible Cycling. It has always seemed an anomaly that Team Sky were not part of this voluntary body which campaigns against corticosteroid and Tramadol use; their argument was that their internal procedures made it unnecessary. It would be an easy step to take now to restore trust. Again, it is not necessarily to suggest they have weak policies at present but it is part of regaining public confidence. Having Brailsford resign would make it easier to reverse past policy in this way. Clean break, new start…

Fourth, with the riders’ agreement, undertake to publish all Therapeutic Use Exemptions applied for in future as long as privacy is not infringed, ie, they do not relate to issues of mental or sexual health. There will not be many TUEs to make public but it is about being transparent and being seen to be so.

Fifth, gain the riders’ agreement to carry out an annual audit of Tramadol use – which rider, what race, what injury necessitated it, quantity taken – and publish the findings. There may be a medical confidentiality argument here but given that in most instances these will be crash victims whose injuries will be made public at the time, it might not hold much water.

Sixth, publish the study into Team Sky’s Colombian rider Sergio Henao’s blood values. The quest for maximum transparency means that it should not be possible to accuse Team Sky of keeping anything away from public scrutiny.

Seventh, go public with more riders’ power values more often. Sky’s argument against doing this was always that it would cause debate, create space for speculation about what the figures meant and so on. Given the epic amounts of white noise in recent months, that hardly carries weight.

Remember how grudgingly Froome’s figures were published, and recall how distant and barely relevant that appears in today’s turmoil.

Finally, stand down Froome from racing until his Salbutamol adverse analytical finding is resolved. Joining the MPCC would mean this would have to happen as it is part of its guidelines. The public relations benefits are blindingly obvious, whether the eventual decision goes Froome’s way or not.

Post-DCMS, it would demonstrate a clear change in philosophy: winning is important but there are bigger things in sport than a place in the record books. How you are perceived matters as much. Otherwise Froome races on in the face of public opinion and against the wishes of many in the sport.

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