By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw
Richard Freeman, the former chief doctor of both British Cycling and Team Sky, has been found guilty of ordering a banned substance “knowing or believing” that it would be used to enhance performance of an unnamed rider.
During an extraordinary Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) Hearing in Manchester, which began in February 2019 and was expected to last only around two months, Freeman accepted 18 of the 22 charges, including that he deliberately ordered 30 sachets of the banned substance Testogel in 2011.
He also admitted lying to UK Anti-Doping (UKAD).
However, Freeman, who was employed by British Cycling and Team Sky between 2009 and 2017, had denied “knowing or believing [Testogel] was to be used by an athlete” as a performance-enhancing drug. Instead, he claimed that the substance was purchased for the then head coach of British Cycling, Shane Sutton, as a remedy for erectile dysfunction – an allegation Sutton has strenuously denied.
Representing the General Medical Council, Simon Jackson, QC, alleged that Freeman had “lied at every stage” and used a “web of deceit” to cover his tracks.
On finally delivering the verdict on 12 March 2021, which will inevitably raise questions over the success of both British Cycling and Team Sky, the chairman of the MPTS, Neil Dalton, found Freeman, on a balance of probabilities, guilty and stated:
“The Tribunal had found that you, Dr Freeman, placed the order, and obtained the Testogel, knowing or believing it was to be administered to an athlete to improve their athletic performance.”
The Tribunal determined that Freeman had attempted to conceal his actions, after he convinced an employee at ‘Fit4Sport’, the company that manufactures Testogel, to claim that the sachets had been sent by mistake. Freeman admitted that he compromised the employee by asking “her to say the order was her error.”
After the package was delivered and subsequently discovered by former British Cycling Medical Director, Dr Steve Peters, and former British Cycling Physiotherapist, Phil Burt, Freeman “cut open the sachets to wash them down the sink.”
Peters told the Tribunal that he asked Freeman to return the sachets and obtain an e-mail from ‘Fit4Sport’ confirming that he had done so – Freeman stated that he did not recall Peters making the request. He also claimed that he had told Peters that he had destroyed the Testogel in 2017.
The Tribunal will resume its proceedings next week to determine whether Freeman should have his licence to practise medicine withdrawn and if he should receive any further sanctions.
He will also face two UKAD doping charges relating to ordering, being in possession of and tampering with a banned substance.
The former chairman of the Digital Culture Media and Sport Parliamentary Committee, Damian Collins, MP, remarked that the case posed:
“major questions for British Sport as well as British Cycling and Team Sky.”
There have also been calls for Sir Dave Brailsford, the former Performance Director of British Cycling and the current General Manager of the UCI World Team ‘Ineos Grenadiers’ (formerly Team Sky), to be suspended pending a full investigation of the case, including the name of the unnamed rider.
A sad time, indeed, for British Cycling!