Team Sky/Wiggins case could bring welcome – and powerful – changes to UK law

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Buried in last week’s scathing report into Bradley Wiggins’s use of triamcinolone and the so-called ‘jiffy bag affair’ was a recommendation that could have a broad-reaching effect on UK Sport and, in theory, potentially act as a catalyst for change elsewhere: Criminalise the supply of banned substances to athletes.

The World Anti Doping Agency has resisted calls to criminalise doping by athletes, and the committee said it agrees. But both WADA and the parliamentary report support criminalizing the act of supplying sportspeople with banned substances. That would mean doctors or team staff involved the use of banned substances could face the full brunt of the British legal system.

“The supply of drugs or promotion of unnecessary medical procedures is a different matter [to their use by athletes],” the committee stated in the report.

“The Government should give serious consideration to criminalising the supply of drugs to sportspeople with intent to enhance performance rather than to mitigate ill-health, and in so doing defraud clean athletes they are competing against.

“This would send a stronger message about the unacceptability and the dangers of doping, not only to the suppliers but also to the athletes.”

Countries such as Italy have already produced similar legislation. The report states that this has had an effect on athlete support personnel who possess or traffic doping products. Giving an example, the committee notes that former Olympic champion Nicole Cooke told it that if her former team boss William Dazzani had “operated in the UK rather than in Italy, he would still be running doping rings, producing tragedy and misery in so many around him.”

After talking about video surveillance and other measures taken by Italian police, Cooke said that she was “grateful that Italy viewed the behaviour of Dazzani as criminal.”

How would changes to laws help?

One of the limitations for UK Anti Doping in investigating the same Wiggins/Team Sky scenario relating to triamcinolone use and the transport of a mysterious package [often referred to as ‘the jiffy bag’] to Wiggins in 2011 was because of its inability to delve as deeply as it might wish.

The report argued that criminalising the supply of drugs or the promotion of unnecessary medical procedures would do much to change this. UKAD currently has “no powers to demand to see private papers, and financial and medical records, to aid its investigations.

“A change in the law to criminalise the supply of drugs to sports people could give UKAD the powers to access documents without seeking prior agreement, and the right to seek the support of the law enforcement agencies in their investigations, as appropriate.”

Many of the major drug busts in sport in recent decades have come about as a result of the use of criminal law. The Festina Affair was as far-reaching as it was because French police had the power to conduct raids and arrest both those believed to be supplying riders and the riders themselves.

Ditto for various raids in Italy and Spain, such as those involving the doping doctors Michele Ferrari and Eufemiano Fuentes.

Criminalization hasn’t ended doping in those countries, of course. But if UKAD was granted more powers and was also able to work alongside the British police force, a strong signal would be sent out to those who wished to either facilitate or use banned substances.

It may well also encourage other countries to consider similar changes to their legal and anti-doping systems.

But what about those actually using doping products?

As regards punishments for the athletes themselves, the committee also had recommendations. It noted that in many sports, there is a two-year ban for a first offence, even the use of EPO or the taking of a blood transfusion. [Note: cycling has a four-year ban for such substances].

The parliamentary committee backs the suggestion previously made by UK Athletics’ manifesto, which advocates a five-year ban for first-time offenders.

“This will ensure that cheating athletes could miss two Olympics or two Paralympics,” the report argues. “Repeat offenders should forfeit their opportunity to represent the UK again.”

The report is similarly strong in its recommendations in relation to two drugs that are currently legal. The first, corticosteroids such as triamcinolone, can be used out of competition without restriction, or in competition once the sportsperson concerned has a TUE.

The second, the potent painkiller tramadol, has no restriction whatsoever on its use. WADA has had it on a watch list for several years but has continued to resist calls by the UCI and others to ban it.

“The committee has considered evidence about the performance-enhancing properties of corticosteroids, and how their use can be avoided in the treatment of long-term conditions such as asthma,” it said.

“We believe that WADA should introduce a complete ban on their use. We were also concerned to hear evidence about the negative health impacts for riders resulting from the abuse of the painkiller Tramadol.

“Again, we believe that WADA should consider introducing a ban on the use of tramadol.”

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