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British rider Peter Kennaugh is no longer part of Team Sky, but has nevertheless seen the scrutiny the team has been under in the media over the Bradley Wiggins TUE investigation and the Chris Froome salbutamol case. The Manxman believes there is a simple solution: get rid of therapeutic use exemptions altogether.
“If I need a TUE because I have a bad injury, I am more than happy not to race,” he told CyclingTips recently. “From my point of view, I think that could be a good idea. And if you look at the document that was released on the amount of TUEs that were used by teams in the last ten years or whatever, you see how little there are now. Obviously they are not that important, are they?”
TUEs essentially provide an avenue to use otherwise-banned medications in sport. They require a medical professional to deem that the substance is necessary and, once that use is approved by the sporting authorities, the athlete can compete while using the medication.
The goal is to ensure that sportspeople aren’t disadvantaged while ill. However, as the parliamentary inquiry into Team Sky suggested, TUEs can also be abused by those seeking a performance edge. That inquiry concluded that the team was using such products unethically and for performance gains.
Kennaugh believes a rethink of this whole area might be worth considering. “Maybe it is a case of banning TUEs, but then making some substances so that you don’t need TUEs for them [anymore]. So maybe just take Salbutamol off the TUE list. I would never need Salbutamol, I don’t think, because I don’t have any asthma problems. So it wouldn’t affect me. Whereas people who are at a disadvantage because they have an actual genuine problem can use it.
“I am getting irate thinking about it, it doesn’t seem that complicated.”
Kennaugh’s reference to Salbutamol is a little confused as the substance does not currently require a TUE. Instead, there is a limitation as to the amount of it which can be inhaled. However, his broader point is clear: might it be worth considering a revaluation of the TUE requirement for some substances, particularly if this eliminates the grey area currently under such scrutiny?
Under his proposal, some of those products requiring a TUE would be banned outright, while the restriction on others currently requiring the medical green light would be relaxed.
Kennaugh said that there is also another consideration: even if medicine allows athletes to keep competing when injured or ill, is that actually a good idea?
“In the past I have had a SI joint problem. I have not been able to walk, never mind race,” he explained. “I would be putting my body at risk if I raced without a cortisone injection. But I would be putting my body at more risk if I raced with a cortisone injection, because you wouldn’t be aware of the problem.”
He admitted that he doesn’t necessarily have enough background knowledge to make a call on what is the correct way forward. However he argues it is worth considering if a rethink of the current system might help make things more straightforward. He feels that putting the thought out there may lead to more discussion about the topic.
“Those are my thoughts. That is my opinion. But I don’t know what is the right solution here, because I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of TUEs and different substances, and how much effect they have on the body and on performance.”
Calls to release Froome case decision, plus a verdict on tramadol
Kennaugh also gave his thoughts on the Chris Froome case. He was a teammate of Froome for many years, then went a different direction at the end of 2017 when he signed for Bora-hansgrohe. However he was still a Team Sky member last December when the-then Tour de France champion was revealed to have been under investigation for salbutamol levels which were higher than permitted.
“I think it is just another mockery of the sport, of the governing of the sport and just WADA in general,” said Kennaugh recently to CyclingTips, reacting to the case. “One, it is totally out of order that it was leaked in the first place. Two, it’s basically just given a team like Sky, with a big budget and a lot of money, the opportunity to go out there and prove the system that is in place is wrong. Because everyone is different, everyone has a different tolerance to how long they hold salbutamol in their body.”
He feels that the Froome verdict calls previous cases into question, and believes that the athletes concerned should consider seeking compensation for what they went through.
“You have got the UCI who have banned riders like [Alessandro] Petacchi and [Diego] Ulissi in the past. If I was Ulissi, I would be looking for damages straight away, because he lost a year of his career through that.”
Following the dropping of the Froome case, the UCI and WADA came under criticism for not releasing a reasoned decision. This would provide a full explanation as to why they decided to drop the case, explaining too why WADA was able to accept Froome’s explanation without carrying out the customary controlled pharmacokinetic study (CPKS), which is required under WADA’s anti-doping rules.
Asked if he believes that those two bodies should release the reasoned decision, he said there is an onus on them to clarify many aspects of the case.
“Of course they should be held responsible for why cycling has been put in such a bad light,” he said. “It is quite interesting when you speak to someone who is not in the cycling bubble, such as a normal person who is interested in boxing and football. They saw it [the Froome case] pop up on mainstream TV. They can’t believe that someone could be done for using an inhaler.
“To them it is just bizarre, especially if you are speaking to another asthma sufferer. ‘I could be walking to the beach and need that inhaler, otherwise my life is at risk.’ Someone like that. They just can’t fathom it.
“So I think they should release the reasoned decision, because they were responsible for why it has taken so long. Why are they not releasing it? Because it puts them in a bad light? I don’t know. I don’t understand, to be honest.”
Kennaugh advocates both a clarification of the case and also of the anti-doping system in general. He believes there is too much confusion at present, and that things need to be rendered black and white.
“I am sick of hearing about this grey area,” he said. “I’m sick of journalists talking about tramadol when tramadol is not banned. There is nothing wrong with taking tramadol – you can take as much as you want [under the current rules] and it doesn’t matter, so stop talking about it until the WADA or the UCI ban it. Then it becomes a problem.
“It is their problem – it is nothing to do with teams or certain riders who are taking Tramadol. It is the UCI and WADA’s situation, their problem [to resolve]. And then you have got the TUE situation. I can’t believe I’m saying this now, as it is obviously the most simple thing in the world to me, but if you need a TUE, you can’t race. And ban Tramadol.
“Then everything is black and white. There are no complications then, are there?”