I wonder when we reached the point where the person who views Team Sky’s unprecedented success through deeply skeptical eyes is the one who is closer to looking at the more plausible explanation?
The point where a person attempting to rationalize the never-ending drip feed of deceit and lies is the one who has to rely a set of interwoven conspiracy theories?
Where a complex, contorted conspiracy is required to conclude that something nefarious is not happening, rather than that it is?
Did it happen with Leinders? With miracle transformations, eggbeater cadences and stable heart rates? Was it simply with dominance in a sport that has moved on slightly but not shaken a past that demands skepticism? Was it with a jiffy bag and lost medical records? Lies and evasion before Parliament? With “accidental” testosterone delivery? Salbutamol and dog defences?
Or has it happened now, with the latest revelations (incremental, admittedly, IMO) that next month’s General Medical Council (GMC) initiated tribunal will hear allegations that Richard Freeman deliberately obtained banned testosterone for an unnamed rider, then tried to fabricate an explanation, and lied to UK Anti-Doping when asked about it.
If the allegations are true, Freeman would almost certainly be struck off as a practicing doctor, and it would conclude a second bizarre installment of Sky doing a tap dance of denial after being caught in the act of some murky medical management.
In this instance, it goes:
“I didn’t order it, it was a mistake by the supplier. I returned it, it was destroyed. Here, look, written confirmation.”
“Ok, I made that up. I ordered it but it was for a non rider member of staff”
“Ok that’s not true. Leave me alone I’m not well enough to talk about this”
“Buy my book. Look at all the glowing testimonies”.
“I’m not talking about this.”
This tap dance is the sequel to the original, Jiffy Bag inspired epic featuring Simon Cope, Dave Brailsford and Brad Wiggins getting caught in a series of evasions and lies (forgive the creative license on the order of these ones)
“It was sent for Emma Pooley”
“She was in another country? Right. Well, it was for the team, but not Brad, he wasn’t even on the bus with the doctor on that stage.”
“There’s video of them together on the bus? Ok well it was for Brad; but it was pedals and other stuff.”
“Alright, it was a decongestant called Fluimucil for congestion. We have medical records.”
“No, actually, we don’t have medical records, the laptop was lost” [special guest appearance Freeman]. “And there’s no backup”
“I can’t testify” [another guest appearance from Freeman]
[Back to Sir Dave]: “Hey, look over here, have you seen our marginal gains? This is Tim, he came from swimming. Now we do periodization and intervals. There’s Geert and the scales. He’s the Chief Weighing Officer. And here is a washing machine and the mattresses we travel with. Oh, can I interest you in a scandal about another team?”
Smoke, fire and the controlled burn
Returning to the beginning, then, the smoke around Sky is so dense that believing there is fire would seem a logical deduction. More logical than it is to dismiss a set of facts (paradoxically, most of which exist in the form of lies) as “nothing to see here”.
Even the ardent fan should by now be approaching the point of acknowledging that they were deep into the grey areas of “performance medicalizarion” before. Well, if the GMC allegation is confirmed, and Testogel was purposely ordered for a cyclist, and then denied and covered up, then I am afraid the grey area is well behind you, my friends…
Then what is left for you is rationalize is that it was just that one athlete, that one time, just like it had to be with Wiggins.
But fear not. There’ll be something added to the water to make things murky here, too. A TUE, a medical need, perhaps, will most likely be offered as explanation, and I hazard that if the name of the cyclist comes out (and I doubt it), it’ll be a no-name that allows the team to insulate its major successes from a lone wolf doctor acting against the team ethos on a single occasion, and definitely not with any knowledge, instruction or endorsement from anyone else in the team.
A controlled burn. Like where farmers or forest managers intentionally burn smaller sections of land to act as a fire break, prevent larger fires, or to restore the land for future use. That’s what pretty much all of these doping revelations increasingly remind me of.
To mix metaphors (and fire and water, in this case), there’s this continuous drip-drip of small pieces of information, “close shaves”, circumstantial evidence, near misses, dubious but not outright illegal acts (though this latest one is, which is noteworthy), and murky ethical medicalization.
It’s the same problem affecting the Nike-Salazar-Farrah-Rupp investigation. When both this one and that one eventually ‘conclude’, I bet that they will hint at the problem, skirt around the edges, never quite land conclusively on anything illegal, burn off one or two people sufficient to prevent the spread, and then off we trudge to Tokyo 2020, or beyond, more aware than ever that something stinks, but less aware than ever precisely what it is.
So it may be for Sky re Richard Freeman. Perhaps I will be proven wrong. I hope for definitive conclusions. But I certainly do not expect them, not anymore. Maybe not since Operacion Puerto, which I think introduced how this game can be played.
Ultimately, what it means is that each of these revelations adds a pixel to an image that is by no means HD and clearly defined, but is rather more like a Rorschach image for your prior belief about Athlete X, Team Y or Sport Z.
My image looks a lot like a duck. It’s been quacking for a while, too.