Brailsford Teeters over the Edge

By Robbie Broughton

In the wake of the publication of the parliamentary committee’s report on doping in sport, the question on everyone’s lips seems to be whether Sir Dave Brailsford will survive the end of the day as boss of Team Sky or whether he’ll drag it out for the whole week.

One suspects that Brailsford is composing his own resignation speech this very moment. Chances are it’ll be one of those letters reminiscent of the recent slew of politicians’ statements that both deny culpability and fail to offer a real apology but instead refer to what’s best for the country/department/party/team/sport.

 Image courtesy of  Dave Brailsfraud  

Image courtesy of Dave Brailsfraud 

That he should resign seems beyond discussion however. Every major commentator is calling for it today: The Daily Mail, Cycling News, The Times, The Telegraph, Cycling Tips and The Guardian to name but a few.

Damian Collins’ conclusions from the inquiry are also pretty unequivocal:

How can David Brailsford ensure that his team is performing to his requirements, if he does not know and cannot tell, what drugs the doctors are giving the riders? David Brailsford must take responsibility for these failures, the regime under which Team Sky riders trained and competed and the damaging scepticism about the legitimacy of his team’s performance and accomplishments.

In truth, it’s what every commentator has been thinking but been unable to explicitly say ever since Brailsford appeared before the committee. However, with their parliamentary privelege, the report’s authors have been able to go further than any journalist has been able to go, given the lack of hard evidence.

 Image courtesy of  Dave Brailsfraud

Image courtesy of Dave Brailsfraud

But the avalanche of circumstantial evidence points only one way: jiffygate and the subsequent fudging, lying and apparent confusion by Team Sky; the ‘bribe’ to The Daily Mail of a better story to make the jiffy story go away; the suspect use of TUEs that appear to exploit the system; Shane Sutton’s admission that TUEs were used to gain an advantage if it was within the rules; the missing laptop; failure to keep records; deliveries of triamcoline; the reported use of tramadol.

Just over a year ago, Brailsford gave an interview at a press briefing while Team Sky were at training camp in Mallorca. When asked how he could say that he was running an ethically clean team when he didn’t know what his doctors were giving to his riders he replied:

The organization I am running is absolutely clear in terms of the processes and the standards and the structures in place. It’s done the right way…the key thing is to have its rules and that it’s run diligently. It’s run well and in a way there’s no one being asked to do anything wrong, being asked to bend the rules, they’re quite clear the rules are not bent. That’s the culture, the environment and that’s the understanding. If, in an organization, someone decides to step over a line or to bend the rules, then they have the disciplinary process coming to them that they deserve….everybody on this team understands where the lines are, what’s right, what’s wrong, expected of people, what the values of our team are. And there’s no question about that. However, as in every walk of life, if somebody decides to step outside of that, and step outside of those values or step outside of our rules or step outside of our processes, then they’ve got everything that’s coming to them.

Brailsford may well be regretting those comments because the parliamentary report states that, “we believe that this powerful corticosteroid was being used to prepare Bradley Wiggins, and possibly other riders supporting him, for the Tour de France…the purpose was not to treat medical need, but to improve his power to weight ratio ahead of the race.” While this didn’t constitute a violation of the rules it did, “cross the ethical line that David Brailsford says he himself drew for Team Sky.”

That ‘ethical line’ has been mentioned many times by Team Sky. Of course, if we go back to that initial launch of the team back in 2010, there was a big press conference where they revealed the team kit. The black Adidas jersey was somewhat of a departure from the garish colours favoured by most teams of the time.

More significantly, much was made of the blue strip that ran down the back of the jersey from the nape of the neck to the waist. This was, declared Dave Brailsford, there to represent the clear blue water that separated ‘old’ cycling culture with its dirty, murky history of performance enhancing drugs and the new, clean culture that Team Sky espoused. In fact, Team Sky didn’t just champion this new approach to the sport. It was at the very forefront, spearheading a super-squeaky-clean team that would not accept anyone to work or ride for them who had been tainted by dubious activities in the past. The blue strip down the back of the jersey was the line that separated this new team from others and that gulf would never be crossed.

 Image courtesy of  Dave Brailsfraud

Image courtesy of Dave Brailsfraud

It’s clear now that while they may not have crossed that line, they certainly pushed up against it as hard as they could go. For us cycling fans, it’s devastating. The writer David Walsh echoed many of our thoughts and feelings when he said on Talk Sport last year that, “I’m fed up of believing in something and then realising that I’ve believed in something that didn’t really exist…David Brailsford has a lot to answer to in relation to this.”

The only consolation I can glean from this sordid business is that the UK government is willing and able to call out the perpetrators of illegal or unethical practices taking place, including some titled and influential figures like Lord Sebastian Coe, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Sir Dave Brailsford. While the Fancy Bears were motivated in revealing doping outside of the Russian, state-backed system, the UK authorities have called those responsible for unethical practices, under their jurisidiction, to account. And in no uncertain terms.