POSTED: September 28th 2016

JOHN GOODBODY: Misuse of Tues highlighted by case of Wiggins

Sir Bradley Wiggins © Getty Images
Sir Bradley Wiggins © Getty Images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Whatever one might think about the ethics of the Russian group known as Fancy Bears when it  hacked confidential medical files, it has at least focussed minds on the ongoing problem of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (Tues).

This issue has been a constant one in recent years but the fact that Sir Bradley Wiggins, whose ability to combine victories on both the track and the road has brought him international acclaim in cycling, had particular injections before three of his most famous wins, has raised the subject to unprecedented levels of controversy.

There is no doubt that Wiggins and Sky, the road team he represented at the summit of his career, observed the necessary protocol in combating his well-known condition of being asthmatic. His use of a 'Tue' was signed off by a doctor, Richard Freeman, at Sky, as well ones from the International Cycling Union (UCI) and an independent specialist. The question is why Wiggins felt it necessary to have a corticosteroid injection of triamcinolone only on three occasions -- before the 2011 Tour de France, the 2012 Tour and the 2013 Giro D'Italia but not at other races.

This powerful drug is certainly one that can be prescribed to combat asthma but it has also been misused by dopers in cycling, including Lance Armstrong and David Millar. So why did Wiggins and Sky accept that the cyclist, who in Rio succeeded in his ambition of getting medals in five successive Olympics, take the drug. He insists that it was to compete "on a level playing field" with his rivals. But his critics say: "Does that mean that he was content not to be competing on a level playing-field in other races, when he did not take the drug ?"

Sir David Brailsford, the man who helped revolutionise British cycling and has had such an impact on the sport internationally, both on the track and the road, has insisted there was a "medical need" for Wiggins to take the drug. He has always accepted that sportsmen and women can go up to the line but not cross it. Some people now believe that on those three occasions, Wiggins may have crossed the ethical line in road races that were particularly important. It is, as has been said so often recently, a grey area.

Wiggins clearly believed (and with medical support) that he could only be at his physical best if he were injected with triamcinolone and, often in sport, it is the belief rather than the actual effect that is important. And he wanted to be at his physical best for such demanding events.

Dick Pound, the founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, does think that some treatments for medical conditions such as asthma should not be injected and instead should be inhaled. It is no longer necessary to get a Tue for Salbutamol, a common inhaler. However, clearly the medical advisers of Wiggins did not think that his condition would be sufficiently alleviated without the triamcinolone.

What is interesting is the number of top athletes, who do suffer from asthma compared to the average person. It is not because they are undergoing medically unnecessary treatments to try to get an edge on their opponents. Many simply suffer from exercise induced asthma, which leads to breathing restriction in the lower airways.

It may now become necessary for disclosure of the medical records of elite competitors in all sports so that everyone knows what everyone is taking. There is a problem with medical confidentiality but a competitor may have to agree to that if sport is to have the necessary transparency.

** JOHN GOODBODY will cover the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications. 

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