Demonising Justin Gatlin
13th September 2015
UK Anti-Doping has admitted that it failed to pass information given to it about Dr. Mark Bonar prescribing prohibited substances to athletes to the General Medical Council (GMC). “There was a note on the file that it should have gone to the GMC”, UKAD Chairman David Kenworthy told the UK Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee in a hearing today. “For some reason, it didn’t go”.
In April, the Sunday Times published an exposé of Dr. Bonar, in which he claimed to have doped over 150 professional athletes. The allegations were partly corroborated by former Chelsea coach Rob Brinded, who allegedly introduced many athletes to Dr. Bonar.
The information about Dr. Bonar was given to UKAD in 2014 by cyclist Dan Stevens, who in 2015 went to the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) after UKAD decided that his evidence did not warrant a reduction for ‘substantial assistance’ as defined in the World Anti-Doping Code, and issued him with a two-year ban. UKAD was subsequently forced to reduce its sanction after the CIRC recommended reducing Stevens’ ban, but did not publicise the reduction.
Kenworthy also admitted “poor performance and organisational failing” in the Stevens case, however said that no staff had been disciplined as a result of that failing. He reiterated that UKAD had no jurisdiction to investigate Dr. Bonar, as he is not governed by sport – as argued in UKAD’s initial response to the Sunday Times article.
In that initial response (PDF below), UKAD claimed that Stevens had given it ‘over 100 names, 69 of which related to sport’, as well as information that Dr. Bonar was treating an unnamed boxer. At the CMS Committee hearing, Kenworthy said that Stevens had only given them four names, and the first he had heard about Dr. Bonar’s other activities was in the Sunday Times’ article.
Stevens also alleged that UKAD had spent £50,000 on defending itself against allegations that it had not properly investigated his information, retaining London law firm Bird & Bird to argue its case. Stevens argued that the money could have been better spent investigating Dr. Bonar. “It cannot be possible for a national anti-doping organisation to regard a doctor prescribing EPO as not significant”, said Stevens, arguing that UKAD’s reluctance to use his information was what had promoted him to go to the CIRC.
UKAD has appointed a retired Chief Constable to investigate whether Stevens’ evidence on Dr. Bonar was correctly handled. Kenworthy said that UKAD is still hoping to interview Dr. Bonar, however he has refused and lawyers are arguing the case at present. The results of the inquiry have yet to be released.
The CMS Committee demanded a written explanation as to why UKAD tweeted that it would be testing athletes two days ahead of an event. UKAD explained that the tweet was sent after the entry lists had closed for that event, the idea being to see who didn’t turn up and then target them for testing. “We were probably not going to do testing on that day”, explained Kenworthy, arguing this was a common method used by national anti-doping organisations to identify potential dopers. Kenworthy then appeared to undermine his own argument by stating that the people identified in this process were tested at other events – i.e. after having already been given prior warning that UKAD were onto them.
The CMS Committee asked UKAD to clarify this point, picking up on the fact that if testing was planned for the event UKAD tweeted about, any drugs would be out of the system by then. Both Stevens and Jonathan Calvert of the Sunday Times Insight team had earlier argued that drugs such as erythropoietin (EPO) would be out of an athlete’s system by morning, if taken the previous evening at 7pm.
It was also revealed that Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, who was banned for two years in 2014 based on irregularities in his athlete biological passport (ABP), had been tested three times at the 2012 Tour of Britain for EPO, however none of these tests had been screened for EPO. ‘Between 14 and 16 September, he was subject to three in-competition urine tests, and in each case the samples tested negative for any prohibited substance’, read the decision (PDF below). ‘However, none of these samples were screened for EPO’.
Kenworthy also revealed that UKAD is facing particular challenges in Russia, after it decided to work with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to ensure that Russian athletes are tested ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics. Last week, an ARD documentary revealed that Russian athletes preparing for the Olympics are training in Russian ‘closed cities’, where public access is limited. Kenworthy said if athletes were training in such cities, “you haven’t got a hope” of testing them.
Such cities, which often have military or nuclear functions, often require 30 days notice in order to enter, said Kenworthy. He said that Doping Control Officers (DCOs) had attempted to enter such closed cities, and a Russian DCO had been told they would be arrested and a German DCO that they would be deported.
The German DCO is likely to be Angelika Weissmann, which the ARD documentary revealed was turned away from the town of Tryokhgorny when trying to test athletes training there, by Russia’s state police (FSB). Tryokhgorny is a closed town due to its nuclear facilities, and Weissmann was told she could not enter and must stay 80km away, otherwise her visa would be cancelled and she would be deported.
Kenworthy said that UKAD’s job had been made difficult in Russia due to the combined effect of a lack of DCOs and the size of the country. On 17 June at its meeting in Monaco, the Council of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is due to make its decision on whether Russian athletics has done enough to be readmitted ahead of the Rio Olympics. WADA will deliver its report into whether the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics laboratory was subverted by 15 July at the latest.
The revelations regarding Russia will only add to fears that adequate testing procedures are not in place ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics. Athletes today wrote to WADA asking it to ensure that the playing field is level. Yesterday, the German athletics federation (DLV) wrote to the IOC asking it to ban Russian athletes from Rio.
UKAD has not come out of this session smelling of roses, however there is a basic lack of understanding about what power anti-doping organisations have to investigate those suspected of doing wrong. UKAD is right to point out that it has no jurisdiction over Dr. Bonar. If it had investigated him, what could it have done? Banned him from sport? However, serious questions remain as to why the information was not passed to the GMC, who could have taken action against him.
Kenworthy was also right to point out a lacuna in the World Anti-Doping Code, which allows a reduction in sanction for substantial assistance, but only for evidence that can lead to a conviction. As organisations such as UKAD can only sanction athletes, this only allows a reduction for what might be considered ‘grassing up’ another athlete.
In Stevens’ case, the information he came forward with was potentially much more useful, however UKAD was forced to discount it under the strict letter of the law, as they could not take any action against Dr. Bonar. That needs to change, and hopefully this case will lead to Code revisions that encourage athletes to come forward with such information rather than discourage them, as appears to be the case here.