22 August 2023

Freeman case highlights case for criminalisation of systemic doping

• Twenty three athletes from 14 countries, competing in 11 sports, were involved in anti-doping proceedings that came to light during the week ending 18 August.

This week UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) sanctioned Richard Freeman with a four year ban, 12 years after he ordered Testogel whilst practising as a Doctor for British Cycling and Team Sky. Yet despite a UK Government investigation and three years of Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) hearings which resulted in Freeman being struck off the medical register, sport is no closer to finding out if his actions were part of a systemic doping culture during British Cycling’s golden era.

The World Anti-Doping Code’s Statute of Limitations…

Case closed. UKAD cannot open any new proceedings against British Cycling or Team Sky riders or staff, due to the World Anti-Doping Code. Article 17 mandates a ten year Statute of Limitations, which prevents people from being charged with an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) unless they are notified within ten years of the alleged offence. UKAD initially launched proceedings against Freeman in February 2021, based on his May 2011 purchase of Testogel.

It is understood that UKAD has not commenced proceedings against Shane Sutton, former Technical Director at British Cycling, its former Performance Director Dave Brailsford, or any British cyclists regarding the 2011 order of Testogel. The Statute of Limitations means that UKAD cannot bring any new charges against athletes or personnel based on the 2011 order of Testogel.

UKAD found Freeman to be guilty of possessing Testosterone in connection with an athlete, based on the MPTS finding that he had ordered Testogel which he knew or suspected would be used on a rider. Based on the MPTS findings that he lied about the order and falsified documents in an attempt to conceal the order, he has also been found guilty of tampering.

Shane Sutton

Shane Sutton…

In proceedings before UKAD, Freeman maintains the argument he presented to the MPTS, which is that he ordered the Testogel for Sutton to treat erectile dysfunction. He said that he wrote to Sutton to waive patient confidentiality, but no consent was given. 

In the MPTS proceedings, Sutton denied that he was the intended recipient of the Testogel, and produced incomplete British Cycling medical records in an attempt to support this. A 26 March 2023 Statement provided by Sutton to UKAD said that Freeman told a lie when he said that Testogel had been ordered for Sutton; and that he told a lie when he said that he had written to Sutton to waive patient confidentiality. 

Apart from Sutton’s Statement, the Sport Resolutions Decision in Freeman’s case contains no new evidence. In accepting his version of events, the UKAD ruling relied upon the MPTS assessment of Sutton as a credible witness, and accepted the MPTS finding that there was no specific evidence that Sutton had bullied Freeman. 

However, the MPTS is designed to assess a Doctor’s fitness to practise medicine. It isn’t designed to assess whether through his actions and explanations, Freeman was attempting to cover for wrongdoing by other people at British Cycling and/or Team Sky.

Arguably, that is UKAD’s role. But as mentioned, it hasn’t brought charges against anybody but Freeman. And although the MPTS found Sutton to be a credible witness, his behaviour was also criticised by other witnesses.

‘Each witness made essentially the same point’, reads the MPTS Ruling. ‘Namely, that Mr Sutton could be a scratchy and irascible character and, when under pressure, he would indeed engage in bullying behaviour. However, up to and including the time in question (April/May 2011), neither one had witnessed Mr. Sutton specifically threaten or bully Dr. Freeman, nor had Dr. Freeman ever disclosed that Mr Sutton had threatened or bullied him’. 

Freeman’s book…

The MPTS raised three doubts regarding the credibility of Sutton as a witness. It found that he had lied about not having read Dr. Freeman’s book ‘The Line: where medicine and sport collide’; and it doubted his claim that he had limited knowledge of the use of testosterone patches by Lance Armstrong and Floyd Llandis. A third reason to doubt his credibility was redacted.

From 2016 onwards, the Culture Media and Sport Committee of the UK Parliament (as the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee was then known) held a series of hearings resulting in the Combatting Doping in Sport Report, published in 2018. At a 2016 CMS hearing, Sutton and Brailsford asserted that the coaching team were led by the medical team when it came to administering treatment to British Cycling and Team Sky riders. This assertion was challenged by a ‘Sky Insider’, who in April 2017 provided a written statement (PDF below) used in the 2018 Combatting Doping in Sport Report that disputed assertions made by Brailsford and Sutton. 

‘In 2012 The team was under extreme pressure to perform Dave B and Shane Sutton put a great deal of pressure on the medical team in particular Richard Freeman to provide more proactive medical support’, it reads. ‘At that time the culture was if Shane told people to do something you just did it. At the committee interview Shane hid behind trusting the medical team this is utter nonsense he directed the medical team he constantly bullied Richard Freeman’.

It is understood that other submissions relating to Sutton were due to be published by the CMS Committee alongside its Combating Doping in Sport Report, and these cast doubt on his credibility as a witness. They were withdrawn at the last moment due to the circumstances of the people making those submissions and have never been published, despite promises to make them public. 

The MPTS Ruling also reveals that Matt Lawton, then a journalist with the Daily Mail, had refused to answer a subpoena and give evidence to the MPTS. The Daily Mail also refused to comply with a request to produce relevant documents filed under Section R35A of the Medical Act 1983. The Daily Mail and Lawton published a series of articles based around the delivery of a medical package (or ‘jiffy bag’) to Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2011. 

It is understood that the document requested is an affidavit signed by Sutton, held in a safe at the Daily Mail offices, which acts as its insurance policy against any future defamation claims by Wiggins, Freeman, or Brailsford. Dr. Freeman’s MPTS defence team claimed that the affidavit contradicts evidence given by Sutton to the 2016 hearing of the CMS Committee. 

One of the conclusions of its 2018 Combatting Doping in Sport Report was that the CMS Committee ‘believed’ that Team Sky used Triamcinolone to prepare Wiggins for the Tour de France, and the purpose of this treatment was not medical, but to improve his power to weight ratio ahead of the race. This ‘belief’ was based on the testimony of a single anonymous witness, who provided evidence alleging that British Cycling and Team Sky used TUEs for performance gains. 

As that evidence is confidential, it has not been seen by Wiggins or Team Sky. Both strongly refuted allegations against them at the time.

In October 2016, British Cycling announced that it had upheld one of nine allegations against Sutton made by Cyclist Jess Varnish. Varnish’s allegations were supported by Beijing 2008 gold medal winner Nicole Cooke and by London 2012 gold medal winner Victoria Pendleton. Paralympic cyclist Darren Kenny also told the Daily Mail that Sutton had made disparaging remarks about para-cyclists.

Why Fit4Sport?

Freeman has consistently denied that Testogel was ordered for an athlete. If this is accurate, then why did he order it through Fit4Sport, a physiotherapy and sport first aid supplier, and not through usual medical channels? Why did he attempt to fabricate a scenario involving the Testogel being returned to Fit4Sport? 

Dan Stevens…

In 2019, the BBC obtained an email exchange between Dr. Freeman and Fit4Sport. The dosage of Testogel exactly matches that prescribed to former cyclist Dan Stevens by Dr. Mark Bonar, Stevens told The Sports Integrity Initiative. Information about Dr. Bonar was given to UKAD in 2014 by 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 failed to tell the GMC about allegations involving Dr. Mark Bonar…

UKAD subsequently reduced the sanction after the CIRC recommended reducing Stevens’ ban, but did not publicise its decision. In an April 2016 Sunday Times exposé, Dr. Bonar was recorded stating that he had supplied substances to over 150 athletes, including Premier League footballers, an England cricketer, British Tour de France cyclists, a British boxing champion, tennis players, martial arts competitors and more. 

UKAD failed to notify the UK General Medical Council (GMC) about Dr. Mark Bonar prescribing prohibited substances to athletes. “There was a note on the file that it should have gone to the GMC”, former UKAD Chairman David Kenworthy told the UK Parliament’s CMS Committee in 2016. “For some reason, it didn’t go”. 

Substantial assistance

Dr. Freeman pulled out of giving evidence to a UK Parliamentary inquiry into doping, citing ill health…

There are many inconsistencies in Freeman’s evidence. He failed to appear at a 2017 Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee inquiry into doping in sport citing ill health (see right), however he did submit written evidence. 

‘My practice has never been compromised by coaches or management ever at Team Sky or British Cycling’, he wrote. ‘Without the ability to work with even the most demanding of coaches, I don’t think I could work so effectively as the team doctor in both teams particularly as I was the doctor dealing with the most challenging decisions in both teams’. This appears to contradict his account of being pressured into malpractice.

From p.75 of Dr. Freeman’s book…

In November 2020, Freeman answered “No, I wouldn’t have, really”, when he was asked if he would have known that testosterone could be used to boost performance. However, in his 2018 book The Line – Where Medicine and Sport Collide, he acknowledges that it builds muscle (see right), a useful trait in endurance sports such as cycling.

The Sport Resolutions Decision highlights that Freeman admitted to UKAD that he had fabricated instructions from Fit4Sport to return the Testogel, and admitted that the Testogel had not been returned. If Sutton is to be believed, it wasn’t for him. So who was it for? When was it used? We still don’t know.

Article 10.7 of the World Anti-Doping Code allows anti-doping organisations such as UKAD to offer a reduction in sanctions in exchange for information about other ADRVs or – crucially – information about a potential criminal offence. If Freeman was under pressure from British Cycling and/or Team Sky officials, he may have considered offering proof to UKAD.

However as the ten year Statute of Limitations under the Code had expired by the time UKAD heard Freeman’s case, UKAD wouldn’t be able to offer him any reduction to his ban, nor would it have been able to launch proceedings against anybody implicated by Freeman. Any information he had would now be useless. 


‘The facts established by the MPT[S], a professional disciplinary tribunal of competent jurisdiction, are irrebuttable evidence against the athlete’, reads the Sport Resolutions Decision. Except Freeman was a Doctor not an athlete, and the MPTS was considering whether he was fit to continue to practise medicine. It wasn’t considering potential ADRVs.

There is no doubt that Freeman is guilty of the ADRVs with which he was charged. However UKAD’s Decision to wait for the MPTS to conclude its proceedings has meant that we will never know who the Testogel was used for; whether Freeman had been instructed to order it for riders; or whether this order was part of systemic doping at British Cycling during its most successful period to date.

The 7 Jan. 11 email from Dr. Freeman to Dr. Peters (click to open)…

The prolonged Freeman case is not the only incident where UKAD and British Cycling appear to have colluded. In October 2021, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found that UKAD was aware of, and assisted with, a British Cycling plan to screen cyclists for Nandrolone. Again, it appears that Freeman was involved (see right). UKAD’s promised review of its ‘Operation Blackout’ appears to have never materialised. 

Freeman could have provided invaluable insight and information to any such investigation. Instead, following publication of WADA’s Report, UKAD put out a Statement that appeared to be an attempt to absolve itself from blame. A search for ‘Operation Blackout’ on UKAD’s internet site returns zero results. The name appears very apt.

In 2018 following the publication of the Combatting Doping in Sport Report, the UK Government outlined that it would not be revisiting whether doping in sport should be criminalised. In 2020, the US Rodchenkov Act of 2020 criminalised the defrauding of international sporting competitions through doping schemes.

The Freeman case involved allegations of systemic doping at the height of British Cycling’s success. As the allegations in this article highlight, it could be considered naive to assume that he was acting alone. Despite the weight of allegations, the upper echelons of British Cycling and Team Sky have emerged unscathed. 

Freeman has been struck off the medical register, and has now been sanctioned with a four year ban from sport. Was he the fall guy, or collateral damage? Due to investigatory delays, we will probably never know.

In countries such as Italy, where doping is a criminal offence, everybody is held to account for their actions. Collusion was discovered between WADA and the Cologne Laboratory in the Alex Schwazer case. That would never have been unearthed by a national anti-doping organisation (NADO) investigation. WADA holds NADOs to account, and nobody holds WADA to account.

The criminalisation of systemic doping therefore appears to be a sensible step to protect athletes from corruption within the anti-doping system. As the outcome from the Freeman case illustrates, perhaps it is time for the UK Government to reconsider its stance.

Please continue to send any cases we may have missed or suggestions through to the editor by clicking here. Also, if you’re an athlete, national anti-doping organisation (NADO) or other Results Management Authority and you’d like us to cover a case that you’re involved with, please get in touch! Also – a reminder. The SII Anti-Doping Monitor only features confirmed AAFs (‘positive tests’) or confirmed anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs).

Decision links

Mareena George, Aneesh Kumar Surendran Pillai (NADA India Sanction List);

Ismail Mohd (FEI Decision);

Morteza Mirzaei (Iran NADO Statement);

Abdullah Aldhuwayhi (FEI Decision); 

Osaze De Rosario (CCES Statement, Case Outcome File);

Richard Freeman (UKAD Statement, Sport Resolutions Decision);

Mathilda Karlsson (ITA Statement);

Yevgenia Yermakova (RUSADA Statement);

Sergey Danilov (RUSADA Statement);

Andrey Smirnov (RUSADA Statement);

Alexander Yatsunenko (RUSADA Statement);

Alycia Baumgardner (WBC Statement);

Michel Hessmann (Team Statement);

Evgeniya Solovieva (RusAF Statement);

Rob Worrincy (UKAD Statement, UKAD Decision);

Ryan Snowden (UKAD Statement, UKAD Decision);

Conor Benn (UKAD Statement);

Zhaoyi Cheng (FEI Decision);

Abdulaziz Murshed (FEI Decision);

Tobi Amusan (AIU List of First Instance Decisions, Athlete Statement, Original AIU Statement);

Toon Aerts (UCI Statement);

Erick Kumari Taki (Athlete Statement)

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