The trouble with Ostarine: Jimmy Wallhead’s
16th March 2018
UK Anti-Doping’s (UKAD) logo boasts ‘Protecting Sport’. What if we take this at face value? Could UKAD’s real aim be to protect British sporting bodies rather than its athletes? Its actions around allegations of systemic doping that have plagued British sport for the past decade suggest there may be some truth to this interpretation.
The World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) finding that UKAD was aware of British Cycling’s screening of samples taken from professional cyclists for nandrolone is the latest in a long line of situations where UKAD has failed to fully investigate. Yet it consistently and brutally sanctions athletes for the most minor of doping offences1, whilst the elite escape sanction because they have the money to defend themselves2.
By not helping athletes discover the source of their positive tests, as other national anti-doping agencies (NADOs) do3, UKAD risks undermining athlete trust. By not fully investigating how British sporting bodies facilitated cheating and doping, UKAD is gaining their trust and potentially enabling doping.
Such an approach risks deterring athletes and whistleblowers, who would fear a lengthly ban being imposed by UKAD. It also emboldens British sporting bodies, who will realise that they are unlikely to face investigation by UKAD for their actions. Yet despite these issues, this does appear to be the approach that UKAD is taking.
UKAD is ‘Protecting Sport’, but not athletes. They continue to be exploited by sporting bodies keen to take shortcuts to win more medals in order to gain more funding.
This article is designed to detail UKAD’s inaction when it comes to investigating allegations of systemic doping in Britain. It is important to highlight that UKAD hasn’t been asked to comment. There is no point, because we already know what its answer would be.
Below is the WADA Report. Unlike many anti-doping publications, it is very brief and simple to understand.
It contains three main allegations:
• British Cycling used a Laboratory not accredited by WADA to screen supplements and urine samples from cyclists for nandrolone metabolites;
• Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) data was released by UKAD to British Cycling in 2013;
• UKAD allowed London 2012 Olympians Gareth Warburton and Rhys Williams to use the same Laboratory to analyse supplements for Dienedione, another anabolic steroid from the same 19-nortestosterone group as nandrolone.
British Cycling proposed a Study after a cyclist returned an abnormal finding for a metabolite of nandrolone at levels below those required to establish an adverse analytical finding (AAF – or ‘positive test’). Exogenous – or external – nandrolone is prohibited in sport, but it was considered a threshold substance until September 2017. What this means is up until that date, an AAF would only occur when the amount of nandrolone in urine was at a concentration greater than 2ng/mL.
As this wasn’t ever a ‘positive test’, we can assume that the levels of nandrolone were below 2ng/mL. British Cycling argued that its Study was designed to investigate how the abnormal finding may have happened.
Nandrolone is a naturally occurring anabolic steroid and elevated levels can occur naturally, or can be recorded due to consumption of contaminated meat or supplements. However, its use is also understood to accelerate the generation of fat free muscle mass, which means that it is commonly abused in sports such as bodybuilding, weightlifting or powerlifting.
An investigation for the Mail on Sunday revealed that British Cycling’s Study took a two pronged approach. Supplements were batch tested, and urine from a group of riders was tested to rule out innocent explanations.
The Laboratory at Kings College London refused to take part in British Cycling’s proposed Study, rightly arguing that it could only accept samples under WADA guidelines. British Cycling contacted UKAD, and an ‘employee’ supported UKAD’s proposal, suggesting the Horseracing Forensic Laboratory (HFL) in Cambridge.
This UKAD ‘employee’ was Graham Arthur, former Director of Legal. ‘British Cycling only conducted the testing having sought and received the express approval of UKAD’s Director of Legal’, reveals British Cycling’s statement in response to the WADA Report.
The investigation for the Mail on Sunday reported that British Cycling’s Team Doctor, Richard Freeman, sent a 7 January 2011 email to Dr. Steve Peters, Head of Medicine, informing cyclists that the results of the analysis would not be shared with UKAD. The content of this email, with the names redacted, was uncovered by WADA’s investigation (see right).
All results of the Study were negative. Batch testing of the supplements didn’t reveal any nandrolone contamination. The urine tests by HFL didn’t reveal an indication of naturally occurring elevated nandrolone. In other words, any innocent explanations for the abnormal finding were completely ruled out.
Given the stated purpose of the Study, this might be considered a bad result. There is still an abnormal nandrolone finding that needs investigating, and the Study has not shed any light on how or why that has happened. Instead, WADA’s Report reveals, British Cycling celebrated the result, calling it ‘great news’.
British Cycling didn’t inform UKAD about the results of the experiment. Nobody at UKAD followed up with British Cycling to determine the results. WADA found that ‘at least one’ UKAD employee was aware of the experiment – and the one person who was certainly aware was Arthur, its Director of Legal. WADA said that UKAD’s failure to document and record these events is ‘magnified by the inability of those involved to now recall these events and materially contribute to this investigation’.
A Daily Telegraph report suggests that Arthur and Andy Parkinson, UKAD’s former CEO, were the two executives interviewed by WADA who were unable to recall the events under investigation. UKAD’s investigation into these events didn’t interview either of them.
UKAD’s investigation began after it received two anonymous letters in December 2018. In addition to the above allegations, these alleged that there was a Coach at British Cycling ‘attempting to dope’ athletes; that there was an email trail about events between British Cycling and UKAD; and a laptop of a former British Cycling employee held evidence.
As a result, UKAD implemented ‘Operation Blackout’. It appears to have been an apt name.
‘Operation Blackout did not pursue or resolve the Screening Allegation’, reads WADA’s Report. ‘Consequently, despite having the opportunity and permission of British Cycling, Operation Blackout did not search the BC Laptops for the “clear trail of emails” between British Cycling and UKAD.
‘Had Operation Blackout conducted this search, it would have discovered the same emails found by Operation Echo [WADA’s investigation] in 2021, which indicate UKAD (or at least an employee of UKAD) was aware of the Nandrolone Study and that samples were to be collected and analyzed for a Prohibited Substance by a non- accredited laboratory (viz HFL).
‘In explanation of its decision not to resolve the Screening Allegation or search the BC Laptops for the “clear trail of emails” between British Cycling and UKAD, Operation Blackout stated the anonymous letters “did [not] provide any further details that raised any obvious concerns about that testing” and that, during Operation Blackout, “no further information came to light to raise that concern”.’
Embarrassingly for UKAD, WADA was able to provide it with copies of the emails it had failed to recover, including a 12 January 2011 email from British Cycling advising UKAD about the Study, which said nothing about the results being shared with UKAD. WADA reported that this email is missing from the UKAD fileserver.
Did UKAD employees have administrator privileges that allowed them to delete such emails from UKAD’s fileserver? If so, why? If not, did senior UKAD staff issue instructions that the email should be deleted? If so, why?
As WADA points out, UKAD should have followed up, as British Cycling’s Study raised questions about its compliance with the 2009 UK National Anti-Doping Policy. That Policy mandates that ‘it shall be UK Anti-Doping’s responsibility to monitor compliance by NGBs [national governing bodies] with the requirements of the Policy’.
Not only did UKAD fail to do this, but it failed to follow up on whistleblower complaints directly mentioning where evidence could be found and failed to interview Arthur, the UKAD employee at the heart of the allegations. In addition, the key 12 January email had been removed from the UKAD fileserver; and Arthur and Parkinson appear to have suffered a collective memory failure about the events in question when questioned by WADA.
Whatever way you look at it, all of the above is highly suspicious. That Parkinson and Arthur are unable to recall the events under investigation seems both improbable and incredible.
The WADA Report states that Emily Robinson, UKAD’s interim CEO, assured WADA that its findings would be ‘seriously considered and addressed’. In addition, UKAD has commissioned an external audit to review its decision making, and a review of Operation Blackout. A copy of the Report has been provided to WADA’s President and Director General, as well as to is Compliance, Rules and Standards Department for ‘consideration’. It has also been provided to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and to the international cycling union (UCI).
Yet despite UKAD’s apparent commitment to action and the seriousness of the situation, UKAD put out a statement that, on the face of it, appeared to be an attempt to avoid any blame. British Cycling’s statement appeared to do the same, but at least it acknowledged that a UKAD audit was taking place and highlighted other measures taken.
This allegation was dismissed by WADA. ‘While British Cycling had requested Athlete Biological Passport data from UKAD, these requests were denied by UKAD’, reads the Report. ‘Moreover, no information reviewed during this investigation suggests that such data was shared, secretly or otherwise, by UKAD’.
However, this request for ABP data needs to be put into context. It was made during the same year that Sir Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton, former Performance Director and Technical Director, gave evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry about whether British Cycling had abused the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) system to enhance performance. It was also the year of the Rio 2016 Olympics.
That request was made by Dr. Freeman. He emailed UKAD asking for ABP data ‘for statistical analysis similar to that performed by anti-doping agencies’, reported the BBC. The idea was apparently to allow ‘early detection in fluctuations of the riders’ ABP [Athlete Biological Passport]’ and to give ‘time for riders to consider reasons as to why there are fluctuations and prepare a defence’.
Again, it is possible that UKAD may have commissioned an investigation into British Cycling on the back of this apparent request for an early warning system. But if this investigation cleared British Cycling of any wrongdoing – and that’t a big ‘if’ – UKAD’s policy of not commenting unless there is a case to answer would prevent anyone from ever finding out.
The crux of this allegation is that UKAD ‘permitted’ Warburton and Williams to have their supplements screened for Dienedione by LCG Laboratories. WADA found that UKAD was not aware of the analysis, which was privately performed by the duo as part of their defence after both were charged with anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs). Again, some context is needed.
Lawyers for Williams told the Mail on Sunday that UKAD recommended that the supplements were tested at LCG Laboratories. This is a direct contradiction to WADA’s finding that UKAD wasn’t aware. Somebody isn’t being truthful.
LCG Group had taken over HFL in 2010, which was the Laboratory used by British Cycling for its nandrolone Study. Dienedione, like nandrolone, is a 19-nortestosterone.
The unchallenged result of the analysis performed by Warburton and Williams was that Mountain Fuel’s Xtreme Energy Fuel 3283 blackcurrant flavour was to blame. The September 2014 test results reported by the duo suggested a contaminated batch.
However Cambridge Commodities Limited (CCL), the supplement manufacturer, had also commissioned tests at the same Laboratory on the same batch a month later. In contrast to the tests commissioned by Williams and Warburton, these tests came back negative for Dienedione. UKAD said it hadn’t contacted CCL and wasn’t aware of the analysis it had performed until a media report emerged years after the case had taken place.
Darren Foote, a UK Athletics Coach understood to produce the Mountain Fuel range of supplements, recommended them to Warburton and Williams. The NADP accepted Foote’s evidence that CCL hadn’t returned his correspondence.
The Mail on Sunday has seen an email from CCL to Foote dated 3 December about test results on four new blends. The National Anti-Doping Panel (NADP) hearing (click here for the Decision) took place on 15 December 2014 and contains Foote’s claim that CCL had not replied to his correspondence. Again, somebody isn’t being truthful.
WADA hasn’t explained how it came to be certain that UKAD didn’t know about the Laboratory tests performed by Warburton and Williams. It also appears suspicious that tests conducted by the same Laboratory on the same batch of supplements could return two different results. In addition, correspondence seen by the Mail on Sunday appears to contradict Foote’s claim that the supplement manufacturer had not replied to him. All of these issues warrant further investigation.
That UKAD and the NADP accepted evidence that the supplements were contaminated without apparently cross checking that evidence with the manufacturer is also of concern. So is a Freedom of Information (FOI) request which illustrates that UKAD vigorously opposed releasing details about the case – albeit with good reason.
In any doping case, it is likely that the athletes, advisors, and the manufacturers involved will seek to absolve themselves of any fault. Warburton and Williams insist that contamination was to blame. So does Foote. The manufacturer insists that contamination at source was ruled out.
Not all of these statements can be true. It would appear from the Mail on Sunday’s evidence that UKAD and the NADP have failed to discover who is actually at fault.
‘UKAD’s view is that the Panel should look closely at the failings of both Mr. Warburton and Mr. Williams, but whilst doing so recognise that this is a contaminated supplement case’, reads a UKAD submission to the NADP in the case. ‘Mr. Warburton and Mr. Williams may have brought this matter on themselves but they are victims. They are not cheats. They made mistakes and have paid for them heavily already. UKAD would not disagree with the Panel if the Panel found that their failings were not significant.’
Warburton and Williams received six month sanctions. Contrast this with UKAD’s usual approach to doping offences1. Again, one could be forgiven for concluding that double standards are in play.
Also, despite the above inconsistencies in this case, UKAD hasn’t taken any further action. It has been cleared of wrongdoing by WADA.
Unfortunately for UKAD, the above issues didn’t occur in isolation. Remember when 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”.
How about when UKAD closed an investigation into whether three British athletes had been supplied with erythropoietin (EPO) in Kenya, concluding that medical files had been faked? The reporters who obtained the files insist that they are genuine, and confirmed that UKAD never asked for them.
No, they have never asked.
— Hajo Seppelt (@hajoseppelt) January 23, 2020
Presumably, if UKAD’s claims of forgery are accurate, only the Doctor and reporters concerned would hold copies of the files and not the three athletes. Would UKAD trust a document supplied by a Doctor who held an interest in not incriminating himself? Did UKAD conclude that the files had been faked without seeing the originals?
Elite British athletes such as Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe trained at the nearby High Altitude Training Centre (HATC) ahead of the London 2012 Olympics. In 2016, investigative journalists found EPO and needles in the bins. In July 2019, an indictment by French prosecutors alleged that British athletes, including a Gold medalist and ‘sports icon’ were involved in blood doping at the London 2012 Olympics.
In 2020, Syringes were found at a local stadium in the same area. There are serious questions about whether Kenya is committed to cleaning up alleged doping problems in this area. Did UKAD’s apparent inaction contribute to this?
The Mail On Sunday reported that it had seen a signed testimony from a world record holder confirming that athletes were tipped off about planned tests in Kenya. Michael Rotich, Head Coach of the Kenyan athletics team for Rio 2016, told undercover reporters that British doping control officers would be able to supply him with details of planned tests.
UKAD refused to sent Farah’s samples to the US, after they were requested by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as part of its investigations into Alberto Salazar, Head Coach at the Nike Oregon Project. UKAD argued that reanalysing the samples or sending them to another location could negate their usefulness for future retesting. Farah clarified that he is happy for any of his samples to be retested.
. I’ve seen reports of my name in connection to UKAD and WADA about sample retesting. Just to be clear, I was not consulted about this and as I’ve said many times, I am happy for any anti-doping body to test any of my previous samples anytime. pic.twitter.com/0TAr3BPMR2
— Sir Mo Farah (@Mo_Farah) January 21, 2020
Salazar coached Farah from 2010 until 2017, meaning that the ten year Statute of Limitations regarding Farah’s samples from 2010/2011 has now passed. Was any retesting ever done?
An investigation conducted by The Sports Integrity Initiative doesn’t inspire confidence. In the nine years to 21 January 2020, UKAD retested just 120 samples, ramping up retesting only after a journalist submitted a freedom of information (FOI) request. This period covers the so-called ‘golden age’ of British sport, which was plagued by allegations of doping.
The fact that UKAD did far more retests following the FOI suggests it is more concerned about media perception than clean sport. UKAD’s Annual Report reveals it spent £235,000 on Communications during 2019/20, more than double the £114,000 it spent on Intelligence (see right)4.
Under Article 20.1.9 of the World Anti-Doping Code, signatories agree to ‘vigorously pursue all potential anti-doping rule violations within its authority including investigation into whether Athlete Support Personnel or other Persons may have been involved in each case of doping’. Can UKAD be said to have fulfilled this obligation in all of the instances highlighted above?
Unfortunately, the Code facilities such behaviour. Under the rules, ADOs don’t have any obligation to help athletes discover how they tested positive.
Under the strict liability principles of anti-doping, the athlete is considered guilty unless they can prove they are innocent. Unless elite athletes with money are involved, it is easier and cheaper for an ADO to blame the athlete and push for the maximum sanction.
Recent changes to the Code make it far easier for ADOs to do this. Under Article 10.8.1, athletes who ‘accept’ a four year sanction can receive a one year reduction for ‘admitting’ an ADRV within 20 days of being charged. If you are a financially challenged young athlete, the Code now makes admitting to something you didn’t do a very enticing prospect.
This change to the Code incentivises ADOs to pressure such athletes into early admission, saving the ADO the time and cost of a hearing. This approach risks further undermining athlete trust and missing vital information about the people and processes that underpin doping.
To put it in very simple terms, a young athlete charged with an ADRV and threatened with a four year ban can knock a year off a four year ban by admitting to something they didn’t do, potentially enabling them to compete at the next Olympics. Information on how that athlete came to test positive, for example the involvement of any Coaches or Doctors, is lost forever. ‘Protecting Sport’ indeed.
Nothing epitomises UKAD’s approach more than the Tyson Fury case. A backdated ban was agreed allowing Fury to continue competing, despite an AAF for UKAD’s apparent nemesis, nandrolone. ‘In recognition of the respective counter-arguments and the risks inherent in the dispute resolution process, each side has accepted a compromise of its position’, reads UKAD’s statement (emphasis added).
If a dispute resolution process involving Fury represents a risk to UKAD, what about Farah? Radcliffe? The footballers UKAD conducted no retests on over nine years?
‘Pursuant to the terms of the UK National Anti-Doping Policy, UKAD must always act in the interests of justice and not solely for the purpose of obtaining determinations adverse to athletes’, reads UKAD’s statement in the Dillian Whyte case. Try telling that to Mark Dry, Sonny Webster, Mark Jones, Liam Cameron, Erin McBride – the list goes on1. Perhaps the end of that statement should read ‘elite athletes’.
As illustrated above, it would appear that UKAD is happy to pick off the low hanging fruit, ignoring the top of the tree. It can illustrate that it is doing its job by sanctioning young, amateur, non elite athletes, whilst avoiding taking on the bigger names, or figures within sport that facilitate doping.
A reader challenge. Can you name an elite athlete or official who’s been sanctioned by UKAD? Amazing, isn’t it? Especially when you consider the allegations that have plagued British sport for the past decade.
USADA presents a convenient comparison. Had it accepted the explanations of Lance Armstrong, the US Postal scandal may never have happened and cycling’s omertà would not have relented a little. If USADA had accepted the explanations of Salazar, the Nike Oregon Project may still be experimenting with prohibited and unacceptable methods.
UKAD has shown, time and time again, that it has no appetite for risky and costly investigations. Its focus on sanctioning athletes without fully examining the entourage that surrounds them makes it unlikely that it will ever unearth the British equivalent of Armstrong or Salazar.
As such, has UKAD ‘vigorously pursue[d]’ all ADRVs ‘including investigation into whether Athlete Support Personnel or other Persons may have been involved’ as required by the World Anti-Doping Code? Has it always ‘act[ed] in the interests of justice and not solely for the purpose of obtaining determinations adverse to athletes’ as required by the UK Anti-Doping Policy?
As illustrated above, the Echo from UKAD’s apparent Blackout appears to be getting louder. WADA’s Report has been provided to its compliance department, to the UK Parliament’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and to the international cycling union. Perhaps it is time UKAD was held to account.
1. Mark Dry (click here), Sonny Webster (click here), Mark Jones (click here), Liam Cameron (click here), Erin McBride (click here)↩
2. UKAD settled with Tyson Fury following a nandrolone positive due to the ‘risks inherent’ in the case. Read more about the fallout from this decision by clicking here↩
3. USADA helped Jimmy Wallhead, a British MMA fighter, test supplements to discover the source of his positive test↩
4. This figure doesn’t include staff costs. UKAD’s Annual Report lists the staff costs of its Intelligence team, but not the staff costs of its Communications team. In 2019/20, staff costs relating to the UKAD Intelligence team were £429,000, taking its total spend on Intelligence to £543,000.↩
• Twenty three athletes from 14 countries, competing in 11 sports, were involved in anti-doping...
• Twelve athletes from nine countries, competing in seven sports, were involved in anti-doping proceedings...
• 36 athletes from 12 countries, competing in 12 sports, were involved in anti-doping proceedings...