Sir Steve Redgrave says that the House of Commons Select Committee that in a report published last Monday accused Sir Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky of crossing an “ethical line” in their use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) should instead blame the system that governs them.
The report which followed an 18-month investigation by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said that any “grey area” created by current rules which allow athletes to take otherwise banned drugs under a TUE need to be tightened up.
The committee was chaired by the Folkestone & Hythe MP Damian Collins, who appeared alongside five-time Olympic gold medal-winning rower Redgrave on the BBC Radio 5 Live programme Sportsweek today.
Wiggins had used the drug triamacinolone under a TUE ahead of the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Tour de France as well as before the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
The committee concluded, based on a statement from an anonymous Team Sky whistleblower, that he may have used the drug on nine occasions over the course of four years, and that it was being used not purely on medical grounds but also to enhance his performance.
Redgrave, who was among the first to congratulate Wiggins when the cyclist claimed the fifth Olympic title of his career at Rio in 2016, insisted that the committee was wrong to try and hold the rider and his team to account when they were operating within the rules.
"To me, it's black and white,” he said. “It's either a positive drug test and you are cheating or you're not cheating and everything's okay.
Redgrave, who retired after the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, compared it with his own experience – although the World Anti-Doping Code, which governs the use of TUEs, only came into use in its original form ahead of the Athens Games four years later.
"I'm a diabetic, and the last three years of my international career I needed insulin,” Redgrave explained. “Without it I wouldn't have been able to compete.
“You take what you need to and it's down to the rule makers to decide is that a banned drug or not – do you need a TUE to get that?
Referring to Wiggins, he said: "In 2012 when he won the Tour de France then a few weeks later was competing in the Olympics, there didn't seem to be a problem with what he was doing, he passed all the drug tests at that stage."
[Editor’s note: the London 2012 Olympic road race was on the Saturday after the Tour finished and the time trial, won by Wiggins, four days later]
Redgrave said to Collins: "You should be questioning the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency [WADA], of UK Anti-Doping [UKAD], and all the agencies and not pinpointing an individual.
"If the system's wrong, we change the system. If this drug shouldn't be used for the treatment that it is and if it has enhancing properties, get it on to the banned list, it's as simple as that.
"People keep saying Team Sky haven't done anything wrong but have stepped over the ethical line but if they've got all the right paper to prove they haven't done anything wrong then the system's wrong.
"If there is this grey area which has been introduced recently over the ethics of it - it's legal or it's not, simple as that – take away the grey area."
Collins insisted that the focus of the committee’s report was on the regime under which Wiggins was able to take the drug.
He said: "We're not saying he's broken the rules, he's operating within the rules – we are questioning those rules.
"Why don't we tighten the rules to get rid of these ethical grey areas?”
Both Wiggins and Team SKy strongly deny the allegations contained in the report. But after its publication, UCI president David Lappartient called on the independent Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation set up by the governing body to investigate Team Sky and Wiggins.
"I was interested to hear the president of the UCI saying they may look into it further,” Collins added.
“If any further action is to be taken, it should be taken by people within the sport," he told the programme.”
Both Redgrave and Collins agreed that the way Olympic sports are funded nowadays in the UK, based on medal targets, may also play a role.
"Depending on how you do at the Olympics depends on how much you are likely to get for the next four-year cycle,” Redgrave said.
“So this plays a slight part in it because if you perform badly at the Olympics your funding will get cut, then you will be struggling to stay on the podium and win medals.
"That has to be looked at. Is there too much pressure of paying all those people? All the coaches are professional, all the support staff are professional."
Collins said that the funding model meant that UK Sport was under a duty to ensure that rules – and ethical considerations – were adhered to, including in relation to drugs an athlete can take on medical grounds but which may also enhance performance.
"Let's get rid of the ambiguity,” he said. “But there have to be proper rules in place to check what athletes are taking and why."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.