A London doctor at the centre of a Sunday Times investigation [£] into doping among athletes in the UK has reportedly claimed that his clients include British cyclists who have competed in the Tour de France.
The newspaper says that it sent an aspiring Olympic track and field athlete to the London clinic where Dr Mark Bonar, an anti-ageing specialist, practises. It alleges that he offered the young sportsman EPO.
During their conversation, which was secretly filmed, Dr Bonar is claimed to have said that he had worked with around 150 athletes from a range of sports, which besides cycling include football, boxing, tennis and cricket.
As well as EPO, he is alleged to have prescribed other banned substances including human growth hormone and anabolic steroids.
The Sunday Times says it was alerted to the doctor by a competitor in an unspecified sport who was given a doping ban and sought to have the length of it reduced by presenting UK Anti-doping (Ukad) with what he claimed was evidence that Dr Bonar had prescribed him performance enhancing drugs.
Ukad reportedly decided the evidence was of “little or no value” and added that there were “no grounds for action to be taken against Dr Bonar,” but did not believe there were sufficient grounds to pass on concerns to the General Medical Council, which regulates doctors and whose rules prohibit them from prescribing performance enhancing drugs.
In response to the newspaper’s allegations, Secretary of State for Culture John Whittingdale has ordered an inquiry into Ukad, which says it is “deeply concerned and shocked,” and there have also been calls for the agency’s director, Nicole Sapstead, to resign.
But in a statement published on Ukad’s website last night, she said: “Once again, the media has shown how valuable they are to protecting clean sport and in the fight against doping.
“Investigative journalism has proven that it can uncover and unearth information which authorities like Ukad do not have the jurisdiction to pursue – without this invaluable resource some wrongdoers would not be uncovered and held to public account.
“I therefore applaud the team at the Sunday Times for their relentless pursuit of wrongdoing – it is vital in order to protect clean sport and clean athletes.”
She said that the agency’s own investigation of the athlete’s allegations “found that there was nothing to indicate that Dr Bonar was governed by a sport and Ukad had no other intelligence to corroborate the sportsman’s allegations.
“As a result, Ukad recommended to the sportsperson that more information was needed and as Dr Bonar fell outside of Ukad’s jurisdiction, that information could be passed, if appropriate, to the General Medical Council, which does have the powers to investigate possible medical malpractice and pursue if necessary.”
Tony Minichello, the coach of the Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, commented: “This case shows that British sport has a bigger doping problem than any of us imagined.”
He joined one-time Sports Minister and former British Olympic Committee chair Lord Moynihan in calling for Ms Sapstead’s resignation, saying: “Her clear error of judgment in failing to ensure Ukad properly investigated Bonar makes her position untenable because she has failed in her fundamental duty to protect clean athletes.”
During the videotaped meeting, it is claimed that Dr Bonar told the athlete who visited him as part of The Sunday Times investigation: Some of these treatments I use are banned on a professional circuit. So, you have to be mindful of that. Having said that – I have worked with lots of professional athletes who do use these treatments.”
In subsequent meetings with undercover reporters, it is alleged that he said: “I don’t really advertise… I don’t want that media scrutiny that kind of [thing], you know, coming down on you.”
The newspaper said that while the doctor did name individual athletes from a range of sports, it “has decided not to publicise them until Bonar’s claims have been further investigated.
“Those contacted by The Sunday Times either denied being treated by him or declined to comment.”
It added that Dr Bonar has refuted its claims that he has helped athletes cheat.
“The fact that some of my patients happen to be professional athletes is irrelevant,” he said.
“If they have proven deficiencies on blood work and are symptomatic, I will treat them.
“They are well fully aware of the risks of using these medicines in professional sport and it is their responsibility to comply with anti-doping regulations,” he added.
Since the start of the current decade, 16 British cyclists have raced in the Tour de France, including overall winners Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Last year’s Cycling Independent Reform Commission report into doping in cycling said that while there was no evidence of coordinated doping at team level nowadays as once happened at squads such as US Postal and Rabobank, there remained concerns that some individual riders were seeking help to cheat from medical professionals not associated with their own teams.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.