British Cycling was busy trying to put out the last fire on Thursday when the flames of latest one were licking up the walls of the Manchester Velodrome.
Its chairman arrived in an upstairs meeting room clutching the incomplete details of an ‘action plan’ triggered by an independent review into allegations of a bullying culture in the organisation: a review yet to be concluded because it has thrown up far more uncomfortable evidence than anticipated. The promised deadline keeps slipping back.
Jonathan Browning recited the highlights of “39 points” which the governing body is going to be terribly busy fulfilling, to deal with review findings which no-one is willing to tell us about. None of them dealt with the elephant in the room: the liberal dishing out of a unlicensed drug to cyclists from a medical store almost directly below the place where the chairman sat, which a parliamentary select committee has helped reveal.
The room in question was shared by the governing body and Team Sky, whose lines of demarcation became so blurred that British Cycling’s drugstore effectively became Team Sky drugstore. It was easy come, easy go, with precisely no records kept of why very substantial amount of triamcinolone, the unlicensed corticosteroid and substantial aid to weight loss, was dispensed by the governing body and whether Sir Bradley Wiggins was the beneficiary of some, or all of it.
It was in keeping with the way that the governing body has been sleep-walking through the disastrous investigation into this and more suspicious activities that not one of the burning questions about Sir Bradley Wiggins, his doctor Richard Freeman and the copious quantities of triamcinolone could be answered on Thursday.
Browning, who was accompanied by UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholls, did not even know whether that medical supplies room at the heart of the controversy was still shared by British Cycling and Team Sky. “If there is nobody that knows the answer I’m sure we can find that out,” he said looking around the room for an answer. None was forthcoming and staff had to be dispatched to ascertain an answer.
Neither could Browning tell us to whom those quantities of triamcinolone – a banned substance for cyclists out of competition – had gone. Had any of it medicated to athletes involved in the World Class performance programme which has spawned the generations of Olympic gold medallists? He didn’t know because records have not been kept. And besides, athletes who are happy to take Olympian acclaim when it comes hold tight to the divine right of ‘patient confidentiality.’
It was Nicholls and her assurances which most beggared belief on Thursday, though. UK Sport is the body which has spent £30m of taxpayers’ money in the past four years - your money and mine – to make British Cycling a fabulously wealthy sport. It has committed another £28m of our cash in the Tokyo Games cycle.
And yet, in the face of deeply disquieting revelations, Nicholls wanted to talk about how sublime British Cycling is and how certain she is that all will be well. She had Browning’s back, when what you hoped from an individual spending millions of our money was objectivity, something of the Rottweiler, and a sense that this failing organisation is on watch.
Together, she and Browning offered a rosy vision for the way ahead, in their 39 points. “Embed” this, “Review” that, “define” the other. Nothing to make your eyeballs pop, such as the recruitment of Nicole Cooke, the former Olympian Nicole Cooke, who has articulated the dysfunctionality better than any, to take a seat on their board.
Meanwhile, 25 miles down the road, Wiggins was demonstrating all of the pumped up self-importance which has allowed Team Sky to consider itself beyond investigation for so long. Some BBC journalists had appeared at the front door of his home in Chorley, Lancashire, to ask about a mystery package which prompted the select committee investigation in the first place.
“It’s my house. It’s private road. Put that down. I’ll call the police,” Wiggins told a cameraman. Old crisis, new crisis but the same victimhood, complacency, swagger. What will it take to make British Cycling see how dreadful they look?