Richard Freeman tribunal: British Cycling, Team Sky, Shane Sutton and the mystery testosterone – explainer

Lawrence Ostlere
Dr Richard Freeman, second left, outside the tribunal in Manchester: PA

A medical tribunal in Manchester this month could have far-reaching consequences for the sport of cycling in Britain.

Dr Richard Freeman, who worked as a doctor for Team Sky and British Cycling, is at risk of losing his career in medicine after being accused of ordering testosterone with the intention of administering the substance in micro-doses to an unnamed athlete, something he denies.

The case has embroiled other key figures at Team Sky and British Cycling at the time in question, with Dr Steve Peters and controversial coach Shane Sutton both giving testimony, and the latter storming out of the tribunal vowing not to return.

Who is Dr Richard Freeman?

Freeman worked for Team Sky and British Cycling as a doctor between 2009 and 2017. He is currently facing a fit-to-practise tribunal by the General Medical Council in Manchester that could see him struck off, and which in turn could bring evidence to light implicating athletes or coaches in doping offences.

What is he accused of?

In 2011, Freeman ordered 30 sachets of Testogel – a testosterone gel banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency – to be sent to the National Sport Centre velodrome in Manchester, allegedly to be administered to an unnamed athlete in order to “improve athletic performance”. Freeman is accused of subsequently lying about the order. He initially claimed supplier Fit4Sport had sent the testosterone in error but has been accused of applying pressure on the company’s office manager to write an email saying the Testogel had been sent in error. He later told UK Anti-Doping (Ukad) authorities that he had ordered the Testogel for a member of staff at British Cycling.

In addition, Freeman is accused of breaching his remit in treating staff members who were not athletes, and of failing to keep adequate records or copies, after he claimed his records were stored on a stolen laptop.

Freeman has accepted 18 of 22 charges against him including ordering the Testogel, but denies intending to supply it to athletes.

Shane Sutton, former head coach of British Cycling (Getty)

What has happened so far?

The tribunal had been delayed for several months due to Freeman’s poor health and legal wranglings, but finally began on 6 November.

Much of the testimony so far has centered around Shane Sutton, the Australian former British Cycling and Team Sky head coach who once worked as the right-hand man to Sir Dave Brailsford and is partly credited for Britain’s upturn in cycling success. Freeman has claimed that he was bullied into lying about the Testogel order by Sutton, who Freeman claims wanted testosterone to treat erectile disfunction. Sutton denied this and said Freeman was an alcoholic who was unpopular at British Cycling. Sutton stormed out of the tribunal after he was accused of being a “serial liar”.

Another figure central to the tribunal is Dr Steve Peters, the former head of medicine at British Cycling. He said he did not know who the delivery was for, but doubts it was for Sutton as Freeman claimed. Peters suggested there was also Viagra in the package, and that it was therefore a “personal” delivery rather than something ordered to enhance athletic performance.

He also said: “I feel like I am being made to solve the crime here. I have a man [Freeman] who has lied to me, I have another guy [Sutton] who is also untrustworthy.”

Since then the former British Cycling physio Phil Burt, the man who first opened the Testogel package, has given evidence confirming that it was normal for various members of staff to open each other’s packages, therefore casting doubt on the idea that Freeman would have ordered something with deliberately illicit intentions to the velodrome. He says he took the package to Peters’ office, where Freeman was, and that Freeman looked surprised and said the package must have been sent in error.

The overall picture of British Cycling at the time that has been painted by the various testimonies at the tribunal is one of dysfunction and disorder, with an ugly side where bullying was not uncommon. Given the contradictory statements by those involved it would appear key information is being withheld, but whether the truth is uncovered over the coming days is unclear.

How will it play out?

After all the testimony is heard, the General Medical Council’s three-person panel will give its verdict on the charges against Freeman, who is likely to be struck off if he is found to have deliberately ordered testosterone in order to dope an athlete. Ukad would be likely to then open its own investigation into what went on within British Cycling and Team Sky.

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Sutton will not return to give evidence in Freeman tribunal