The medical tribunal that will assess Dr. Richard Freeman’s fitness to practise and explore doping allegations during his time at Team Sky and British Cycling has been adjourned until Friday, with further delays likely.
Freeman was not present on the opening day of the tribunal in Manchester on Wednesday. In his absence, his lawyer, Mary O’Rourke QC, requested a private session in order to submit an application for a 48-hour adjournment, which was granted by the panel of three tribunal members.
The hearing will officially recommence at 9:30 am on Friday, though further delays are on the cards as the tribunal anticipates a further application on Friday.
Reasons for the adjournment were not disclosed, given the discussions took place in private. Medical practioners' tribunals are held in public but certain parts can be heard in private, either on health grounds, or in exceptional circumstances that outweigh the public interest.
Freeman’s struggles with mental health problems, including severe depression and suicidal thoughts, are well documented, and prevented him from giving evidence in person to the UK Parliament Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee inquiry into doping in sport in 2017. He also provided his evidence to the UK Anti-Doping investigation in writing, and more recently pulled out of appearing at the employment tribunal for British track rider Jess Varnish.
There is no guarantee that the tribunal will formally open on Friday morning. In fact, the chances are slim. Stephen Mooney, the tribunal’s Chair, revealed that there is likely to be a further application submitted on Friday morning, though he did not specify if it would be another application for adjournment, or for another matter.
Either way, the application is likely to be considered in private, meaning the tribunal, which begins with the General Medical Council (GMC) setting out its case against Freeman, is unlikely to start before next week.
"There is likely to be a further application on Friday morning which would require legal arguments and it may well be that they would be heard in private,” said Mooney as the media and public were invited back in to hear the adjournment decision.
"If the matters can be considered in public, they will be, but it is very likely on Friday we will be reconvening to hear submissions in private."
Both parties - Freeman and the GMC - have been invited to submit documents to the tribunal panel, which will be read through on Thursday ahead of reconvening on Friday morning.
Freeman, a doctor at both Team Sky and British Cycling between 2009 and 2015, has been called to the tribunal to assess his fitness to practise, after a number of allegations including intention to dope a rider.
In June 2011 Freeman took delivery of a package containing 30 sachets of testosterone gel at the Team Sky and British Cycling HQ in Manchester. It is alleged that Freeman’s motive for placing the order was "to administer to an athlete to improve their athletic performance". Testosterone is banned in and out of competition under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s rules and, if the General Medical Council (GMC) can stand up the allegation, it would represent a significant blow to the reputations of Team Sky and British Cycling.
The tribunal is also set to examine Freeman’s previous explanations for the delivery, including that it was sent in error and that it was intended for use by a non-athlete, as well as his approach to prescription medication, his treatment of colleagues without informing their GPs, and his record keeping.
Freeman is not required to attend his tribunal in person. It is not clear whether he will appear later in the tribunal but on the first day he is being represented by Mary O’Rourke, a prominent QC with high-profile experience in the fields of sport and medicine.
O’Rourke represented Dr. Eva Carneiro in 2016 when she was dismissed by Chelsea Football Club after a row with manager Jose Mourinho. Carneiro brought a case of constructive dismissal and sex discrimination, which was settled shortly before she was due to give testimony.