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WADA to investigate Freeman request to monitor and warn riders over biological passport data

Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analysis' Neil Robinson displays an example of biological passport results
Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analysis' Neil Robinson displays an example of biological passport results (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images)

The World Anti-Doping Agency's independent investigations unit is reportedly looking into a 2016 request made by former British Cycling head of medicine to gather riders' biological passport data and monitor or even warn them of fluctuations in values that could trigger an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV), according to the BBC.

British Cycling are already the subject of a WADA inquiry into an internal testing programme that picked up traces of nandrolone in the sample of a 'prominent track rider' in 2010. Nandrolone is a non-specified substance, meaning any amount found in an anti-doping control would trigger an ADRV, but according to reports, UKAD alerted British Cycling and the rider "amid concerns that it could point to a health problem or a contaminated supplement."

In response to the nandrolone case, anti-doping expert Robin Parisotto questioned the ethics of internal testing, telling Cyclingnews, "Morally and ethically, if a team is testing itself, then where’s the oversight, where’s the transparency, and where’s the independence?"

The latest ethical dilemma dates to a 2016 request from Richard Freeman, then head doctor at British Cycling, to collect biological passport information either from UKAD or from riders. He proposed performing monthly analysis on the data "similar to that performed by the anti-doping agencies" to "assess frequency of testing and give warning of targeted testing."

According to the BBC, Freeman wrote to British Cycling's head coach Iain Dyer, programmes director Andy Harrison and para-cycling chief Jon Pett proposing that he would assess riders' data monthly and, together with "an independent expert", rank them into three categories: "green (no concern), amber (variation warrants monitoring), red (prepare for potential adverse passport finding by UKAD or UCI prior to a formal ADRV, anti-doping rule violation, or even suspension by British Cycling in anticipation of this.)"

Freeman justified the internal analysis, saying it would allow "early detection in the fluctuations of the riders' ABP (biological passport)" which would allow riders time to "consider reasons as to why there are fluctuations and prepare a defence" as well as giving British Cycling a chance to suspend a rider with "significantly red reports".

"I think that this demonstrates due diligence from the medical department on behalf of British Cycling," Freeman wrote.

British Cycling's anti-doping commission discussed the proposal during a meeting, noting in the meeting minutes that UKAD was unwilling to provide ABP data and stating, "This will be confirmed in writing in response to a proposed letter requesting that UKAD's position is reviewed from time to time."

British Cycling maintains that Freeman's proposal "was made with the intention of better supporting the work of anti-doping organisations".

"In February 2016, Dr Richard Freeman made a proposal to the federation's anti-doping commission, which included two representatives from UK Anti-Doping, that Ukad share information from athlete biological passport monitoring with the medical team for the Great Britain Cycling Team," British Cycling said to the BBC.

"The minutes from the meeting record that this proposal was made with the intention of better supporting the work of anti-doping organisations. The minutes also record that the proposal was not accepted and that this would be confirmed in writing."

Similar internal testing programmes were carried out before the UCI officially adopted the biological passport data. Team CSC was the first to start an internal testing programme under Danish anti-doping expert Rasmus Damsgaard in 2007 in the wake of the Operacion Puerto scandal which ensnared their rider Ivan Basso the previous year.

However, the UCI's adoption of the ABP led most organisations to abandon internal testing. The UCI told the BBC that riders are free to share their ABP information, however.

"Riders can access their haematological values directly through (data system) ADAMS. Consequently, riders can also share such data with any chosen party. As for the UCI, it does not share personal information with a third party unless authorised/required by law or authorised by the rider in question," the UCI said to the BBC.