Mo Farah is the latest British athlete to face scrutiny over his use of so-called therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) after his confidential medical data was leaked online. Farah, the double gold medallist at the 2016 Olympics, is one of eight more British athletes who competed in Rio de Janeiro whose records were released on Monday by the Fancy Bears hacking group, believed to have links to Russia.
Helen Glover, Justin Rose and three of the triumphant Great Britain women’s hockey team are among the 26 athletes affected, along with Rafael Nadal, the Spanish 14-times grand slam tennis champion.
There were no surprises in the leak of Farah’s data, which confirmed that he had been granted two TUEs over the past eight years. Farah, also under pressure over his links with the controversial coaches Alberto Salazar and Jama Aden, confirmed in the past that he had applied for two legitimate TUEs, although he initially claimed to have had only one.
In Birmingham in 2015, in the immediate aftermath of strenuously denied allegations against Salazar, Farah was asked specifically whether he had ever applied for an exemption. He said: “I’ve had one TUE and that was in Park City, I collapsed on the floor, was taken in an ambulance and put on a drip. That was the only one.”
That was a reference to an incident when he collapsed after a training run at high altitude and had to be airlifted to hospital. But in an interview with Sky Sports News three weeks later, as the pressure on him over his relationship with Salazar intensified, Farah appeared to clarify his earlier statement.
“I’ve had two, I’ve had one recently in Park City and one in 2008,” Farah said. Asked whether he had applied for TUEs to help with his asthma, Farah replied: “I’m not on TUE for asthma, I’m just on the normal, regular asthma [inhaler]. I just take it before exercise.”
That tallies with the records released by the Fancy Bears group. The 2008 TUE relates to an injection of the anti-inflammatory triamcinolone days before he raced in Newcastle.
“As Mo has previously stated, he has got nothing to hide,” a spokeswoman said, “and doesn’t have a problem with this or any of his ADAMS [Wada’s anti-doping administration and management system] information being released – as evidenced by the fact that he voluntarily shared his blood data with the Sunday Times last year.
“Mo’s medical care is overseen at all times by British Athletics and over the course of his long career he has only ever had two TUEs. The first was back in 2008 for a one-off anti-inflammatory treatment to an injury. The second was in 2014 when Mo collapsed and was airlifted to hospital for emergency care, which consisted of painkillers and being placed on a drip.”
Nadal’s TUEs are likely to prompt further questions after it emerged that he received intramuscular injections of Tetracosactide, which stimulates the production of corticosteroids and has been named in several doping cases involving cyclists. The Spaniard was injured at the time the certificate was retrospectively applied for in August 2012.
In March, Nadal said that he would sue the former French sports minister Roselyne Bachelot over doping allegations. The week before that he said: “I am a completely clean guy. I work so much during all my career, and when I get an injury, I get an injury. I never take nothing to be back quicker.”
On Monday night Nadal told Spanish media: “When you ask permission to take something for therapeutic reasons and they give it to you, you’re not taking anything prohibited.
“It’s not news, it’s just inflammatory.” Nadal, who has twice been granted a TUE, said he had never taken anything to improve his performance but took what doctors advised him was the best medication to care for his troublesome knee.
He added: “It would be much more beneficial for sportsmen and women, spectators and media that every time a drug test is taken the news is made public and two weeks later there are the results. This would end the problem. Sport has to take a step forward and be totally transparent. I have been saying this for years.”
The steady flow of leaks by the Fancy Bears group appears to be an attempt somehow to equate the use of TUEs by western athletes with the state‑sponsored doping documented in Russia over the past 18 months by two independent reports commissioned by Wada.
However, the Fancy Bears revelations have stimulated a new round of debate over the grey areas in the use of TUEs to allow athletes with medical conditions to take otherwise banned substances. In particular, three TUEs obtained by Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins between 2011 and 2013 have come under scrutiny.
Although there is no evidence that Wiggins broke any rules, former professional Joerg Jaksche, who admitted blood doping, accused Sky of hypocrisy.
“To be honest, we had the same excuse,” he told the CyclingTips website. “I personally did it, as well as a lot of cyclists that I know from my era. We always said we had the same thing, the same allergy, but it was actually just for performance-enhancing.”
In all, the cyber-espionage group published details of another eight British athletes on Monday: Farah, the cyclist Callum Skinner, who won silver in the individual sprint at the Rio Olympics, the hockey players Alexandra Danson, Sam Quek and Crista Cullen, the Olympic champion rowers Glover and Peter Reed, and the golfer Rose, who won the Olympic gold medal in Rio.
Last night Quek said in a statement: “This amounts to a pathetic attempt to smear me personally and Team GB as a whole. I believe in clean sport, only clean sport and always will.”
The Cycling Independent Reform Committee report commissioned by the UCI president, Brian Cookson, after he was elected, quoted one former rider who claimed 90% of TUEs were granted for performance-enhancing purposes and raised a string of potential issues.
But cycling’s world governing body on Monday defended the way in which it granted TUEs and, it is understood, is not minded to review the process.
In a statement it said: “The management of therapeutic use exemptions in cycling is robust and fully safeguarded. The UCI TUE Committee (TUEC) is composed of independent experts and the coordination of the committee is handled by the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF), the independent body mandated to carry out anti-doping in the sport. A TUE can only be granted if there is unanimity amongst the panel of three TUEC members, which constitutes an additional level of rigour and goes beyond the applicable international standards. In addition, the UCI is one of the few international federations who have been recording the TUEs in ADAMS since the inception of ADAMS. Whilst this was not mandatory at the time, the UCI made that choice for transparency reasons considering that it enables Wada to review TUEs granted by the UCI TUEC.”