Special Edition News for June 26, 2004
Edited by Gerard Knapp
Australia's track cycling doping scandal:
Accused rider was never in Adelaide
By Gerard Knapp
The Australian track cyclist, Graeme Brown, today told Cyclingnews.com that he was never at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) facility in Del Monte, Adelaide, during the period that the suspended sprinter, Mark French, alleges he was among a group of five other cyclists that used his room to inject a variety of substances.
Yesterday, a report in a Sydney newspaper quoted the in-camera (confidential) testimony given by French to Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), where he named five cyclists who he alleges used his room to inject a variety of substances.
One of those named was Brown, a member of Australia's world record-holding team pursuit squad and a professional with the Ceramiche Panaria-Margres cycling team in Italy. But in a statement issued to Cyclingnews, Brown said, "It is difficult to know what Mark French is really accusing me of doing but one thing is certain - I have never and will never use illegal drugs or other banned substances.
"It is acknowledged now that I was never even in the State of South Australia, much less Adelaide, at the time French was at the AIS Del Monte facility. How my name came up is a mystery."
Although French's testimony was described as "implausible" - in a report by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) earlier this month - the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and the Federal Opposition seized on the suspended rider's claims and demanded a new inquiry. French's allegations have been reproduced on the front page of major metropolitan newspapers, causing considerable damage to cycling's reputation in Australia.
The reports in Australian newspapers have included images of athletes in darkened rooms, fists clenched as they attempt to insert a needle into a bulging vein. It should be pointed out that there is considerable resistance in Australia to athletes injecting anything, even though the practice is common among all elite sports.
On the topic of injecting vitamins, Brown said, "It is also on the public record that the only substances I use are injectable vitamins which were specifically approved for me by the AIS/National Team Doctor. Many elite athletes use them because they are believed to be up to 70% more effective than tablets."
Brown has already appeared before the new inquiry, chaired by the retired Supreme Court Justice, Robert Anderson. Brown said his appearance lasted only 15 minutes after it was determined he was not in South Australia at the time of the allegations.
In typical 'Brownie' fashion, he expressed genuine surprise to Cyclingnews that he was named and asked to come before the new inquiry. "I wouldn't say that this has been a complete waste of time," he said, "but this matter should never have got to this level."
He was also asked to supply a DNA sample. "Well, you can do it," he reportedly told the inquiry, "but you won't find my DNA in the evidence, because I was never there."
The most serious doping substance found among the evidence - a home-made 'sharps bucket' found in French's room at the AIS - are 13 empty ampoules of equine growth hormone. The previous inquiry was unable to determine who used the eGH, but French was charged with trafficking of the substance (among other infractions) and he was hit with a two-year suspension and $1000 fine. Twelve days after the CAS ruling, the AOC then weighed in and slapped a life ban on the 19 year-old rider from competing at the Olympic Games.
Brown is now heading back to Europe to rejoin his team in Italy and is looking forward to representing Australia at the Olympic Games, given that he is considered a certainty for the Australian cycling team for Athens that is due to be announced on July 9.
Brown's participation - and that of all other Australian cyclists - still needs to be approved by the AOC, which has said it will stop any rider named by French from competing in Athens unless it is satisfied they are not "drug cheats".
However, one of the named athletes just wants to get back to Europe and start racing his bike. Brown said, "To all cycling fans out there I want to firstly thank you for all the expressions of support which I have received and secondly, I want to say what a shame it is that my name somehow got dragged into this business at all.
"Today I return to Italy to rejoin my professional team after a break while I recovered from injury. My main aim is to do Australia proud at the Olympic Games in Athens. You can be a champion in cycling without being a drug cheat."
The Anderson inquiry continues and is expected to deliver the first part of its report - which examines the French allegations - to the Federal Government by July 1.
Separately, Brown and his solicitor are considering legal action in regard to the allegations published by the Sydney newspaper.
Cyclingnews coverage of the French affair
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)