British Olympic chief backs man of 'integrity' Brailsford

Pirate IRWIN
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Dave Brailsford, pictured in 2016, was behind Britain's rise as an Olympic cycling superpower and Team Sky's dominance of the Tour de France

British Olympic chief Hugh Robertson on Monday threw his weight behind under-fire Team Sky cycling boss Dave Brailsford as he battles doping and sexism controversies but said he was worried about the image of British cycling.

In an interview with AFP, Robertson, British sports minister before and during the London 2012 Olympics and now British Olympic Association chairman, described Brailsford as "a man of the utmost integrity."

Brailsford, who was behind Britain's rise as an Olympic cycling superpower and Team Sky's dominance of the Tour de France, has faced mounting criticism amid an intense spotlight on the way British cycling has been run.

Robertson said that whilst there may have been errors of judgement, Brailsford had impressed him.

"I am clearly not privy to the inner workings of Team Sky but I have known Dave Brailsford the best part of a decade and I have admired him enormously as a coach," said Robertson.

"In all my very many dealings with him, especially when I was a minister, I always found him a coach of extraordinary gifts and I must say, while it may sound counter-intuitive at the moment, a man of the utmost integrity."

Robertson said Brailsford was discovering the downside of what it means to be very successful.

"Of course whatever you say about errors of judgement he has not been found guilty of breaking any rules.

"I think there is a little bit of someone who has been been built up as a great success now discovering the other side.

"It doesn't alter the fact in my personal experience of dealing with him my dealings have always been very positive."

- No rules 'broken' -

Robertson, who gave up as a lawmaker in 2015, said the steady drip of negative headlines surrounding British Cycling was not great for the image of one of Britain's most successful sports.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say it was concerning," said the 54-year-old.

"Clearly if any sport especially one of the most successful in the British Olympic family are under threat it is a matter of concern.

"It is also clear that things have happened inside the British cycling family that shouldn't have happened and need to be correctly addressed, dealt with and proper systems put in place so they never happen again."

The British Cycling federation has been accused of sexism by some women riders. Talk of doping has also tarnished cycling's name.

Robertson, a former British Army officer who served in a peacekeeping force in Bosnia, said too much was being made of a package sent to Team Sky near the end of the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine race in France for star rider Bradley Wiggins.

The UK anti-doping agency is investigating the package. Team Sky says it had a legal decongestion but there have been allegations that there was a corticosteroid which can only be used with a special exemption.

"It is worth remembering that whatever you think about the morals of the jiffy bag and its medical contents, nobody has broken the rules whatever you think of those rules or been convicted of a doping offence," said Robertson.

"It remains the case the rules have not been broken even if things haven't been well handled. Dave Brailsford would be first to admit that.

"However, if people think the rules are incorrect or too lax then it is for them to take up that with the Tour de France organisers not in my view with the individual teams."

Robertson, who took over the BOA chairmanship from Sebastian Coe last November, said more should have been done to keep British Cycling and Team Sky separate. Many view them as indistinguishable especially as they share headquarters are in Manchester.

"That is almost certainly the error," he said.

"Actually looking back on it we should have insisted much much clearer Chinese walls between them.

"If that had occurred then these things may well have not happened."