The response to last week’s column about Sir Bradley Wiggins, ethics and the profession was so great and the opinions so widespread that it seemed worth revisiting the issue and exploring it a little further, since the underlying considerations really do apply to the profession. I have also carried out some additional research, which may some shine additional light.
For anyone that has not yet read that column, in brief it noted the controversy that had arisen in the press regarding the activities of Team Sky following comments from a government committee, implicating inter alia Sir Bradley Wiggins, Sir Dave Brailsford, Sir Mo Farah and Lord Coe.
To start at the beginning, I must unreservedly apologise and withdraw the statement that Sir Bradley has not suffered from asthma. My lack of medical knowledge meant that I did not realise the following description used on an exemption certificate was a long way of saying “asthma” – “lifelong allergy to pollen nasal congestion/rhinorrhoea sneezing throat irritation, wheezing leading to dyspnoea eye-watering runny nose known allergy to grass pollen.”
It appears that this condition is particularly prevalent among competitive cyclists. Whereas 8% of the population at large suffers from asthma, 40% of competitive cyclists are afflicted. Coincidentally, the list also includes Chris Froome, another Team Sky Tour de France champion.
A strong opinion expressed by a number of our readers and shared with Sir Steve Redgrave no less, is that if an athlete is operating within the letter of the law, then he or she is doing nothing wrong. In their view, the problem is with the law, which should be changed to prevent what the man/woman in the street would regard as cheating; in this case t, e use of a strong drug to enhance performance, which just happens to be covered by a medical exemption created for a different purpose. The school does not seem to be too concerned about ethics.
If anyone in the world of cycling and sport more generally wants to rescue increasingly murky reputations, a proposal to cut out this kind of abuse could be very simple. In all of these cases, there has been abuse of rules that permit athletes to take banned drugs for health reasons via a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). Clearly, if you stop all such exemptions, the abuse will end.
Without having any medical knowledge, the likelihood is that a number of athletes will suffer serious health problems as a result and some might die. However, it could be argued that over the years enough athletes have faced early death as a direct consequence of substance abuse so maybe this could be viewed as replacing one evil with another? However, you have to say that such a proposal would be completely unacceptable for obvious reasons.
The world of taxes a little bit different. Practitioners seem to forget the fact, but anyone with a professional accounting or tax qualification is covered by a code of ethics. Going a step further, we are now required to comply with the Professional Conduct in Relation to Taxation guidelines. One wonders if or when these obligations will actually get some teeth? I’ve not yet heard of any professionals being penalised or excluded from membership for failing to comply.
Taking a different approach, it would also be possible to create powerful legislation to cut out abuse in a number of areas. Pleasingly, this would not lead to any deaths, although it could make a lot of tax (non-) payers considerably poorer.
For example, the legislators could state that any payment made directly or indirectly for the benefit of employees is automatically subject to PAYE and NIC. If this included payments to trusts or by way of shares that would cut out much abuse, although many who were doing nothing wrong would be swept up in attempts to provide wide ranging laws to catch those the current taking advantage of the wording of legislation.
In parallel, simplifying tax law along the way, the government could determine that all contractors are to be taxed as employees, including those providing services via personal service companies. Once again, many innocent parties would suffer but what the hell, if we want to cut out abuse let’s do it properly.
The sad conclusion is that we are now living in a greedy, frankly quite nasty, society where far too many people are trying to take unfair advantage and win at all costs whether in the fields of sports or taxes. While most people recognise that this is going on, far too few seem to feel any need to recommend strong action to prevent such behaviour.