Piers Morgan’s a bit like one of those dogs that barks all night and won’t shut up. And this week, it’s Sir Bradley Wiggins he’s growling at.
Britain’s most-decorated Olympian found himself in the news after a report from MPs said his cycling team “crossed an ethical line” regarding doping rules when Wiggins was given medicine on the last day of a race in 2011.
Wiggins and Team Sky insist there was a medical need. And they were cleared of any offence by world anti-doping chiefs last year. So far, so good on the crisis management PR front.
But the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee said they used drugs to enhance his performance – and that set off Morgan’s howling.
Scenting the chance of getting his fizzer back in the tabloids, Morgan yelped: “It was to help him to win.”
While Susanna Reid let her eyes tell the world what her BBC-trained soul thought about her GMB co-host’s editorialising, he growled: “This leads me to the shorter version of this, which is that Sir Bradley Wiggins is a flaming cheat – cheat.
“And if he doesn't like that phrase, why don't you come and sue me? Seriously. Let's get into court and discuss what was in your little jiffy bag.”
Crisis management teaches us that there’s a few ways to handle a barking dog.
You could holler out of the window at it to shut up, which wouldn’t work and would only annoy other people.
You could send a lawyer’s letter, threatening to sue unless they shut the dog up.
Or you could pop in some earplugs and ignore the noise.
What Wiggins should do is reach for his earplugs, pull on his yellow jersey and polish his medals. Or perhaps go for a long ride on his bike until people have forgotten what he’s accused of.
It’s no longer even about reputation management – what the MPs had to say has tarnished his reputation already. It’s about not leaving himself open to further criticism.
His crisis communications statement made his case eruditely. He maintains he needed the medicine. He did nothing wrong according to the rules. Nothing to see here, move right along.
But there’s a difference between bending rules for the maximum competitive advantage, as the MPs allege, and shattering the spirit of sportsmanship. A cheat in the eyes of the law is not necessarily the same as a cheat in the eyes of a sports fan.
Morgan’s outburst put Wiggo in a really slippery situation because he has taken the view that the cyclist will turn the other cheek as part of his reputation management strategy.
And he’s right. The last thing Wiggins should be doing is creating a precedent – as soon as you do that, you generally have to follow that precedent.
If Wiggins starts suing Morgan, he will then have to sue anyone else who says the same. And if he sues, a bunch of other people will start calling him a cheat because he can’t sue them all – he doesn’t have endlessly deep pockets.
In winning the Tour de France and London Olympic gold in 2012, Wiggins inspired the nation to get on its bike. Now, he’s got a chance to teach them that sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing.
But I can’t help feeling Morgan’s the winner in this one – without the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
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