MP Damian Collins has had his 2 cents worth on the UK's Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph’s investigation into world 100-metre champion Justin Gatlin’s support team provides fresh challenges to the integrity of sport. Once again, we are seeing evidence of the active knowledge by senior sports people of the performance-enhancing properties of certain drugs, that if used by athletes could lead to a violation of the anti-doping code.
There have recently been a number of investigations into doping in sport, including the Independent Commission, set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which has looked into deliberate breaches of drugs policies and the corruption of athlete testing by Russia.
But the power and resources of the anti-doping authorities are severely restricted, making it impossible to follow up on every important line of inquiry. UK Anti-Doping has few full-time investigators and no legal powers to demand to see medical records or other confidential material that could support its inquiries.
The drugs cheats know this. They also know that, if they are careful, the chances of being caught are limited, particularly if you are using methods that are hard to detect through testing – like the abuse of EPO in blood doping, which has the effect of boosting the number of red blood cells in the bloodstream in order to enhance performance in endurance races.
We have to give serious consideration to making doping a criminal offence, so that the authorities have the legal power to seek any evidence which can help their investigation. It would mean that, rather than just bans for athletes and doctors, there would be criminal sanctions for those involved. This activity undermines the integrity of sporting competition and defrauds clean athletes who lose out.
It would also bring British law into line with other countries. In January, British Olympic cycling champion Nicole Cooke gave evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into doping. Speaking of the conviction for doping offences of her former Italian team boss William Dazzani, she said that, if he had “operated in the UK rather than in Italy he would still be running doping rings, producing tragedy and misery in so many around him. As it was, the Guardia were empowered by legislation making it a criminal offence to receive and procure [performance-enhancing drugs] for athletes.”
There is also the question of the policing of the ethical line in sport, of ensuring that non-banned drugs that also have performance-enhancing qualities are only used for medical needs.
In a recent interview for BBC Panorama, the former British Cycling coach Shane Sutton talked about the use of special certificates that allow cyclists to take drugs that are legal, but banned during competition because of performance-enhancing qualities, as part of plan to “find gains” to give them an edge over other athletes.
The committee also took evidence from Dr Robin Chakraverty, formerly a senior doctor at UK Athletics, and Dr Barry Fudge, the head of the UK Athletics endurance programme. Dr Chakraverty was matter of fact about the policy of administering drugs.
He said: “First of all, is it a prohibited substance? No. If it is, you do not look at it. Secondly, how effective is it? Barry’s job would be looking at a supplement from a performance perspective and I would be looking at supplements from a health perspective. Then you have a hierarchy of evidence to see whether it is supportive in either health or performance.” Surely the main consideration in prescribing medicine is health above performance?
There needs to be a wider review of medicines policy. Where an athlete is so ill because of, say, severe asthma that it requires them to take a powerful drug with potential performance-enhancing properties, they shouldn’t be allowed to compete while that drug is active in their system. There need to be stricter rules on the keeping of medical records by team doctors. They should be required to report not just to team coaches, but also to other senior clinicians, appointed by the governing bodies, who can peer review their methods and record keeping.
We certainly cannot go on as we are.
Damian Collins MP is chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee