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23 Apr 2002 : Column 46WH

Drugs (Sport)

12.30 pm

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise several issues concerning drugs in sport.

Sport has become very big business during the past 20 years, with growing media attention and, crucially, the possibility of growing rewards for the top performers. With those increasing rewards, new ways have been promoted to enhance an athlete's performance.

In my teens, I enjoyed watching Daley Thompson win decathlon after decathlon. I always remember him explaining that he trained on Christmas day because none of his rivals would, which gave him an advantage. For someone of my athletic capabilities, a second trip to the gym a week would undoubtedly enhance my performance, although I fear it would not get me any closer to playing elite-level sport. Others with more feasible aspirations look to coaches and doctors for the extra dietary information or the additional training routine to help them gain that split-second improvement in performance to launch them on to a medal podium.

Sadly, the truth is that a few contemplate artificial improvement in performance by looking to performance-enhancing drugs, such as anabolic steroids which might be used by athletes to increase muscle size, to train harder and for longer, or to increase their competitiveness and aggression. Other examples of drugs that might be considered to raise performance are human growth hormones, which stimulate muscle and tissue growth. Competitors may misuse erythropoietin—EPO—to enhance the body's oxygen-transport capacity and therefore endurance.

As awareness of the use of drugs in sport has risen, so have the demands on sports' governing bodies to do more to keep their sport drug-free and ensure that competitions are not won by drug cheats. Drugs taken to enhance performance can also cause the athlete health problems. Anabolic steroids can stop people growing properly. They can increase the chance of liver failure, heart attack, miscarriage and stillbirth. Large, prolonged doses of human growth hormone can lead to high blood pressure or diabetes, while the misuse of EPO carries severe risks because of thickening of the blood, which can overload the heart and increase the risk of blood clots, strokes, heart attacks, and even death in the very worst cases.

There are good public health reasons, as well as the moral and ethical desire for genuine, fair competitions, for challenging the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Research by the British Medical Association published two weeks ago highlighted evidence from GP and needle-exchange surveys, alongside interviews with anabolic steroid users, suggesting that anabolic steroid use in British gyms is sufficiently commonplace to be considered a genuine public health problem. Further research is needed on the potential adverse impact on the body of anabolic steroid use.

There have been few attempts to quantify the extent of doping in elite-level sport. As far back as 1989, two inquiries by committees in the American and Australian Senates highlighted the use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes in their respective countries. The

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Canadian Government established their own commission of inquiry in 1990, concluding, sadly, that the problem of the use of performance-enhancing drugs was widespread not only in Canada but throughout the world.

The BMA report went on to note the comments of Anthony Miller, then research director at the Institute of Sports Medicine in Australia, who talked of an epidemic of drugs use in sport, and added that the problem was worsening. A British survey that is worth referring to is one that was carried out by the former Sports Council in 1996, which showed that almost 50 per cent. of British athletes thought that drug use in international competition in their sport was a problem. The figure rose to more than 80 per cent. for track and field athletes.

Fortunately, there have been few cases in the UK of sports people testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, but we cannot afford to relax our continuing efforts to rid national and international sport of such drugs. It is certainly true that Britain has led the way in tackling the issue. The UK Sport anti-doping unit serves as a model for other countries to build on in their efforts to combat the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The publication and widespread acceptance of a national anti-doping policy, which was strongly backed by Ministers, is extremely positive, as has been the strong Government support for the establishment and operation of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

However, several issues still need to be addressed. There are genuine concerns about the number of drug tests that Britain can fund. The regulation and labelling of supplements is an issue that is worthy of further work. Funding for research into performance-enhancing drugs and legislation governing the role and supply of such drugs by coaches and doctors are required, and there is a continuing need for consistency among governing bodies in responding to positive drugs tests. In addition, the planned testing regime in the run-up to and during the Commonwealth games needs to be reviewed.

UK Sport's capacity for drugs testing has remained largely unchanged since 1991. The number of tests has not significantly increased. Without a substantial increase in funding, the number of drug tests may decrease, given their rising sophistication. For example, blood tests cost £1,000 each, yet they will soon be an accepted and normal procedure for rooting out cheats using EPO in international sport. Such tests are particularly important for endurance events. It was good to see EPO testing during the recent London marathon. The need for such testing was highlighted by the commendable protests of our own Paula Radcliffe at the world athletics championships in August last year.

I recognise that plans are in place for an extensive programme of drug testing, including pre-games testing, but I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to make representations to the Commonwealth Games Federation to provide for a testing regime that includes blood testing for EPO before and during the games. Perhaps additional lottery funding could be released to help close the gap and to make the testing regime even more robust.

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Aside from the Commonwealth games, many other countries now undertake a far greater number of drug tests to reinforce their anti-doping rules. For example, I understand that there were 6,100 tests in the UK in 2000. That compares with 8,900 in France, 14,200 in Germany and 11,300 in Italy. In terms of hard cash, the UK spent £1.2 million on its drugs-testing regime in 2000. France spent the equivalent of £1.7 million, Germany £1.4 million and Italy £2.8 million.

The cost of drugs tests at UK and European laboratories has become a concern to many of our national sports bodies, which understandably want to maintain a robust drugs-testing regime but face financial pressures. The danger is that drugs tests will be conducted in laboratories that are significantly distant from the UK. I understand that the laboratory at King's college is the only one in the UK that is able to carry out tests to the level required. Clearly, a further facility is essential if we are to drive down the costs of drugs tests without compromising the process.

In 1999, there was a small but significant increase in the number of drugs tests showing nandrolone use. Reports emerged of a similar pattern from samples collected in other countries. Concern has focused on supplements used by athletes. Several athletes have successfully defended themselves over positive drugs test findings by citing worries about nandrolone in supplements.

A nandrolone review committee, which reported in January 2000 at the behest of UK Sport, gave strong warnings about the dangers of using supplements that may be incorrectly or inadequately labelled. Furthermore, research conducted in Aberdeen under the guidance of Professor Ron Maughan suggested a link between supplements and the presence of nandrolone metabolites. The link was confirmed through an analysis of bottles of supplements at the International Olympic Committee laboratory in Cologne.

The possibility of inadequate labelling or cross-contamination of supplements puts athletes at risk of using prohibited substances unknowingly, and it inevitably makes disciplinary investigations more difficult. Current rules rightly make athletes ultimately responsible for substances found in their urine or bloodstream. That position is crucial if the vast majority of athletes who are honest are to be protected from those who want to cheat by administering banned substances. Nevertheless, it is not impossible to envisage a situation in which an athlete is the innocent victim of a positive drugs test after having used supplements that, unknown to him or her, contained nandrolone metabolites.

Concerns were raised in the UK following the successful prosecution of the food supplements company Maximuscle in October last year for incorrectly labelling one of its supplements. Meetings have been held with the supplements industry, without real positive progress, to try to improve the standard of information available about products, and to achieve a higher standard of quality assurance. The industry does not want to pay for a quality assurance system. Given the level of advertising for food supplements, and the lack of rigour applied to labelling by some companies in the industry—both factors have been cited in recent positive drugs tests—it is entirely right that sports governing bodies should advise against the use of any

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supplements. However, given the potential health implications of performance-enhancing drugs, we cannot leave it at that.

I am not a fan of regulating business for its own sake, but the supplements industry must recognise that it needs to change. It is unacceptable that rogue companies continue to peddle products containing banned substances without proper labelling. Action must be taken. Independent verification of labelling and company activity is essential. Perhaps the Food Standards Agency or the Medicines Control Agency could be given responsibility to monitor that area. In its report two weeks ago, the British Medical Association recommended that all dietary supplements should be clearly labelled to prevent sports people from inadvertently ingesting banned substances.

In addition, there needs to be consideration of the role of coaches and doctors in the supply of performance-enhancing drugs to athletes. Their role was thrown into graphic relief by the investigations into widespread drug use during the Tour de France. A French study in the 1997 British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that 61 per cent. of those surveyed who were drug-using sports people cited their GP as the source of the drugs. There are several genuine and proper reasons why doctors would prescribe drugs to athletes, but that survey shows that the responsibility for the use of performance-enhancing drugs needs to be widened in some cases.

In Britain, the General Medical Council already has clear guidelines about a doctor's role, but that is not the case for the equivalent bodies among our European neighbours. Perhaps the World Anti-Doping Agency should consider that. Given the importance of the coach and doctor in the team that supports an athlete in elite sports, we must ensure that we have the legislative means to hold to account a coach or doctor who helps, and possibly pressures, an athlete into taking a performance-enhancing drug.

Further consideration must be given to policing the supply of performance-enhancing drugs. A monitoring company, Envisional, has highlighted the easy availability of prescription drugs over the internet. In the UK, the Medicines Control Agency has a responsibility, but the international nature of the internet makes policing more difficult. The easy availability over the internet of banned substances such as EPO has also been highlighted.

Concern has been expressed about the extent to which sport's governing bodies are consistent in how they enforce rules on performance-enhancing drugs. There are inconsistencies between governing bodies about whether the UK governing body or the relevant international federation has jurisdiction to hear the dispute. There are also inconsistencies between sports about the length of penalty imposed for the same breach of the same IOC medical code. There are even inconsistencies within sports between the constitution of the UK governing body and its international federation over the hearing of drugs issues. I commend UK Sport's attempts to link funding to whether a sport's governing body is willing to adopt rules and procedures on performance-enhancing drugs that are consistent throughout the UK. That work needs to be accelerated.

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I know that the Government take the issue seriously, and I commend the work of UK Sport's anti-doping unit. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister will address the need for further action in several of the areas that I highlighted.

12.46 pm

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) on having secured this afternoon's debate. It is an important issue. We all recognise that the use of drugs in sport is, ultimately, cheating and undermines that sport's integrity. Indeed, the use of drugs probably tarnishes sport more than any other problem. As my hon. Friend said, the Government, and I as Minister for Sport, are committed to the battle against doping in sport. I congratulate him on the work that he has done before the debate and with which he will continue. We shall join many others to ensure that doping is driven out of sport.

We regard the problem as a worldwide matter and are keen to work at national, European and international levels to combat it. As Minister for Sport, I am committed to ensuring a drugs-free environment in sport and to putting in place appropriate policies and procedures to achieve that, and I take on board my hon. Friend's points.

In the United Kingdom, we are committed to achieving a partnership between sport and the Government to tackle the problem. The UK is recognised as one of those at the forefront of the fight against the use of drugs in sport. Nationally, the Government fund the UK anti-doping agency, UK Sport, to implement the Government's programme to combat the use of drugs in sport.

We spend more than £1.3 million a year on ensuring the programme's quality and comprehensiveness. In 2000–01, UK Sport undertook 5,406 tests, of which only 110, or 2 per cent., showed positive results. The programme included 404 events organised by national governing bodies, and 156 international and European sports federation events.

UK Sport's anti-doping programme includes in and out-of-competition testing of athletes, the development of a national policy framework and provision of education and information services for athletes and sports governing bodies. The anti-doping programme is rightly regarded as one of the best in the world and is something of which we can be proud.

The need to respond to major changes in sport, such as the increasing availability of supplements, to which my hon. Friend referred, the use of blood testing and concerns about the adequacy and inconsistency of disciplinary procedures, recently added fresh urgency to the work of UK Sport in the field. Recent examples include setting up the nandrolone review, the continued development of blood-testing protocols and finalising national anti-doping policy. Earlier this year, I was proud to be present when UK Sport launched the new national anti-doping policy. I join my hon. Friend in thanking the staff of UK Sport for the professional and effective job that they are doing. The organisation is recognised around the world as one of the leaders in the field, and I want to ensure that that continues.

UK Sport has worked with national governing bodies to develop a new policy that promotes greater consistency in procedures and decision making on anti-

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doping across governing bodies and sports federations. It also sets out clear minimum standards that need to be achieved, with clear lines of responsibility for those involved at each stage of the anti-doping process. That includes independent review, disciplinary and appeal procedures. In short, the new policy provides a consistent and transparent system that benefits athletes, governing bodies and sports fans alike.

The national anti-doping policy is not the only new initiative being undertaken by UK Sport. The drug information database is the latest in a range of information tools available to sport. It provides athletes with online up-to-the-minute information about which medications in the UK contain prohibited substances and which contain substances that are allowed under the regulations of sport. It is a very comprehensive and effective user-friendly instrument that can be used by all those involved in sport. Athletes can check the medicine that they are thinking of taking anywhere in the world using the internet. Pharmacists and doctors will be able to help athletes select the right kind of medication to allow them to continue to train and compete without worrying about whether they are likely to fail a test. That is another example of real help that the Government are giving to athletes through UK Sport.

The problem of doping is not only damaging the image and the value of sport; drug misuse can be harmful to an athlete's health, as well as to those close to the athlete—family, friends, colleagues and fellow competitors. Athletes can also be influential role models for young people. If we are not careful, the sporting world will become tarnished, and we will start to lose the potency of that influence with young people. The behaviour of top athletes can have a significant impact on young people as they aspire to emulate their sporting heroes. We need to take action on a number of fronts to address the problem.

Part of UK Sport's anti-doping remit is to ensure the development of extensive information and education programmes for athletes, coaches, officials, administrators and parents on anti-doping. Through these schemes the Government can ensure that, throughout the UK, athletes and people who provide them with support are aware of the dangers involved in drug abuse. Next week, I shall be opening the British Medical Association's conference on drugs in sport. The conference, which aims to build on the excellent work already being undertaken in the UK, will focus on the roles and responsibilities of health care professionals in tackling drug abuse at all levels in sport.

Health care professionals can play a key role in ensuring that sport in the UK takes place in a drug-free environment. By alerting those who work in the medical profession to the risks involved in using drugs in sport, we can also draw attention to the wider public health implications of drug abuse in our society. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the UK has strict control over the supply of substances such as steroids. It is an offence to produce, supply, possess with intent to supply and import or export with intent to supply such substances. Those controls are aimed at suppliers and traffickers who profit from selling and supplying those substances to not only sportsmen and women but others such as bodybuilders.

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Lessons learned from sport and the action taken can help to address drug problems faced elsewhere in our society. Indeed, only recently, in response to concerns in sport—similar to those that my hon. Friend raises—and to advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Home Office took action to extend the list of substances controlled under the 1971 Act. Those are all substances that are included on the International Olympic Committee list of prohibited substances and include nandrolone-related metabolites.

Of course, many substances prohibited in sport are in use in wider society for perfectly legitimate reasons, including, for example, supplements. That means that it would be impossible to make the supply of all substances regarded as performance-enhancing a criminal offence. Doping in sport is prohibited because it is cheating. Substances are prohibited because they give those who take them an unfair advantage over competitors. The criteria applied to determine what substances are prohibited relate to fairness in competition rather than health or crime. It is important to keep that in perspective when examining what we are trying to achieve. Sometimes, in the international arena, and especially in the European arena, we see the issue of drugs in sport used to make pronouncements about the ills of society. However, we are focused on making sport free of performance-enhancing drugs.

The only practical way of dealing with the use of banned substances is through the action of sport itself. Contravening anti-doping regulations is a case of professional misconduct in sport, and the decision to ban an athlete as a result of a positive drug test is a matter for sport's national governing bodies and international federations. Criminalising what is professional misconduct is not, therefore, an effective option. In the United Kingdom, we favour a non-legislative approach focusing on the standardisation of doping lists, sanctions and procedures within the sporting framework. The national anti-doping policy gives sport the focus to put in place procedures that are consistent, accountable and transparent. Sport itself must continue to own the problem of drug misuse in sport.

Of course, doping is a global rather than national problem that requires co-ordinated action at an international level. The UK has played a role in that action. We proudly achieved ISO certification under the international standard for doping controls in 1997—the first country to do so—and we were one of the first signatories to the international anti-doping agreement.

The Government have been fully supportive of the development of the World Anti-Doping Agency since its inception in 1999. The establishment of WADA has moved international co-operation against doping to a new level and given added impetus to our work. The Government firmly believe that WADA is the appropriate body to promote co-operation in this field.

I recently attended a meeting in Brussels between European Union Ministers, the President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, and WADA officials, where we discussed how best to move forward the agenda. In informal discussions, the IOC president was keen to ensure that the UK was fully on board in relation to involvement in WADA as well as the IOC because of the expertise and respect that we have in the field. It was pleasing to hear him say that. I can confirm that, along

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with other national Governments, the UK will contribute to WADA's core costs in 2002. As my hon. Friend probably knows, there has been some wrangling about that issue. We believed that procrastination on the funding regime was unacceptable, so we took unilateral action. I am pleased to see that many others have now followed in the funding of WADA from Europe.

We regard the development of WADA's anti-doping code as the most appropriate way in which governing bodies and federations can be aligned to internationally agreed standards on anti-doping. The adoption of the code will be a significant step towards collective action and will provide a powerful weapon in the worldwide fight against doping in sport. Without the inconsistency and inability to regulate and set standards internationally, WADA can now move towards development of the code. If it is achieved, a significant step forward will have been taken and we will have a basis on which to start policing cheating and fraud in sport globally. Indeed, the national anti-doping policy has been developed mindful of the international standards and procedures endorsed by WADA . We are one of the first countries to produce a national policy that fully complies with international standards on doping control.

The initiatives serve to highlight the fact that the UK continues to lead the way in the fight against the use of drugs in sport. However, we cannot be complacent and are determined to ensure that the UK anti-doping system, while retaining the respect of competitors, also retains the support of members of the public, who need to be assured that the results that they see in sport are genuine and fair.

I shall write to my hon. Friend on any of the specific points that I might have missed. Final decisions have not been made on the Commonwealth; they rest with the Commonwealth Games Federation, and we shall be talking to those involved. I have no doubt that, in time-honoured fashion, my hon. Friend will challenge us again in written questions. Again, I thank him for bringing to our attention an important subject that needs to be aired from time to time.

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