House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
CULTURE MEDIA AND SPORT COMMITTEE
tUESDAY 30 March 2004
MS MICHELE VERROKEN
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Culture Media and Sport Committee
on Tuesday 30 March 2004
Mr Gerald Kaufman, in the Chair
Mr Adrian Flook
Ms Debra Shipley
Witness: Ms Michele Verroken, former Director of Drug-Free Sport, UK Sport, Vice President of Association of National Anti-Doping Organisations, examined
Q1 Chairman: Good morning. You are very welcome here today. It is extremely good of you to come to see us at the outset, or perhaps outbreak, of our inquiry. This is a private session and if you would prefer to come and sit here you would be welcome to do so.
Ms Verroken: I do not mind.
Q2 Chairman: If you have an opening statement to make, we would be very pleased indeed to hear it; otherwise we can go straight into questioning?
Ms Verroken: Please, I am happy to go straight into questions.
Chairman: Fine. Mr Bryant?
Q3 Chris Bryant: Thank you. It is good of you to come along. We have not done many private sessions, so it is good of to you to be here. As I understand it, one of the major rows that is going on is about whether UK Sport can have two roles, both promoting sport and being anti-doping. Where do you sit in the middle of that ground?
Ms Verroken: I would say that my views have always been very clear on this. I believe there should be an independent and accountable system, and I would probably say that I am in the situation I am in today because my integrity is not negotiable.
Q4 Chris Bryant: Do you want to explain a bit more what that means?
Ms Verroken: That there is a direct conflict between funding or promoting elite sports and being able to police or enforce standards in sport; and that is probably true of many aspects of public life too, probably one of the very reasons why Parliament itself has a committee on standards in public life: you actually do have to have somebody who can take a watch-dog role. That does not mean to say the watch-dog cannot be supportive, but where the priority will be for the hosting of international events, such as an Olympic Games, or the obtaining of medals, the achievement of a significant place in the world rankings, it is very difficult to do that in the current climate drug-free, it is very difficult to do that without the persuasion of others to break the rules.
Q5 Chris Bryant: So, correct me if I am wrong, what you are saying - let's say you are the British Olympic Association and you are desperately keen to get the Olympics to come to the United Kingdom - is that it is not in your interest for their to be any negative stories about British athletes being in some kind of scandal about taking drugs and, consequently, you might be less inclined to be rigorous?
Ms Verroken: Certainly you would want to take care that the rigor you might apply can be managed carefully.
Q6 Chris Bryant: So if a major sport has an individual who has or has not got themselves into trouble, then the sporting organisation might want to keep that name quiet, for instance?
Ms Verroken: Certainly I think that would be the first reaction of any sports organisation in that situation, and we have a number of examples of evidence of how that has happened over previous Olympic Games: the revelations of athletes' names, of positive drug tests, either just prior to the games or actually whilst the athletes are in the village, seems to cause such huge embarrassment. One can understand the embarrassment, but at the same time it is simply a matter of professional misconduct in sport that has to be dealt with. It is not simply looking at the athlete as the victim of all this but at the surrounding context of how athletes come to be in that situation; and it may very well be that it is as a consequence of the culture of the organisation itself which ultimately is trying to obtain the best performance out of its athletes.
Q7 Chairman: Before you go on, could I ask a supplementary question there? I think there is a case for confidentiality in these circumstances, because we have now got a press which operates on the assumption of guilt and traduces people and makes their lives absolute hell, Mr Rusedski being the obvious example. They voice accusations - and it is not only done with regard to sportsmen - poor Mr Kelly, who got the Olivier award only a few weeks ago, is another example. The press have very good lawyers who can advise them not to say things that then actually break the law, but really put people through utter torment and then, at the end of it all, if, as in the case of Mr Rusedski, it is found that they are exonerated, there is still the stigma being attached to them. I put that fairly forcefully, but I do believe there is a strong case.
Ms Verroken: No. I understand the concern about any apparent breach of confidentiality, but with anti-doping there is a process to go through, and I think the main concern possibly of the media, certainly of, I believe, a number of the athletes as well as members of the general public, is the fact that the process in some athletes' cases has been elongated: the information has not come forward in a timely fashion. Perhaps one example to give you would be the case involving Linford Christie, which was a case that we believe now the governing body was aware of in February of the year in question and it was actually because L'Equipe newspaper in France published the information in August that it became public. It is, if you like, the responsibility that seemed to be taken to keep this information out of the public domain which might have continued through perhaps a major games, world championships and even through the continual investment of something like a public or lottery funding or private sponsorship, which seems to be incongruent with the whole idea of playing fair; but we have to have a process and we have to stick to it and the process really ought to be quite timely so that we avoid what the press believe is going on, which is a cover-up, which I have to say, several times seems to be the case. Another example I would give you is the fact that Dwain Chambers' positive case was brought to our notice at UK Sport by the press. They knew before we did. The governing body obviously knew but thought it inappropriate to share that with the public body that was making the financial investment in that governing body. That is where I have real concerns about conflict of interest and the need for more openness but obviously taking into account the need for confidentiality.
Q8 Chris Bryant: Thank you. That was exactly the line I was going to go down. On another point, it seems often, and you may have read articles to this effect in some newspapers, that it is always extremely famous successful athletes who are caught. Maybe that is just because of the way we see the press, but that might lead one to the assumption that if you cheat you end up winning?
Ms Verroken: One would hope that Paula Radcliffe is the prime example of how that is not the case. I think it is unfortunate that athletes who have taken drugs have been successful, but not all athletes. David Jenkins will be an example of an athlete who, on his own admission, seems to have performed worse when he was actually taking drugs than he had ever performed before. So it is not actually an automatic equation - and certainly I guess it tends to lead people to the flippant remark that we should start thinking about what we put our England rugby team on before we slide further back in the rankings - that is an unfortunate way of looking at the whole culture around sport, and to persuade school children to accept athletes as role models who may have to take that route to success. So it is really trying to get that balance. It is the basis of fair play that, I think, is very important.
Q9 Chris Bryant: I go to a gym in my constituency, and most of the lads who go there will quite happily talk about the fact that they all take steroids; and those are the few people who are actually engaging in sport at all. It seems to me that there is an issue right at the very base of British sport. Is that true?
Ms Verroken: Body-building has not ever been recognised as a sport, despite its attempts to---
Q10 Chris Bryant: It is certainly not an art?
Ms Verroken: ---get Olympic recognition, but it does seem to, if you like, bend the rules somewhat. There are those who would use drugs to obtain the physique that they want to, which in some respects is the same as those who might use sport to obtain the physique they want to, whereas others might choose a route that is probably more like anorexia.
Q11 Chris Bryant: These are not body-builders; these are people who play rugby: you know all the local rugby teams?
Ms Verroken: I think that is where the grey area appears between those who are not part of competitive sport but are of the view that the way to perform well must be through this route; and it is a short cut, there is no doubt it is a short cut, to a considerable amount of strength and stamina. It would not necessarily give you the skill that you would need to be a top class rugby player.
Q12 Chris Bryant: Presumably a large percentage of those who engage in sport are in gyms and swimming pools and things like that where this is part of the culture?
Ms Verroken: They may very well be, and that is part of the program we were trying to develop in terms of declaring sports centres drug-free zones, so that, particularly where you have local authority sports centres, there would not be the culture of drugs being obtainable through that route, especially where there is so much local government investment in a recreation centre. You would not want to think of it as being the place where your own children obtained their drugs because the drugs are being obtained through some form of black market.
Q13 Derek Wyatt: The Committee and Michele should know, well before I was an MP, I was responsible for the film on David Jenkins on Channel 4 in 1988, which broke before the Olympics, which proved that the Unites States' team were on drugs. This is something that I have had an enduring interest in for a number of years. If Sue Campbell's appointment is only temporary in the sense that it is 18 months, I understand, that she has got her contract for to be head of UK Sport, does that mean that UK Sport is probably going to be closed, do you think, and therefore taken in-house inside the Department? If that is the case - because she has not been given a permanent contract, unlike Sir Rodney Walker was - where will drugs go if that scenario were true? Where will the drugs-testing go?
Ms Verroken: You are asking me to do a bit of forward-gazing here. If that was the case, the scenario, I would assume could be happening, is that the financial investment in governing bodies of sport and athletes would be with some kind of partnership with the British Olympic and Paralympic Associations, that the policy elements of anti-doping would be within the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and that the actual delivery of testing would be in the hands of private bodies; and I think if you look at the proposed business plan for UK Sport for the next five years and the PMP report, that is an option.
Q14 Derek Wyatt: I have talked to the FA recently - I am trying to think - probably 12 weeks ago now. They are totally opposed to having an external drugs agency - they want to do all their testing themselves - but the rugby union is not. The RFU wants an outside body because it wants their players to be tested without knowing whether they will be tested and it wants integrity in that way. Who is right and who is wrong in this argument?
Ms Verroken: I think you would expect me to say - and I do believe it - that rugby union is right. The problem of testing in-house, if you like, within the governing body, goes back to the very report that Colin Moynihan and Sebastian Coe put together in 1987 when they identified a number of conflicts of interest in governing bodies of sport actually delivering testing programs for their athletes. You will find, amongst the files at UK Sport, the evidence reviewed for the Moynihan/Coe report e.g. that samples did not reach the laboratories and that samples were not provided by the athletes who were selected. Some of that may have come about through very innocent over-worked volunteers taking those responsibilities on, and some of it may well have been devious, but trying to actually identify which was which was obviously extremely difficult.
Q15 Derek Wyatt: On the Rio Ferdinand case, was it just clumsiness that he did not turn up, given that he had a clean account, or was it that he had something else that he did not want anyone else to know about but actually was clean on the drugs?
Ms Verroken: It is very difficult. It would be more speculation to discuss why Rio Ferdinand did not report for his drug-test. The procedures that took place at Manchester United were slightly different than the procedures one would expect to see at any sporting event. The drug-testers should be notifying the athletes directly. For those who were present at the World Indoor Athletic Championships, as the athletes came off the track and then out of the arena the sampling officers were there and notified them in whatever language they needed to notify them and signed them up there and then. The difference with Manchester United is that the sampling officers do not get access to the first team players - that goes through an intermediary - and the question is whether or not Rio Ferdinand really understood the seriousness, that he actually was being called for a drug-test, or whether, because of the camaraderie that may exist in a team sport, he thought it was just a huge joke, or whether he was actually aware that he had something to hide and there was collusion between various parties that said, "It's okay; we will fix it for you." It is very difficult to say. I do not know. All of those scenarios could be true.
Q16 Derek Wyatt: Some of us went to the World Indoor Games in Birmingham and saw how it works. Tell us how it ought to work then? What would your recommendation be to this Committee?
Ms Verroken: Certainly. I will take a team sport, because I think that is a most appropriate comparison. The team, when they have finished playing, if you are dealing with in competition testing, should at least be given the chance to leave the leave the field of play, and usually you would follow them through the tunnel into the various changing rooms. Sometimes that does cause some concern with the team managers. They may like to have the motivating team talk, I will say generously, or the clarification of what went wrong in the field of play, and they may not like other people present, particularly if boots are flying and other things are happening, but it is one of those situations where we have had to negotiate our way into the changing rooms to protect the players. Unless they are famous players, you may not know if they have swapped shirts, or whatever, so you approach the players as soon as is possible, advise them that they have been selected for a drug-test and obtain their signature to confirm that they know that they have been notified. That is the first part of the process. Once they know they have been notified, it is still up to them if they want to refuse to be tested. We cannot force them to provide the sample we need - and it usually is a urine sample - but mostly the important process that takes place then is what do you as an athlete need to do next? Do you need to obtain medical treatment? Do you need to warm down? What do you need to do? I, as the sampling officer, need to stay with you and take you to the venue where we are collecting the sample in order that I can guarantee the integrity of your sample and the "no notice" that you have had. When the athlete reaches the doping control station they are supervised in providing that urine sample. They can provide a small amount, and that needs to be sealed and more added to it before the sample then is divided into the A and B sample. If we are talking about out-of-competition testing either at a training ground or even at an athlete's home, it is simply approaching the individual and saying, "You are needed for a drug-test" - just clarify what it is they may need to do next. We do allow athletes the chance to - at the World Indoor Championships we had a very convoluted way of allowing them to get their medals, appear on television and still get to the doping control station, under escort all the time.
Q17 Derek Wyatt: I was rather thinking, should there be an independent agency outside of UK Sport that does it and does everyone and they are the rules, or should it be inside UK Sport? I am trying to work out where you think we should be going as a Committee?
Ms Verroken: I think this lends itself to the situation where there can be conflicts of interest either in the selection of athletes or the access that you might have to athletes; and that is why I would believe it should be outside of UK Sport, so that you have an open selection of the athletes that you believe are in your elite pool of athletes without any opportunity to have a suggestion that we were not sure if they were going to make the grade in terms of performance, they could withdraw their grant or, "Look, we are investing a lot of money in that athlete, we should not be testing them quite as often as we are."
Q18 Derek Wyatt: Do you think there should be a drug-free clause in the players' contracts?
Ms Verroken: Definitely.
Q19 Derek Wyatt: Does it happen anywhere else in the world?
Ms Verroken: It is interesting that the World Federation of Sporting Goods Industries had tried to encourage major sponsors to include drug-free clauses in their sponsorship contracts. So Nike certainly has that contract, Adidas certainly have that contract, that clause in the contract; and it is about the investment. The difficulty and the real conflict is, of course, if that player is an asset to the club, having that clause may actually suspend an individual, as in the situation with Rio Ferdinand, presumably, as we hear from the media, on full pay.
Q20 Derek Wyatt: £70,000 a week?
Ms Verroken: But he is not available to actually progress the business.
Q21 Michael Fabricant: My knowledge of sport is not deep at all; in fact most of it is influenced by watching avidly Footballer's Wives; so I have listened with great interest to what you have had to say about the team-talk, or not, as the case may be. I have two marginally technical questions to ask you to bring me, and maybe some others, up to speed. First of all, can you tell me - I do not know your background at all - have you a medical background?
Ms Verroken: No, not a medical background. I trained as a physical education teacher. I spent 10 years teaching and lecturing in physical education and sports science. I also obtained a higher standard in coaching and umpiring, I am an international netball umpire, and really I joined the then GB Sports Council as a Development Officer covering a wide portfolio: sports medicine, sports science, coaching, anti-doping, and was Development Officer for a number of sports, at one time all winter Olympic sports. Really my sports science pseudo-medical background comes from the fact that the second part of my degree is in human biology.
Q22 Michael Fabricant: That is great. The first thing I wanted to know is, we hear from time to time when someone has been found positive that they argue, "It was normal medication I was taking", or may be not even a modern medication, "It is a combination of food or drink which I was taking which produced this result." I remember years ago people used to claim when they were over the limit drinking and driving that it was a strange combination of Day Nurse and something else. Does that have any validity, that sort of argument, or is that complete tosh?
Ms Verroken: I think the argument has probably moved on slightly. The sort of substances that might have been easily obtainable over the counter, or certainly within normal classes of social life - caffeine, the mild stimulants in cold cures - now do not appear on the prohibited list of substances, but I think there is a distinction between those athletes who deliberately take substances and those who might inadvertently consume a substance in a product that they had not perhaps realised would contain a prohibited substance. I am referring there to supplements. There are a number of sports supplements that athletes are encouraged to take, partly because there may be a sponsorship contract with the company concerned or because the medical adviser believes that these are the answer to the club's prayers, as it were, misfortunes or whatever, and certainly the whole issue of the science of diet has become far more important to athletes. It is a well-known fact that our England rugby team toured Australia with its own nutritionists.
Q23 Michael Fabricant: With what?
Ms Verroken: With its own nutritionists to help balance the nutrition for the players.
Q24 Michael Fabricant: Is there a programme then to educate athletes, sporting people, as well as their trainers, as to what things are likely to come up as a positive result if that athlete or sportsman were to be tested?
Ms Verroken: We certainly have tried to promote the education programmes and resources support services for athletes. Looking back, as I have had the chance to do now, I think that the problem was the chequered history of education, and, being someone who came from teaching and fundamentally believing that education is so important, there is no doubt that I was frustrated by the lack of investment in education and at one point in time the view that we did not need to have anybody responsible to lead the education programme, this was the responsibility of the governing bodies of sport. They have such a wide number of responsibilities that this sometimes does need a kick-start. I think one of the most important achievements of my time as the Director of UK Sport was the Drug Information Database and the information that we did manage to make available to athletes, and it started back in 1987 with a small credit card sized piece of information for the athletes simply listing what they should stay away from and, on the other side, what they could take for common illness or injuries.
Q25 Michael Fabricant: Would it be true to say then that there really is no excuse if you are found positive?
Ms Verroken: There should not be. It is very difficult, because that is a very general statement. Anti-doping operates on a strict liability basis; the presence of the substance is the offence. If it is there, that constitutes the offence, but the World Doping Code that we have got, the whole national policy that we established in the year 2000, was really about trying to understand how it got there. So we could not take away the offence, but what we could do is understand how it got there. Was it given to the individual without their knowledge? Was it something they took deliberately? I think where sport perhaps has not been very vigilant is actually trying to find out how the athletes obtain the products. Even in the situation that the Chairman referred to with Greg Rusedski, there is no cast-iron evidence that Greg took that supplement or that that supplement contained nandrolone, so we are no further forward --
Q26 Michael Fabricant: Is there a grey area at all in the world over what constitutes a prohibited drug and what does not? Is it possible that in some parts of the world someone could take a particular thing which is banned in another part of the world quite legitimately?
Ms Verroken: I think that is probably exemplified by the situation of Alain Baxter, the skier, who took - purchased a Vicks inhaler that looked identical to the Vicks inhaler you could obtain here, but the formulation was entirely different. Yes, it is possible, but---
Michael Fabricant: I did not quite mean that. What I really meant was, all right, nandrolone is illegal so far as sport is concerned anywhere in the world, I imagine - correct me if I am wrong - but are there some drugs which are so on the margins that they are not actually considered wrong by some sporting bodies in some parts of the world where they might be considered wrong in the UK or some other parts of the world?
Q27 Chairman: Could I just add something to that which may be relevant? When I was in hospital a little time ago with a back problem, my doctor, my GP, prescribed for me some pain-killing drugs. When I went to the hospital and the nurse looked at them, she took them away from me, because she said they were a controlled drug and I was not allowed to have a controlled drug. When my doctor came to visit me and I told him about this, he demanded that they be restored to me. So there are areas of doubt, are there not?
Ms Verroken: There are areas of doubt. Doctors do prescribe controlled narcotics and a number of those will actually be prohibited in sport. It is a situation where if an athlete is prescribed a substance, they have a responsibility to check. That does not mean to say they cannot take that substance. We have moved forward an awful lot from the situation where certainly we know of asthmatics who are concerned to actually be given oral corticosteroids because they were concerned they would fail a drug test, but we now are supporting a programme of therapeutic use exemption where you can declare a medication and obtain therapeutic use approval. So it is possible, of course, it is what you would expect to see an athlete consuming. An anabolic steroid should not feature in their prescribed medication where there is no alternative that would be acceptable, that would be permitted, can be accepted; and we have examples that would be worthwhile mentioning. Steve Redgrave, who, as a diabetic and a known diabetic, has to take insulin. That has been permitted. So we should expect to see a level that is within the therapeutic range.
Q28 Michael Fabricant: Is there a world standard on this? Just because you might permit something - not you personally but your organisation - could that person then be found positive, if you like, or guilty, whatever expression you want to use, in another part of the world, or is there a world understanding in athletics as to what is possible and what is not possible?
Ms Verroken: Through the World Anti-Doping Code there is a world standard; and all sports in all countries of the world should be adopting that standard. It would be worthwhile mentioning that there are some concerns that France has adopted more stringent legislation. Unfortunately one or two of our athletes in a variety of sports do tend to fall foul of the French legislation that, perhaps, is more stringent on some areas than others. So we have had athletes fail drug-tests in France, and the French then apply their own ban but the athletes are free to play in all other parts of the world.
Q29 Michael Fabricant: Can I ask one more question. Is there a sort of race going on at the moment, if you like, between people who want to provide drugs for athletes or sportsmen and those who have tried to detect those drugs, or, in fact, is that not case? Do you understand what I am asking?
Ms Verroken: Yes. It is difficult to describe it as a race, because you get the impression that people are literally lining up against each other, and I do feel that there are scientists out there who are keen to look at what opportunities there are to assist performance, because it is good business to be able to promote products that will assist performance; and in many respects, even in the UK, the whole story of the Nandrolone positives that we saw appearing around 1999 were all about looking at the existing legislation (the Medicines Act) and looking for precursors of prohibited substances that the supplement companies felt they could add to their products, and it was - they were not contravening any law.
Q30 Alan Keen: We are so grateful to you for coming. Other nations have got separate bodies, have they not, across the board?
Ms Verroken: Yes.
Q31 Alan Keen: Can you give us some of the examples to help illustrate what you would like to see?
Ms Verroken: I think probably the very best example, because it is the most recent agency to be established, would be the United States Anti-doping Agency. Although the United States has been very much criticised in the past for the way that sports themselves have controlled the programmes of drug testing, the United States Anti-doping Agency receives funding from Central Government and from the Olympic Association but has a free reign to be able to test the athletes that are considered to be in the elite pool. It has a very good and positive relationship with those athletes, knowing where they are at any time by operating a programme of updating the athletes' whereabouts, addresses, providing them with information and really a continuous education programme going on. It does mean at the moment that in the United States whenever an athlete does test positive the athlete has the option of volunteering to be suspended. I know that sounds like a somewhat crazy idea, but it is a strict liability offence and the athlete does realise that they ultimately would be responsible for what is in their body and they may volunteer to be suspended, or there is a very timely hearing in front of trained arbitrators so that the athlete has the opportunity to have the initial evidence, the prima facie evidence if you like, of "Is this my sample; is this substance actually prohibited", confirmed so that at this point in time the suspension itself may be confirmed. The athlete has the opportunity to accept the sanction without a hearing, and some of them do, or to go forward in front of a single or a panel of arbitrators, depending on whether they want the evidence tried or they want to defend the evidence.
Q32 Alan Keen: What are the sports in the US that the new agency is designed to embrace, or are you talking only about athletics?
Ms Verroken: The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) covers all the Olympic sports and Paralympic sports in the United States, but they have been working with professional football, and obviously baseball when it comes to the Olympic Games, basketball, when it comes to the Olympic Games. So they have been making inroads into the professional sports.
Q33 Alan Keen: Have any other nations got an over-arching responsibility right across all sport? Australia?
Ms Verroken: Australia has established their agency through legislation and the requirement for athletes who are on their territory to be drug-tested, and that will include non-Australian athletes as well.
Q34 Alan Keen: Anyone who comes into Australia?
Ms Verroken: Exactly. Similar legislation exists in France, but I believe not in Italy, and certainly the Greeks are a fair way towards their own legislation as well, but otherwise it is done by an agreement between the sport bodies. That would be the way that the Scandinavian countries have dealt with it.
Q35 Alan Keen: Do any of those nations have a body which covers all sport, that they can go--
Ms Verroken: Yes.
Q36 Alan Keen: --right across the board?
Ms Verroken: Yes. All the Scandinavian countries cover all sports.
Q37 Derek Wyatt: France? The Tour de France - I am sorry to interrupt - it covers that as well?
Ms Verroken: It does now. I think the situation has developed where the international federation are very keen to maintain their own testing programmes and control of their own testing programme which led, of course, to the revelations in 1997 to 1999 where the investigations, by using other legislative means within France, showed that the cyclist entourage were actually carrying a number of prohibited substances with them on the Tour to be able to provide to the cyclists during the Tour itself.
Q38 Alan Keen: What steps would you like to see if you were the complete, if you were the one decision-maker in the UK? What steps would you like to see? Could you bring us up-to-date on where the different sports are? I understand tennis is outside. The FA, I understand, are going to come into it, or are they not? Is that just newspaper talk?
Ms Verroken: I always thought the UK had achieved an awful lot, and when the United States were looking at setting up their agency they did look to the UK for the way that we had developed a close relationship with the professional sports, and we received a visit from General Barry McCaffrey, who was then the drugs Tsar, to look specifically at the way that football testing or soccer (as they called it) testing was being undertaken this country. It really is a situation where, if I had carte blanche, I would say, if you look at some of kind of regulatory body for the whole of sport, not just for drugs but for the issues of child protection, for the issues of equity, then you could almost develop that kind of regulatory body that still obviously is able to provide, if you like, consumer support as well. By "consumer" I also mean those who invest in the sports, the businesses that invest in the sports, because they have a main concern about their investments.
Q39 Alan Keen: I was thinking that sport should have a really proactive and constructive look at drugs. We tend to focus on how we stop elite athletes and top professionals from benefiting by taking drugs, but is there a case for having an overall drug organisation which uses sport to help inspire youngsters in school not to take drugs for recreational purposes, because it will stop them benefiting from the sport. Could that be your model: having an overall organisation legislated for by government?
Ms Verroken: Yes. There are obvious partnerships, and it is very much like the issue of drugs across Whitehall, that you have a department for education, health, certainly there is an issue of industry and by comparison the number of employee screening programmes that exist across a wide variety of businesses could in some respects copy the same model. There ought to be a standard. There is no one standard in employee screening, and so that in itself gives rise to the same situation we did have in sport before the world anti-doping code emerged; but now we have the code, now we have one set of standards, one process, and the process does have checks and balances in it, to me, it seems the logical move is to make sure that you invest in the expertise there rather than dissipate it across sports.
Q40 Alan Keen: Looking at drug taking overall, if you look at what it would cost government, for instance, to monitor and stop the pros from benefiting and therefore damaging themselves and as well as destroying their competition - you say that costs a lot of money, but if you take what drug-taking costs us, forgetting about athletes, what drug-taking costs us as a nation, because it is being taken for pleasure, so-called pleasure - then the tiny part you are talking about on international sport would be nothing in the overall cost; and there is tremendous saving to be got from educating people in drugs. Would that be the best way to go, to say we want one drug agency which primarily is deterring children from getting into it and, just as a minor part of that, they do the checking of the athletes?
Ms Verroken: It is really more in a network of agencies and really to try and encourage a situation where people do not have to reinvent the wheel. Once we moved individual sports from having to provide somebody to do the sample collection, to carry out the initial testing, the standards went up and the level of confidence of the athletes went up tremendously, but it really is taking the next step and looking at the opportunity to network the education, the information. In many respects it does not always have to be government who pays for this. The very fact that we raise money through the Lottery, part of that should perhaps be reinvested back into the health and safety system of sport and any sports sponsorship, the tax levy that there is ought to be reinvested in the health and safety system. In the Tour de France the concerns really were very much by the sponsors for the potential damage that it might do, and yet some of the sponsors were very much part of the campaign to keep the testing out of the Tour de France. So I think there are opportunities there for wider investment and wider networking of information.
Q41 Mr Flook: Amongst athletes or sportsmen and women is it that they do not do this because it is not fair or because of the chances of being caught? Where is the balance line? Does that vary from different sports?
Ms Verroken: It varies from different sports, I would say, and trying to set an optimum testing programme for a sport in the public sector is very, very difficult, because how much testing is enough? The athletes have to help us on how much makes them feel it would be a deterrent, and the athletes were always the best people to tell us who we should have been testing and we tried to make them very much part of the selection process.
Q42 Mr Flook: How do they do that? Is it anonymous notes or telephone calls?
Ms Verroken: Yes, a number of athletes would actually put forward names, but there are always the athletes who, when the sampling officer would arrive at their house, say, "Why are you here for me again. You need to be at somebody else's house", and put forward a name at that point; but we did have a number of athletes put forward names. It is about how you create the confidence of that particular sort of group, and it really has to be by creating what would be the maximum deterrent. If we always say we are going to test two players from each side in a football match, then the chances of being tested are much reduced, but we have achieved a situation with the Football Association where we had the opportunity to vary that number. We implemented that in cricket, where sometimes we would turn up and we would test 24 players, because obviously we would want to make sure that we have the twelfth man, all 24 players, or sometimes we would turn up and we would test two from each side. To keep that variation increases the deterrent. Once you know that, for the majority of tests in competitions, it is going to be first, second and third places, and you are only looking to achieve a personal best (and that is what is going to qualify you for your lottery award), that is what you---.
Q43 Mr Flook: What is the cost per sample?
Ms Verroken: Unfortunately the UK is probably the most expensive place in the world, because the cost of analysis here is quite expensive. So it really is more in the region of about £300.
Q44 Mr Flook: Per test?
Ms Verroken: Per test.
Q45 Mr Flook: Because?
Ms Verroken: That sample is analysed through quite a rigorous process, it is not simply a cheap and quick dipstick test unfortunately which is where employee screening can sometimes have advantages because a lot of the time they are looking for a simple presence. With sports drug testing we actually have to identify the metabolites of the prohibited substance in the athlete's urine to be absolutely sure it is there.
Q46 Mr Flook: I can see that there is a very, very strong argument for an independent set up, and it is very difficult to argue for sports self-regulation and self-rule for the obvious reason that things get lost, but that is a huge cost. You mentioned the American system which is funded by the American Olympic Association and---
Ms Verroken: And government.
Q47 Mr Flook: And government?
Ms Verroken: Yes.
Q48 Mr Flook: Currently the £300 per test here is funded by?
Ms Verroken: That is where I would actually perhaps point out a slight discrepancy in the PMP report. The drug-testing programme is not funded 100 per cent by government. There are a number of sports that do invest in their own testing programmes. The Football Association, for example, was investing in a further 1,200 tests more than the 250 tests that UK Sport were providing. So there is a significant investment going on by a number of sports. Rugby union are investing in their testing programme, so is cricket. The reason why they are investing is that the public purse could not meet the number of tests that the sport felt should be undertaken in order to create the maximum deterrent, whereas with a sport like track and field athletics, that is 100 per cent government funded. So the majority of the Olympic sports find themselves government funded.
Q49 Mr Flook: Finally, are you interested, and if you are why, in testing for, say, cannabis or heroin or cocaine abuse amongst sports people?
Ms Verroken: I would not put all those drugs together. We - UK Sport, supported by responses to the consultation on the Code - did put forward quite a strong argument for cannabis not being included in the list of prohibited substances but, being a monitoring substance, as it is well-known that it is a gateway drug to other drugs. It also is the drug that stays longest in the body and therefore could have more effect on performance and cause the individual concerned to think, "I need steroids now to be able to deliver my performance". Obviously it is still a prohibited substance in society. It does not provide a very good role model. Unfortunately, we could not persuade the World Anti-Doping Agency that cannabis should be taken off the prohibited list and kept simply as a monitoring substance. We have that situation presently with alcohol in football. It is monitored and if the individual player seems continually to have a substantial level of alcohol, of course, the club doctor can intervene, with more concern for the player's health than looking at this as a disciplinary matter, although it might ultimately become a disciplinary matter if they are not going to look at the encouragement to get some advice, assessment and rehabilitation if necessary.
Q50 Mr Flook: One final question. If Rio Ferdinand, who came up in conversation earlier, makes an assumption that he did not want to be tested, was that, do you think, because of abuse of Class A drugs or because he was on some sort of steroid?
Ms Verroken: It is always difficult to understand motivation for anybody, and the Rio Ferdinand case is very interesting in that we have not had a case like it in other sports. I would raise that with you as something you should be asking, why it has not happened in other sports, or is it that the other sports are not defining a doping offence in that same way? Why did Rio not turn up for his test? Did he simply forget? Was he taking a substance that he did not particularly want to declare because he was concerned that it might become evident that he was under treatment for a medical condition that he would prefer to keep confidential? Or was he taking cocaine, in which case cocaine would be out of the body in 48 hours and that is why he came back after 48 hours? There are all sorts of answers to that question, and I really do not have them.
Q51 Mr Flook: Let me put it another way round. Do footballers take performance enhancing drugs in the way that Ben Johnson did to run 100 metres?
Ms Verroken: We have not seen the evidence that steroids have been used in football in the way that they were or have been used and are being used in sports like track and field athletics or weight-lifting, perhaps sports you would associate more with strength and stamina than football. Perhaps there is an arrogance amongst footballers that they rely on their skill, their ability rather than needing performance-enhancing drugs. I do not know, but certainly that is now not the case, as we have seen other support programmes coming in. Arsene Wenger was one of the very first to bring in nutrition programmes for footballers.
Q52 Ms Shipley: Can I take you back to when you were talking about local authorities and trying to create drug-free sports facilities and get them to declare that they are drug-free. It is a bit of a shock that they are not, but, having listened to you for the last hour, I can see the complexity of it. I would like you to talk through what could be done at local level, because I have listed what is in my constituency and I have got a running club, a tennis clubs, a rugby club, a golf club, a football club, a cricket club, a local sports and swimming centre, four private health clubs and a riding stables just 100 yards away. So there is the full range. How would a local authority go about suggesting to all of these people that they should be drugs free in the range of drugs? We are not talking cannabis and cocaine here in the way you are talking about it. How do local authorities set about it?
Ms Verroken: I think you can embrace the full range of drugs because obviously somebody who smokes cannabis---
Q53 Ms Shipley: The straightforward illegal ones?
Ms Verroken: Yes.
Q54 Ms Shipley: But that is not what we are really talking about here. It is all the enhancing ones which are legal, but not if you are competing, and so on and so forth?
Ms Verroken: It is really needing to have a multi-pronged attack on this one, not only to make it clear that the supply, the consumption, of drugs on the premises would not be acceptable and, if found, would be a reason for terminating somebody's membership, it is also looking very carefully at the employees of those establishments - because sometimes they can actually be the suppliers of the substances - but also being able to promote the right information, the right kind of information, to support people to achieve good performances without the use of drugs.
Q55 Ms Shipley: But on the first two criteria, say an employee supplying drugs - and I do not want to talk about the illegal ones because clearly they are illegal and they should not be there anyway and it is a straightforward policing job - those things where they are supplements, they are enhancements, they are not strictly illegal but you and I would think that they are incredibly bad practice and should not be there and we do not want to see them there, how can the local authorities possibly have any impact on that?
Ms Verroken: Obviously sometimes the local authorities accept the franchises that will come in and sell those supplements on the premises.
Q56 Ms Shipley: Do they?
Ms Verroken: So why not use the sports centres as the base for a qualified sports nutritionist who can actually look at the wider nutritional needs of individuals so that they actually look at a balanced diet. Most of the sports nutritionists I have spoken to have said that athletes would not need supplements if they had the right diets.
Q57 Ms Shipley: That works well for, off my long list, one, the local sports centres and swimming pools, but all the others I listed that does not work for, so what could be done for all of those that are in effect private?
Ms Verroken: That is the difficultly. I am always quite amazed by the Environmental Health Act that requires massage parlours to be regulated but not private gymnasiums where you ought to be concerned about health and safety, whether or not they have actually checked the equipment is properly connected to the wall or floor or whatever and also that the individuals there are trained and promoting the right kind of message for individuals. It is a bit like saying that your best bar lady is the one who persuades you to get drunk. That is why we have to make sure we have got the right---
Q58 Ms Shipley: Of my long and varied list - golf clubs, riding clubs - you are suggesting that maybe it should be under licence?
Ms Verroken: Whether it is by licensing or whether it is by self-regulation. There was a scheme of self-regulation that we did start in Darlington amongst the private gyms and they were promoting themselves as open to integrity checks by others on the standards that they had set for themselves.
Q59 Ms Shipley: Did that work for as long as the particular person was managing it for that particular time and was interested and then it did not work again?
Ms Verroken: Yes.
Q60 Ms Shipley: So it is regulation, is it not?
Ms Verroken: Unfortunately yes. It is difficult with a golf club. Perhaps with a golf club the immediate question would be what sort of substances could I take to improve my golf, and if I could answer that question I would be extremely rich! The situation, of course, is what is it that may happen in a golf club? There might be over-use injuries because you are always using the same muscle groups, in which case what other support programmes are there about training properly for golf. I do not suppose anybody who plays amateur or recreational golf trains properly.
Q61 Ms Shipley: With the golf one, which seems a bit of a joke, the answer is they could take promotions of particular supplements even though it will not actually enhance golf just because they will get money for doing it so they will allow a promoter into their premises to do so and that is bad practice from what we are looking at, so really these things need to be licensed.
Ms Verroken: Licensing is one way --
Q62 Ms Shipley: -- But the self-regulation did not work in Darlington.
Ms Verroken: It did not work. Achieving certain standards like a form of charter marking could be another way in order to promote best practice. Certainly in a golf club, there ought to be somebody who is able to provide assistance on the kind of programmes for developing balanced muscular performance, a sports nutritionist would be very useful, and of course somebody to deal with the injuries.
Q63 Chairman: Could I ask you one final question to try, from my point of view at any rate, to set this question into perspective. Obviously there has been recently a huge amount of public discussion about this issue, and for those of us who are not totally familiar with it we can look back on some decades in which this has recrudesced, as it were, but how far back does it go?
Ms Verroken: Gosh, when did Tommy Simpson die?
Q64 Derek Wyatt: 1967.
Ms Verroken: 1967. Way back. We are going back to Greece to the Olympic Games where there were all manner of odd delicacies being eaten by the Greeks then. Do we not all feel that we have got certain things we would do because we would feel that sets us off better for the day? Maybe you woke up this morning and had a cup of tea before you got out of bed - and some of it becomes a habit if we are not careful. It comes back to the very value of what sport is about. How much are we prepared to accept? We have accepted so far that there should be professional coaches in sport, that you can wear certain sports equipment, although that has to be regulated, some for safety, some for modesty, and obviously there still would be people who would try and improve their sports equipment to get the maximum out of it. Where do you draw the line? The difficulty has been with the drugs issue in actually trying to make it very clear, black and white, what is actually acceptable and what is not acceptable.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. I am sure I speak on behalf of the Committee when I say that we are greatly obliged to you. We have benefited enormously from your knowledge and experience and it gives us a very good start for our inquiry. Thank you.