Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320-339)


12 DECEMBER 2006

  Q320  Chairman: The point we are trying to make—and I do not want to labour this because I want to bring Brian in—is that UK Sport has got to you, Minister, and indeed to the nation, because a huge amount of money now, particularly from Lottery funding—from ordinary men and women giving their pounds each week—goes into elite athlete programmes. The contradiction there seems to be between one aim which says we want to win—not perhaps at all costs, but you take the point I am making: we want success—and on the other hand we are the body which has to police the very things, human enhancement technologies, which may give them that little edge. Do you accept that?

  Mr Caborn: I accept you can put a case. Obviously there is a case, but that is why we set the consultants to look at it. But it is wider than that. If you look at the basic principle of WADA and the athlete, it is strict liability. If anything, they have the liability, they have the responsibility for what they put into their bodies and that is not negotiable. Through UK Sport, because of that relationship, we have been able to put a first class education and first class information system, around that athlete. That athlete is very isolated. They have the strict liability for what they put into their body and that is not negotiable—I accept that; there are no grey areas in it; they are totally responsible—but you do then have to put organisations and a supply of information around that athlete so that they can make the right judgment. I have talked to a lot of athletes over the recent past and it is not easy for an athlete who has a very, very close working relationship with their coach to then turn round and say, "This person is doing wrong to me." They do feel very isolated. Through UK Sport, through the 100% Me education programme, through the information we are giving athletes, I hope that as we develop over the next 12 months, as we go into Madrid, in WADA, we will be looking at systems where the athlete can have a reporting system confidentially—this is what athletes have been saying to me—so that they can go to a secure point and raise their concerns. As I say, you leave athletes in very isolated positions with the coach, training day in and day out. It is a very tight bond that they have between them and that is sometimes where these issues go wrong.

  Chairman: Thank you.

  Q321  Dr Iddon: It does seem rather odd, especially since athletes are considered to be role models, particularly by younger people, that some athletes—and they are a minority, I accept that—have been caught taking drugs which are classified by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and, although they are treated by their sporting authorities with suspension and punished in that way, we have not followed Italy, France and Sweden in criminalising doping and applying the law that you have just suggested we might apply. Why is that?

  Mr Caborn: Again, I go back to the point I made. What is WADA there for? WADA is there to root out cheats in sport. That is their core business. If you want to police society because of substances, then, fine, we can do that. This no doubt is the discussion within WADA. My view is that there are three bases on which the WADA code is based: performance enhancing; harm to the athlete; harm to the sport. I would give far more weight to the performance enhancing of those three and I would also look very seriously at the list to tick off what I believe are some of the social drugs. That is not a majority view inside WADA but it is one I have. Why do I say that? I say it because the core business of WADA is, indeed, to stop athletes artificially increasing their performance by drugs.

  Q322  Dr Iddon: According to the Daily Telegraph of 7 December, this month, UK Sport are alleged to be looking at criminalising doping or looking at the law in this area. Have you any knowledge of that? If you agree that they are doing that, have you been assisting in any way?

  Mr Caborn: First of all, that was wrongly interpreted, to be quite honest. I asked UK Sport about that and they said that is not the case. They are not looking at criminalisation. You have to be proportionate with this. It is good that I have come to this Committee today when the 30th nation has signed up to the UNESCO Convention which means that next year we can have the first meeting of that, so at least is has now been legitimised and UNESCO will come in. With WADA—and, remember, it came out of the IOC, it came out of sport, this is a sports initiative which they started—over the recent past, the last two or three years, we have tried to give it political support. Absolutely central to that is that it is sport that has led, with political support. That is why we want to make sure that we continue to keep the policing and the development of WADA very much within sport. We do not want this to be overtaken by politicians or other institutions. It is very important as a principle that sport should deal with its own misdemeanour. It should not give it to a third party. There have been those who have argued the case that it ought to be taken out of sport. It is a bit like your argument with me about UK Sport. I think you want to keep politics, as it were, out of running sport but I do believe politics has a strong role to support sport. The strength of WADA is that over the last two or three years we have been able to develop a sound code but that has the backing now of politicians, even to the United Nations, through UNESCO, and I think that is a very important principle.

  Q323  Dr Iddon: Just to make the position absolutely clear: the United Kingdom is not considering criminalising doping in sport prior to the 2012 Olympics.

  Mr Caborn: The answer to that is: No, we are not and we will not go down that route because we think that would be disproportionate to what we are trying to achieve.

  Q324  Bob Spink: I would like to look at the preparation for testing and so forth for the 2012 Olympics. We have two WADA-accredited laboratories in this country. John Scott of UK Sport acknowledged that there may be a huge increase in the number of tests required. That is really common sense, is it not?

  Mr Caborn: Yes.

  Q325  Bob Spink: So I would like to ask what funding and resources you expect to allocate to enable the UK to scale up its testing facilities prior to 2012.

  Mr Caborn: If you are talking specifically about 2012 and the Olympics, that is the responsibility of LOCOG, the London Organising Committee, which, as you know, is chaired by Seb Coe. That will be done in conjunction with UK Sport. We will set up, in conjunction with UK Sport, through LOCOG's Chief Medical Officer. We have not done that yet but that structure will be in place. The only parallel you can draw down is what we did in the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. That was very successful. That was the Commonwealth Committee but we set up the structure here in Manchester at that time. It is a LOCOG responsibility not a UK responsibility or indeed a Government responsibility, but we will be working very closely with LOCOG's Chief Medical Officer and UK Sport.

  Q326  Bob Spink: Will you be making funds available to LOCOG then to scale up facilities?

  Mr Caborn: That will be part of LOCOG's budget. It will not be part of our budget. As part of the candidate file in 2004, when we made the bid for 2012, we had to put into that what our position would be on anti-doping.

  Q327  Bob Spink: But you are going to make sure they are funded to do that.

  Mr Caborn: LOCOG has their budget. Basically that comes out of the private sector. It is part of their budget.

  Q328  Bob Spink: You will like the next question.

  Mr Caborn: Go on, then.

  Q329  Bob Spink: Will you be kind enough to take time out to go to Beijing to see what we can learn from them?

  Mr Caborn: Beijing? Why not. Absolutely. Any time you want.

  Q330  Chairman: Can you support the Committee in going.

  Mr Caborn: You have just come back from Australia, I understand.

  Q331  Bob Spink: Do you think there is anything we can learn from looking at Beijing?

  Mr Caborn: Absolutely. We are learning all the time. This is in its infancy. If you go back and look at the press, a big article in the Financial Times only three years ago was saying: "Let's legalise and legitimise doping in sport." We have come a long way. We were at a crossroads then; I believe those crossroads have now been passed. We have now a very robust system in place and we will learn all the way. That is why what you are doing in this Committee could well influence what is decided at the Madrid conference in 2007—which, as you know, is a conference held every four years by WADA—which will map out the next four years and I think we can learn a lot. We have a long way to go with WADA but our direction of travel is absolutely right We will learn a lot from Beijing, as we will from the Pan-American Games in 2007 in Rio. We will be looking at the Asian Games as well and the Commonwealth Games that take place—we did in Melbourne and we will do in Delhi in 2010.

  Q332  Bob Spink: I do not know what the answer is on this particular question but I think it is something we should explore briefly. While we were in Australia we learned something that was quite interesting, that they had difficulty allowing each of the national teams to bring in their own list of controlled substances, drugs, whatever, to treat their athletes for the various illnesses that these top athletes have and all the rest of it. Before they came, they submitted lists of what they wanted to bring into the country, and they brought them in and they then had to re-export what they had not used afterwards. There were all sorts of difficulties with people turning up with things that were not on lists, et cetera, and the lists having to be checked out—that the tablets they were claiming were aspirins were aspirins and not something else. There were massive organisational difficulties with that and massive costs, and it struck us that an alternative to that would be to say that nobody brings anything into the country. Each of these centres has its own pharmacy; they can supply any drugs that anybody would need to treat anything. We will allow nobody to bring controlled substances into the country: they use those that are provided in this country by this country. That would be the safer and more rational way and easier and cheaper way to organise and run it all and it might help to prevent what happened in Athens where the Games were destroyed by the initial drugs scandal. Have you looked at that?

  Mr Caborn: I have not but I would be very dubious about your approach to that. Another area where there have been discussions is around the question of supplements and the whole audit trail of those supplements. That has to be secure. Again, if you work on the issue of strict liability, you have to make sure the athlete is competent in what they are using. I think we have to find a solution to the problem of bringing them in rather than applying a total ban and then saying we will supply. There are a lot of problems around that. It is not something I have talked about. It is an interesting issue. I have no doubt you will look at it in your report and it is something that LOCOG can look at.

  Q333  Chairman: Minister, we have two registered WADA laboratories in the UK. Where do you stand on that issue that they should do drug testing only in terms of athletes? Should they be allowed, for instance, to be able to test supplements at the same time within the same laboratories? Do you feel there is an issue there?

  Mr Caborn: There is an issue, there is no doubt. WADA is raising it as an issue.

  Q334  Chairman: Where do you stand on it?

  Mr Caborn: I stand very clearly that I think they ought to be able to do both. I made my position very clear when I was on the WADA Foundation Board—which, as you know, I was on for a period when we had the troika of the European Union. I made it very clear that I believe you can test for both and I believe that WADA has that wrong. WADA has to look at this. WADA has to settle this. I can understand where they are coming from and they want to keep it absolutely watertight and as black and white as they possibly can but we all live in the real world and that real world says that these athletes want to use supplements. I mean, I use supplements—you know, I do a bit of running on a Sunday morning and I am not going to say I am going to be drugs tested but I am saying that supplements are good. I use supplements when I am running for the marathon and the half-marathons and they are very useful.

  Q335  Chairman: But it gives an excuse for cross-contamination.

  Mr Caborn: I think we can resolve those issues. There are very good audit trails. I have been to a number of laboratories now that do supplements and they have a very good audit trail which you can go back through if there is an argument about that. WADA is concerned about whether, as it is in a WADA laboratory, that gives the stamp of approval by WADA. That is the argument. First, we have to acknowledge that supplements are used and athletes are going to use them and, secondly, we have to make sure we have a system that is watertight and has a very good audit trail. I do not believe that if you are a WADA testing laboratory that is a stamp of approval from WADA. That is not the case. That is their concern, that they give a legitimacy to it.

  Q336  Dr Harris: Could I briefly return to this issue of conflict of interest. You were very clear when you said there were not any conflicts of interest that were active. I want to work out what you think the position is. Are you saying that, in your view, there is no conflict of interest and there is no perception of a conflict of interest by sharing the two functions within the same organisation? Or would you accept that there is no conflict of interest but there is a perception? Or are you saying that there is a conflict of interest or a potential conflict of interest but the mechanisms you have in place, like Chinese walls, deal with it so that it never sees the light of day in terms of affecting behaviour. Which of those three are you saying it is?

  Mr Caborn: I am saying there is no conflict of interest there, in my view, and that has been interrogated on a number of occasions by different independent bodies. Secondly, is there a perception? If people keep writing articles in papers that this thing has a conflict of interest, then there is a perception out there. I cannot control that. All I can say to people—and I say it very genuinely to you as a Committee and all those who keep writing these articles, "Please bring the evidence." We have interrogated it already: we have put it before select committees; we have put it to independent review. That has all come out giving it a clean bill of health. In fact I would argue that the fact that we operate in the way we do adds value to the services we give to the athletes we are applying the WADA rules to. I would argue that UK Sport is the leading organisation in the world in this area.

  Q337  Dr Harris: I want to turn to this question of the legal human enhancement technologies. If they are legal and they are likely to be legal for ever then they are modern training techniques. We have heard that there is very little research done in this country, there is little funding for research into the sorts of physiology that is directly applicable or easily applicable to athletics, and that such research as there is is in the medical sphere, which is separate from sport, and there is not even any funding to transfer that technology into sport. Other countries are doing it, legally, with these legal methods, and we are not and therefore we are in a sense at a disadvantage. Do you accept that analysis in any way? What do you propose, if you do accept it even to a small extent, can be done to solve that gap?

  Mr Caborn: I think that is the responsibility of the English Institute for Sport. There are things we have been developing through the EIS, things like altitude chambers at Bisham Abbey; therefore they are looking at this leading-edge technology through the EIS. That is their responsibility. That is why we put EIS in the position that it is in. As you know, it is there to assist our athletes, the elite athletes, to realise their potential. It works now within the overall body of UK Sport. That is a question that I would pose to the UK Sport and the EIS and say, "Are we missing a trick here?" If we are, let us rectify that. I am not in a position to say that we are or we are not.

  Q338  Dr Harris: I want to make the distinction. I do not disagree with anything you have said. The EIS uses existing techniques and applies them to elite athletes—and we will see how successful they have been in due course—but I am talking about research. EIS is not a research body which we on this Committee would recognise, and I think they accept that, but the other research councils fund physiology and healthcare—and that is fine, I am not saying that should not be a priority—but there are potential applications, even within the same university, we found at Loughborough, but there is no funding to transfer that. I am just wondering whether you think there is merit in exploring whether there should be funding identified to do that transfer of technology at an earlier stage than the EIS applying that to elite athletes.

  Mr Caborn: The answer would be yes, obviously. Who would motivate that? 20% of the WADA budget is about research. At Southampton University WADA have—

  Q339  Dr Harris: But that is into detection; that is not into the use of legal methods.

  Mr Caborn: The answer to that is I do not know. It is an interesting one. I have no doubt I shall respond to it in your report when it comes up. It will be one of your recommendations, I have no doubt, which I shall have to look at very carefully. If that is the case, it has not been brought across my desk before, I will be honest. If we are missing that type of transfer of intellectual property, then fine. It is in many areas. There is no doubt that the whole Olympics and how it is changing the nation's view of sport and physical activity is to be welcomed. It is really about how do we take that intellectual property of elite athletes and transfer that into the general populous. I always say it is bit like a Formula 1 car. I have said this many times: what happens in Formula 1 today happens in the luxury car market tomorrow and happens in the volume car market the day after. That is technology transfer. That is what we have to do. When they are pushing the elite athletes to their extremes, they are throwing up all sorts of information that can then be directed into wealth creation on the one hand but also the wellbeing of the nation on the other.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 22 February 2007