Select Committee on Science and Technology Second Report

3   The culture of doping

Prevalence of doping

47. The Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Select Committee, who held an inquiry during 2004 into drugs and role models in sport, concluded that there are relatively few athletes involved in doping in the UK.[52] This opinion is supported by figures from the UK Sport testing programme in which of the 7,968 tests taken in 2005-06, only 1.3 per cent were found positive for banned substances.[53] There is, however, a slightly higher incidence of doping on the international circuit. WADA publishes an annual overview of the results reported by the accredited anti-doping laboratories, which shows that the number of adverse analytical findings for 2005 was approximately 2.1 per cent.[54]

48. We were interested to determine whether recorded incidences of doping were an accurate reflection of its actual prevalence. Dr Bruce Hamilton from UK Athletics told us that he could "only suppose that [the illegal use of enhancement techniques] is widespread"[55] and that looking at positive test results as a measure of utilisation was unreliable.[56] Dr Richard Budgett of the British Olympic Association (BOA) told us that a lot of athletes and many professionals involved in anti-doping policy suspect that there are people who go undetected[57] and that, whether or not it is the case, there is perception that many athletes are cheating, with the result that athletes who had been found guilty of doping offences justified their actions by saying "lots of other people are cheating, most of my competitors are cheating, so I am just levelling the playing field".[58]

49. We were also interested to determine whether there is higher prevalence of doping in particular countries or sports. Professor Arne Ljungqvist, representing the IOC and WADA, told us that "quite a number of those found and finally judged to be guilty of doping offences come from the former eastern European countries"[59] and that, prior to the creation of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), there had been a "major problem with the United States".[60] Dr Budgett told us that doping is more prevalent in certain sports and that in his own sport of rowing "there is a low prevalence of doping whereas in some other sports, like cycling, there are more cases".[61] When questioned further on why cycling should demonstrate a higher frequency of doping cases, both Dr Budgett and Professor Ljungqvist considered that this was the 'culture' of the sport[62] and that there is "a great deal of money in professional cycling and therefore the stakes are much higher, and that will drive people to cheat".[63] When discussing this issue informally with coaches and athletes in Australia and the UK, we found a general acceptance of the suggestion that doping was common in cycling.

50. We conclude that the official figures on the incidence of doping may well not accurately reflect the scale of the problem. We are also concerned that there is a perception that use of illegal substances in sport is widespread. It appears that doping is more prevalent in certain sports and countries and that this may be attributed to the 'culture' of these sports. We recommend that UK Sport commission research into the real incidence of doping both in general and in particular sports in order that the magnitude of the problem may be understood and the means of tackling it may be better defined.

Obtaining banned substances


51. We also looked at how athletes obtain illegal human enhancement technologies and raised the question of whether there is an element of pressure from athletes on their support staff, for example coaches or sports medics. Dr Bruce Hamilton of UK Athletics told us that team doctors "are always being asked to push the envelope where that grey area is within what is legal and what is not legal".[64] Dr Budgett of the BOA reported incidences where, within a team, athletes were expected to be prepared to take banned substances, "otherwise you were letting the team down".[65] His conclusion was that doping is generally driven by the individual and that those athletes who are involved in using banned performance enhancement technologies "spend a great deal of their time and energy covering up and worrying about it".[66]

52. There is easy access to banned substances for those athletes wishing to enhance their performance illegally. A range of companies supply banned substances over the internet. The European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) drew attention to products that contain substances which are specifically banned by WADA but may be perfectly legal for general sale to ordinary consumers,[67] and we were surprised by the ease by which such compounds may be obtained. For example, the beta-blocker atenolol, used medically to treat high blood pressure and other heart conditions by reducing the heart rate and the heart's output of blood, is readily available for purchase via the world wide web, despite being classified as on prescription-only in the UK.[68] Atenolol is banned by WADA for use in competition.[69] The UK pharmaceutical company British Dragon produces a range of compounds such as 'Dianabol'. Dianabol contains methandienone, a steroid derivative of testosterone with strong anabolic (tissue building) and androgenic (controls the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics) properties and which increases protein metabolism and synthesis thus boosting muscle mass.[70] Methandienone is listed on the 2006 WADA Prohibited List[71] and controlled, as a class C drug, under the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. We are concerned at the ease by which banned, and potentially dangerous, substances can be obtained for use by athletes and we recommend that the Government review regulation in this area.


53. There is also evidence to support the theory that many athletes may take illegal performance enhancement technologies without knowingly doing so, for example through the consumption of contaminated nutritional supplements. Dr Anna Casey from QinetiQ told us that she considers that "one of the major threats" to the 2012 Olympics is potential contamination of food supplements, taken in good faith by athletes.[72]

54. WADA has been aware of potential contamination of food supplements and the problems this may cause for some time. Professor Ljungqvist told us that during the first two years of WADA's existence, a working group was established to look into the area of food supplements. The research carried out by a group in Cologne, led by Hans Geyer, showed that between 15 and 20 per cent of the food supplements tested were contaminated by or contained banned substances which were not indicated on the labels.[73] This evidence is, however, disputed by ESSNA who have told us in written evidence that although it has been alleged that "there are unscrupulous manufacturers who place on the market products that contain prohibited and sometimes dangerous ingredients and that there are also manufacturers who market products to elite athletes but who mislabel their products", they have seen no "substantive evidence" to support this assertion and can see no commercial benefit to a company from adopting such behaviour.[74]

55. Dr John Brewer, representing GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), recognised that, since there is a plethora of supplements that are available for athletes, "it is always going to be very difficult and very confusing for the athletes to know what works and also what is free of banned substances". Mr Brewer therefore made the plea for a recognised standard of labelling of such products.[75] Dr Casey supported this view, telling us that "that there has to be, between now and 2012, more effort put into making available certified, contaminant-free food supplements".[76] Mr John Scott from UK Sport agreed that "the whole issue of supplements remains a major challenge" and that UK Sport would "love to see an industry standard in the supplements area".[77]

56. Dr Brewer also told us that the products GSK produces are currently tested at HFL Ltd, one of the UK's WADA-accredited testing laboratories, to ensure that all of their products are free of substances on the WADA banned list.[78] However, a "major concern" for GSK at the moment is that there is a suggestion that WADA may remove their accreditation from laboratories testing manufacturers' supplements. Mr Brewer felt that this "is a very backward step for WADA to be taking" since having such quality assurance for athletes is important.[79] Professor Ljungqvist from WADA explained the rationale behind the decision to remove accreditation from WADA laboratories testing commercial supplements. He said that if a laboratory tests or is asked to test certain food supplements to determine whether or not they may be contaminated, if the results show that they are not, it is not possible to conclude from that one result that subsequent batches will not be contaminated, and the laboratory may therefore risk issuing false and misleading reports. Professor Ljungqvist said that "we have told the laboratories not to become involved in an area which is so poorly regulated at the national levels".[80]

57. We firmly believe that it is the responsibility of the individual athlete to determine what is being taken into their own body. However, we also consider it important that an athlete has sufficient assurance on the purity of any non-prohibited substance they may wish to consume. We believe that accreditation of laboratories testing commercial supplements for use in sport provides such assurance to athletes. We do not believe that it is in the best interest of the athlete for WADA to remove its accreditation from laboratories testing commercial supplements for use in sport. We recommend that the Minister for Sport maintain pressure on WADA to secure the continuing accreditation of laboratories which also test commercial supplements. In addition, we recommend UK Sport take the lead in working with relevant bodies to put in place a certification system for supplements used in sport to regulate against contamination of food supplements and provide assurance to athletes on the purity of what they are taking.

58. Athletes may also accidentally take a banned substance because they do not realise that such a substance is contained within the Prohibited List. For example, we heard from Dr Hamilton of UK Athletics that athletes may accidentally take ephedrine, a decongestant found in many cold remedies and that "we can all make those mistakes".[81] We also heard that medical practitioners may not always be aware of the WADA Prohibited List, and the substances and technologies on it, or understand the implications for athletes of using certain substances. John Scott from UK Sport told us that his organisation puts "a lot of effort" into ensuring that there is education material available to doctors to enable them to make informed decisions with regard to specific athletes who are elite performers.[82] However, UK Sport's effort in this area may not be sufficient. Dr Bruce Hamilton of UK Athletics told us that what is and is not acceptable for the medical treatment of athletes can be confusing to doctors. He raised the use of glucocorticoids, steroids used to provide relief for inflamed areas of the body. Glucocorticoids may be used to treat joint inflammation, as a corticoid steroid injection or through the mouth, for example in arthritis. Use of glucocorticoids through either of these routes is prohibited without a TUE. However, glucocorticoids can also be taken as a nasal preparation, for example for allergic rhinitis, use of which is which is not prohibited by WADA. Dr Hamilton felt that whether such substances and their routes of administration could be used was sometimes unclear to doctors and that differences in regulation between use of the same substance, for example via different routes, could be "subtle".[83] We are concerned that doctors may not always understand what is deemed acceptable treatment for athletes. We recommend that UK Sport consult upon and review its education material aimed at general practitioners and other medics on the issues faced by athletes, providing further education if this is deemed necessary to clarify WADA prohibited substances and the routes via which such substances may be given.

52   Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2003-04, Drugs and role models in sport: making and setting examples, HC 499-I Para 47, Back

53   UK Sport Test results, Back

54   WADA 2005 Adverse Analytical Findings Reported by Accredited Laboratories., Back

55   Q 166 Back

56   Q 167 Back

57   Q 198 Back

58   Q 199 Back

59   Q 202  Back

60   Q 203 Back

61   Q 205 Back

62   Q 207-209  Back

63   Q 210 Back

64   Q 109 Back

65   Q 211 Back

66   As above Back

67   Ev 74 Back

68   The, Back

69   The 2006 List of Prohibited Substances International Standard, Back

70   Roid 4 Sale website (distributor of British Dragon products), Back

71   The 2006 List of Prohibited Substances International Standard, Back

72   Q 175 Back

73   Q 312 Back

74   Ev 74 Back

75   Q 173 Back

76   Q 175 Back

77   Q 63 Back

78   Q 121 Back

79   Q 163 Back

80   Q 310 Back

81   Q 173 Back

82   Q 68 Back

83   Q 190 Back

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Prepared 22 February 2007