Select Committee on Science and Technology Second Report

8   Being the best legally

Use of legal HETs

113. Within the context of this inquiry, we were keen to evaluate some of the legal mechanisms by which UK athletes can be supported in their pursuit of sporting success. We have learnt of a number of technologies available which are believed, or have been proven, to have performance-enhancing capacity, for example:

a)  Biomechanics, used to enhance performance by improving understanding of the mechanics of movement. We were interested to see use of biomechanics for the improvement of bowling technique in cricket at the Australian Institute of Sport and for aiding in the development of twists and jumps in gymnastics and trampolining at Loughborough University.

b)  Immunology. The physical and life stresses associated with high level competition can result in immune suppression leading to increased susceptibility to minor infections and illnesses. Understanding of immunology and the specific requirements of athletes is therefore beneficial, and we were interested to see some of the research ongoing at Loughborough University into the development of nutritional and other strategies to combat the physical requirements of an athlete's life.

c)  Nutrition and hydration. Good nutrition and hydration practices can be used to boost performance levels and also aid in the recovery of muscle function after intensive training or injury.[198]

d)  Physiology. Better understanding of general physiology and the effects of intensive training upon it may be beneficial in learning how to enhance performance through legal mechanisms.[199]

114. Dr Anna Casey, representing QinetiQ, told us that one must accept that athletes will take supplements and that "some supplements are legal, they are worth taking and they will aid training, they will aid recovery".[200] We also note that the IOC Medical Commission accepts use of some supplements. Professor Ljungqvist told us that "as long as the mechanisms that they are using for performance enhancing are accepted and not banned, it is automatically okay".[201] However, we were also told that it is important to proceed with caution before recommending use of legal HETs. Dr Budgett from the BOA told us that he is "cautious and sceptical" about HETs. Dr Budgett explained that "there are an awful lot of methods and substances out there that are put forward with pseudo-scientific justification" and that he is sceptical with regard to whether or not such HETs have beneficial effect.[202] He gave his opinion that required supplements will normally be for a medical reason and under direction from a professional, for example, nutritionist or doctor,[203] a view shared by Professor Ljungqvist who told us that athletes should not take anything unless they can prove that they need it.[204]

115. We believe that legal HETs may be of real value to performance enhancement. However, we accept that caution is required in the use of such substances and methods and believe that athletes must have access to appropriate medial advice and support to ensure that they are using legal HETs correctly. We should like to see a culture of 'openness' developed and maintained in which athletes can easily access help and advice in situations where use of legal HETs may be appropriate. UK Sport should take the lead in fostering this approach through its links with the national sporting bodies.

Development of legal HETs

116. If we are to help our athletes improve their performance through use of legal HETs, then it is important that there is sufficient (and ongoing) research into such technologies. During this inquiry, it has become apparent that there is limited funding for research into legal mechanisms for enhancing performance. Professor Arne Ljungqvist from WADA told us that his organisation does "not feel that is our responsibility" and that the $5 million research funding available within WADA goes directly into developing methods for the detection of doping substances.[205] Neither DCMS or UK Sport fund research into HETs. We were told us in oral evidence that "UK Sport are not directly doing any work ourselves. We have a very small research budget and our research priority has been on social research".[206] In supplementary evidence, UK Sport elaborated that it "does not have responsibility for funding research but instead hopes to enhance its role in influencing the research agenda more widely in this area".[207]

117. It is also clear that the skills base underpinning such research, and the research itself, must be of extremely high quality. However, in his written submission, Professor McGrath told us that "much research in sports-related topics is not cutting edge and does not have sufficient scientific depth"[208] and that "the skills base (physiology in health and disease, genetics and biochemistry) is there but it is not being directed towards these ends [sports science]".[209] We were also told that the practical skills necessary to build up the sports science research base are not being taught. Henning Wackerhage from the University of Aberdeen argued that "it is unfortunate that the practical skills (i.e. biochemical, molecular biology and genetic techniques) necessary for mechanistic exercise research are not often taught as part of sports and exercise science degrees".[210]

118. Sport is an important industry in the UK with a large budget. It is therefore a matter of concern that research into sport-related topics is not considered 'cutting-edge' since the increased knowledge and understanding research can produce may be instrumental in maximising our athletes' performance and hence increasing return on UK investment in sport. We are also concerned that the relevant skills required for such research should be taught. We recommend that the Government review the quality of sports science research in the UK and implement mechanisms for enhancing training and support where required.


119. Whilst there are clear benefits from the use of legal mechanisms for performance enhancement, academic research in this area is limited. Dr Henning Wackerhage of the University of Aberdeen told us that "sports and exercise research is probably less well funded in the UK than in the US or Scandinavia".[211] During a seminar held to launch this inquiry, we also heard from Professor Maughan of Loughborough University that most of the advances in HET are based in the context of medical research and do not come from sports science. We later heard from Professor McGrath of the University of Glasgow that "there are not the drivers to do the research". [212]

120. Reasons cited for such limited academic research into HETs include the lack of incentives for doing so. For example, during the Committee's visit to Loughborough University, we were told of the reduced incentive for undertaking work to be published specifically in sports science journals. Journal impact factors are a measure of citations to science and social science journals and are frequently used to indicate the importance of a journal to its field. In real terms, the absolute value of an impact factor is meaningless and comparison of impact factors between different fields is invalid. However, such comparisons have been widely used for the evaluation of not merely journals, but of scientists and of university departments. Indeed, during its 2004 report into Scientific publications: Free for all?, the previous Science and Technology Select Committee reported the perception that the Research Assessment Exercise "rewards publication in journals with high impact factors".[213] Since impact factors of sports science specific journals are significantly lower than those for other disciplines for example, medical research, there is little incentive for researchers to direct their work in this fashion. For example, whilst the New England Journal of Medicine has a current impact factor of 44, the American Journal of Sports Medicine has an impact factor of 2.4, the British Journal of Sports Medicine an impact factor of 1.85 and Sports Medicine an impact factor of 3.33.[214]

121. There is also limited funding available from the public research funding sector into sports science generally and the development of legal HETs specifically. According to Professor McGrath "the remits of the research councils do not include sport" and the "people who do this kind of work tend to drift off in their career into cardiovascular research or diabetes because they can apply the biological expertise there and get funding".[215] It could be argued that this gap in funding for research of this type should be filled by those to whom it would be of immediate benefit, for example sporting bodies and organisations. However, Bruce Hamilton from UK Athletics told us that "it is very rare to commission research, primarily because the sporting bodies do not have funds to do so".[216] We are concerned that, despite the Government's boast that it is "keen to ensure the highest possible standards for sport in this country, and to re-establish the UK as a powerhouse in the sporting world",[217] we see little investment in the research which may enable it to do so. We also find it astonishing that sports science as a general discipline receives such little support, particularly in light of clear connections to research within the medical and biological sectors and also as a social science, with relevance to the ethical issues involved with doping in sport. We recommend that the Research Councils include research into sports science within their funding remits. Furthermore, we urge the co-ordinating body, Research Councils UK to examine the ways in which sports science could be more effectively served across the Research Councils.

122. We were interested to see the different approach taken by the Australian Government to research into legal mechanisms for enhancing performance. In contrast to the UK Sport and National Lottery-funded English Institute of Sport, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has an active research funding programme, supported by the Australian Government, covering this area. It runs a research grants programme in which academics can apply for research funds in partnership with a sporting body/institution.[218] We would like to see research into legal HETs given a higher priority in the UK. We recommend that the Government develop a specific funding stream for research into legal mechanisms for enhancing human performance in sport.


123. The majority of research into HETs, in the UK at least, is conducted by sectors other than that of academia. Industry is a major funder of HET research. Michelle Verroken from Sporting Integrity told us that "in the medical and pharmaceutical industry similar research [to that required to enhance sporting performance] is being undertaken which could be applied".[219] Indeed, there are a number of industrial bodies with an interest in sports science; for example, those within the UK sports nutrition market interested in the development of sports foods and beverages which can be a substitute for traditional foods and beverages or sports supplements in pill or powder form, intended to be taken in addition to regular food and drink. Such companies include Lucozade (owned by GlaxoSmithKline) which produces a number of supplements, for example isotonic drinks to aid in rehydration, and GNC which produces a diverse range of supplements from vitamins to protein bars, including those designed to maximise muscle growth.

124. John Brewer of GlaxoSmithKline told us the main drivers behind such research were "to look at new claims and to develop new products".[220] He explained that his company looked to fund research that will enable them to produce products which are different from the range it already has and which will give it "cutting edge products and cutting edge claims that we can make around those products".[221] However, GSK recognised that there is also a need to fund blue sky research "which may not have an immediate effect for us but which may enable us to enhance sports science".[222] Industry also funds research within the academic sports science sector. Mr Brewer told us that GSK currently has a research budget for sports science which is approximately half a million pounds a year and that this is used to support research in five academic universities, "four in this country and one in Australia".[223] However, whilst such funding is appreciated by academics, Professor McGrath pointed out that £500, 000 is typically the amount researchers might expect for a single project and that "there just are not the resources going into this area".[224] He estimated the need for a substantial amount of money in this area: "£20 million or something like that".[225]


125. The military sector also has an interest in supporting research into HETs and is working to develop products of use to those in the field, for example strategies to maintain hydration levels. In 2005, the Ministry of Defence awarded a £1.5 million three year contract to GSK to produce a Lucozade Sport Body Fuel drink for soldiers' 24 hour Operational Ration Packs.[226] Anna Casey, a research leader at QinetiQ, told us that, in most cases, "military feeding initiatives are based on developments in sports science",[227] and that "the Ministry of Defence is putting significant resources into preparing people for operations, preparing people for optimal performance and different environmental conditions using different technologies and different supplements and different ways of optimising performance".[228] The military sector is clearly undertaking research which would be of interest to those in the sports science field and stronger links between the two sectors might be fruitful.

Knowledge transfer

126. In addition to the limited research undertaken, particularly by the academic sector into legal HETs for sport, there are also limitations on the exploitation of the research which does take place within the different sectors to its maximum potential. Dr Anna Casey described how the pull-through of military research needs to extend to outside the military. She told us that there would be a real willingness from the military sector for this to happen.[229] However, she also observed that interaction between the different sectors "is not as good as it should be".[230] John Brewer from GSK told us that "whilst we know the key individuals that we are working with, there may be other areas of expertise out there which we are not aware of which could give us the answers to some of the questions which we are raising".[231] We also heard from Dr Bruce Hamilton of UK Athletics that "there needs to be a tighter link between the clinical practice (and I include in that the sports physicians and the coaching arena) and university research".[232]

127. Although there are a number of conferences for knowledge exchange in sports science (for example, the European College of Sports science annual meeting), one academic in the field, Dr Andy Miah of the University of Paisley, wrote that there is a problem with respect to communication of developments in sports science, which he regarded as "One of the major weaknesses in the world of sport".[233] The University of Loughborough supports this view, specifically in respect of the need for better dissemination of information, telling us that "key to the success of HETs in sport is education of athletes, coaches and those who support them. Dissemination of available information has lagged far behind scientific progress: the use of new technologies to improve communication with athletes must be an essential part of any strategy".[234]

128. UK Sport is making efforts to address the issue of communication between the sectors and we understand from Dr Casey that the organisation recently set up a short term working group bringing together academics and industry to produce a document for UK athletes with a view to 2012, on ergogenic aids and supplements and performance enhancement.[235] We also understand the UK Sport, together with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, has recently held three tailored 'Achieving Gold' workshops aimed at bringing together researchers from a variety of backgrounds to look at the application of science, engineering and technology to Olympic and Paralympic performance sport. The first of these workshops 'Improving information flow' looks at ways in which coaches can be presented with more 'real time' information about how their athletes are performing; the second is designed to look at 'New ways to test new kit and equipment'; and the third is on 'Improving our understanding of sails'. The workshops are backed by a potential £1.5m budget to support delivery and outcomes.

129. We welcome initial efforts by UK Sport to enhance the application of science to sport. However, we feel that there is still a long way to go. There is a need for greater awareness of relevant research being undertaken by different academic disciplines (for example, pharmacology, genetics and sports science) and sectors (academia, industry, military, sporting organisations), with particular need for increased linkage between the industrial and academic sectors. In addition, we are concerned that links between the sports sector and the Ministry of Defence are weak and that significant effort should be made toward application of relevant knowledge within this sector to the benefit of sport. There is also a need for greater translation/application of the research generated by different disciplines and sectors to sport. We urge UK Sport to develop formal mechanisms for the sharing of knowledge and information between the different sectors and to look at mechanisms for maximising the application of knowledge already in existence to the benefit of sport in the UK. Furthermore, we recommend that the UK Research Councils identify mechanisms for enhancing the sharing of information relevant to sports science between the different academic disciplines.

198   Ev 70-71 Back

199   As above Back

200   Q 175 Back

201   Q 306 Back

202   Q 306 Back

203   Q 308 Back

204   As above Back

205   Q 311  Back

206   Q 31 Back

207   Ev 107 Back

208   Ev 96 Back

209   Ev 97 Back

210   Ev 73 Back

211   Ev 73 Back

212   Q 118 Back

213   Science and Technology Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2003-04, Scientific Publications: Free for all?, HC 399-I, para 210 Back

214   Web of Science - Journal Citation Reports, Back

215   Q 118 Back

216   Q 142 Back

217   Better Sport, Back

218 Back

219   Ev 88 Back

220   Q 119 Back

221   As above Back

222   Q 119 Back

223   As above Back

224   Q 131 Back

225   Q 136 Back

226   Liquid Fuel for Armed Forces Ration Pack, 23 September 2005, QinetiQ Press release, Back

227   Q 116 Back

228   Q 140 Back

229   Q 154 Back

230   Q 158 Back

231   Q 157 Back

232   Q 143 Back

233   Ev 65 Back

234   Ev 71 Back

235   Q 158 Back

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Prepared 22 February 2007