Professor Arnold Beckett: Sports doping expert who later changed sides and supported those accused of drug use

Professor Arnold Beckett was a maverick who never shied away from a challenge or a perceived injustice. A member of the International Olympic Committee across four decades, he was a pioneer in the field of drug testing in sport and was involved in many high-profile cases, including those of Ben Johnson and the British skier Alain Baxter. Following his controversial exit from the IOC he became a champion of sportsmen he felt were wrongly accused of drug misuse.

Arnold Heyworth Beckett was born in 1920 in Fylde, Lancashire. He graduated from the School of Pharmacy and Birkbeck College, part of the University of London, from where he obtained his doctorate. In 1959 he was made head of the Chelsea School of Pharmacy, a position he held for over 30 years, developing the department into one of the finest in the country. He published more than 460 papers and supervised over 95 PhD students, many of whom went on to distinguished careers. In 1958 he was appointed co-editor with Albert Burger of the Journal of Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Chemistry. His publications on the relationship between stereochemistry and analgesic action were influential classics of their kind.

At Chelsea College, Beckett worked on drug metabolism, especially that of stimulants, and studied gas-liquid chromatography and other analytical techniques. A paper he delivered in London in 1965 brought him to the attention of the sporting authorities, who were seeking to intervene following several high-profile instances of performance-enhancing drug use, and the International Cycling Union invited Beckett to carry out trial drugs tests on competitors in the 1965 Milk Race, or Tour of Britain; three riders tested positive and were disqualified.

The following year testing was introduced for the first time in international football at the World Cup in England, with Beckett supervising. In 1967, the British cyclist Tommy Simpson, died during the Tour de France after taking amphetamines, and that year the IOC set up a medical commission and invited Beckett to join. They issued a list of banned substances and started testing in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City

Before the Games Beckett said in The Times, "Let's face it – [steroids] will be used in Mexico". Tom Wandell, a US physician and decathlete at the Games, claimed that during the pre-Games high-altitude training camp more than a third of the US track and field team were using steroids.

With steroid abuse increasing in the West, and Eastern European countries known to be administering them on a massive scale, sport was under pressure to react. Professor Raymond Brooks devised a test for steroids at St Thomas's Hospital in London and the IOC banned steroids in 1975. Chelsea College became the first laboratory established independently of any city staging the Olympic Games to test for drugs. In 1988 Beckett headed the team that investigated Ben Johnson following his victory in the Olympic 100 metres final in Seoul. The Canadian was stripped of his gold medal when the anabolic steroid Stanozolol was found in his urine.

As Beckett's standing in the field grew, so too did the accolades. He was appointed President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Britain in 1981 and from 1985 he chaired International Tennis Federation's medical committee for eight years. He was also at various times a member of the medical commissions of the Commonwealth Games and of the British Olympic Association and a member of the medical panel of Fifa, world football's governing body.

In later years, Beckett came into conflict with a fellow member of the IOC medical committee, Professor Manfred Donike, and it led to the end of Beckett's association with the IOC. Donike, a former German international cyclist, clashed with Beckett at a conference in Moscow in 1989 over whether the steroid profile of a male competitor, which provided the hormonal make-up of an individual, could be used to exclude a competitor from an event even if he had not tested positive. Their biggest showdown was at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when two British weightlifters, Andrew Saxton and Andrew Davies, were sent home after traces of Clenbuterol, an anabolic steroid and stimulant, were found in their bodies. The former East German sprinter Katrin Krabbe, the 100 and 200 metre world record holder, tested positive for the same drug.

The argument revolved around whether the drug was prohibited out of competition; had it been a stimulant only, IOC rules would have permitted its use in training. Beckett sided with the athletes, arguing that the IOC had not explicitly proscribed it for out-of-competition testing. Most of the medical commission sided with Donike and Beckett left the commission.

Beckett switched sides and ended up representing sportsmen he felt had been unfairly treated. One case was that of Alain Baxter, the Scots skier stripped of his bronze at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics after testing positive for traces of an isomer of methamphetamine with no significant stimulant properties, which he had ingested in a nasal spray. Benjamin Raich, the Austrian skier who took the bronze, returned the medal to Baxter, saying that it was rightfully his.

Beckett went on to enjoy a successful business career, linking up with a former student, the founder of Vitabiotics, Dr Kartar Lalvani, and becoming a non-executive chairman of the company for 18 years. Together they worked on a number of natural healthcare innovations in nutraceuticals, which are used by professional sportsmen and sports teams.

Martin Childs

On 9 December 1970, under the kite-flying 10-minute rule bill procedure, I introduced the Medical Inspection (Evidence of Drug Taking) (School Pupil's Bill, writes Tam Dalyell. The long title owed more to my friend and chief advisor Arnold Beckett, then Professor of Pharmacology at the Chelsea College of Science and Technology. It was intended "to empower local authorities, with the consent of their medical officer of health of the county or county borough concerned, to authorise medical inspections of pupils in attendance at any school maintained by them and to be conducted without motive given to the said pupils or guardians".

I had been appalled, as PPS to Richard Crossman, to go with him on a ministerial visit to drug rehabilitation centres in the East End of London. One saw boys – at that time few girls were involved – mooning around, unable to control their limbs. My bill had the support of my several of my most serious contemporaries, and it looked to Beckett and myself that it would become the official position of the Labour Party.

However, in the Shadow Cabinet two former Home Secretaries, James Callaghan and Roy Jenkins, prevailed on our erstwhile supporters at the top of the party – Douglas Houghton and Barbara Castle – to change their minds on the grounds that it was politically risky and an affront to children's rights. I was told to withdraw the bill and I regret obediently having done so on 12 May 1971. Arnold Beckett was still campaigning for enlightened views as an octogenarian. He was a man before his time.

Arnold Heyworth Beckett, pharmacologist and expert on sports doping: born Fylde, Lancashire 12 February 1920; married firstly (one son, one daughter), secondly, thirdly Bozena Hadzija; died London 25 January 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future