Banks wants Britain to take lead on drugs

Drugs in sport
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The Independent Online
THE SPORTS Minister, Tony Banks, has vowed that Britain will lead the fight against drug cheats. Speaking at the publication of the annual report of the UK Sports Council's anti-doping policy, Banks stressed the Government's determination to increase both penalties and testing to eradicate drug-taking amongst athletes.

However, at virtually the same time as Banks was making his announcement, the Irish Rugby Football Union were admitting that three of their players had failed tests for banned substances. Noel Murphy, the IRFU president, refused to name any of the players involved but said that the first player examined has passed a subsequent test.

One of the other cases is understood to involve a player tested during a Five Nations' Championship match last season. Murphy said that this case had been brought to the IRFU's attention only last Tuesday. The other case is a new one, which has not been mentioned in the speculation caused by an article in an Irish newspaper last Sunday stating that drug- taking has been widespread in Irish rugby since 1988.

While the IRFU desperately try to clear up the problem, Banks was unequivocal in his determination to fight drug-takers: "We need much tougher policies and Britain should make a stand in the international world of sport and say what we believe," said Banks, who reserved special condemnation for Juan Antonio Samaranch.

The International Olympic Committee president suggested in a recent interview that the list of banned substances should be reduced. Banks, however, takes a different view.

"We need clear guidelines not a reduction," he said. "We have to look very carefully at anti-doping around the world and get rid of the grey areas. But what we don't need is drugs being taken off any banned list.

The Sports Council will also tackle the growing use of recreational drugs. Football clubs have had a spate of problems with marijuana use, including high-profile players such as the Tottenham Hotspurs striker Chris Armstrong.

"Football has had a problem with recreational drugs and we want to make sure that we can stamp it out," said Michelle Verokken, the head of anti- doping and ethics for the Council.