Drugs in Sport: FA to protect youth by extending tests: No positive tests so far

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(First Edition) THE Football Association has decided to expand its anti- drugs campaign after being alerted by four clubs who fear 'pushers' may be after their young players.

Alan Hodson, director of the pounds 140,000 FA drug testing and education programme, now plans tests at any time for male, female and youth footballers to reveal the extent of drug or alcohol problems, and tests will increase from 80 to more than 300 per season.

So far, the FA has no evidence of young players falling victim to drug dealers, but Hodson admits being worried by police statistics revealing that more thn 50 per cent of youngsters in England will have tried drugs by the time they reach 16.

'I found that frightening and knew we had to do something about it within football,' said Hodson, a former Burnley apprentice now supervising the FA's medical and coaching programme.

Hodson refused to disclose the identities of the four clubs, but said: 'They are not just inner-city outfits. It seems pushers are hanging around young footballers with a bit of money.'

Hodson and his staff have carried out 160 post-match tests on adult male professional footballers over the last two seasons and not one proved positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

The FA wants to nip in the bud any drug problem before it escalates to the level of other sports, like athletics. Scotland's Willie Johnston and Argentina's Diego Maradona apart, football is largely untainted by drugs scandals. But with 15,000 boys attending centres of excellence, the FA is leaving nothing to chance.

Mike Parry, the FA spokesman, said: 'This is not an attempt to create a drugs bust, more a move to help younger players with money and problems. The idea is to be pre- emptive, preventative and supportive.'