1,200 tests last year - but only seven 'adverse' findings

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The Independent Football

How prevalent is illegal drug use in British football?

How prevalent is illegal drug use in British football?

Confirmed cases are rare, and have mostly been limited to recreational drugs. Mark Bosnich, the former Manchester United and Chelsea goalkeeper, was the last high-profile player to be banned, after testing positive for cocaine. Paul Merson, the former England midfielder, has also confessed to cocaine addiction. Several players, including a group of Charlton juniors in the late 1990s, have been punished for using cannabis. Steroids are more of a problem on the Continent, although an unnamed played in the Nationwide League tested positive last season for the anabolic agent nandrolone.

How many tests are done each season and how are they conducted?

Last season, UK Sport, which oversees all drug testing in Britain, performed 1,256 drugs tests on footballers. Of these, 433 were done immediately after matches, with the players selected at random. The other 823 tests were done "out of competition", the vast majority of them at training grounds. Although these are called "random", the testers usually notify the clubs of their visits in advance. Players will usually be given a warning they will be tested, even if only an hour or two ahead of the test. All the tests are urine tests.

How many failed drug tests are there?

Of the 1,256 tests last year, there were seven "adverse" findings. Individual case details are not made public. It is understood two of the seven were explained naturally, three involved recreational drugs, one involved nandrolone and the seventh was a refusal to take a test. Each case is dealt with on its merits, normally in secret by the Football Association. Sport UK is notified of the outcomes, although the identities of the "offenders" are not made public.

What punishments are meted out for failed tests?

It depends. Because football's authorities have not yet signed up to the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC), which regulates bans, offenders are dealt with on a discretionary basis. Warnings and fines seem to be the most common punishments in England, but details of drugs offences are often not made public. Under the WADC, a two-year ban for a performance enhancing substance will be the norm, with a one-year ban for a recreational substance. Second offences may mean life bans. Failure to provide a sample can be interpreted as a failed test.

Is there any chance that a player can avoid a test?

If tested after a match, highly unlikely. The players will be asked to go to the testing room and provide a sample. At training, avoiding the test is easier. The player is usually told that he will be tested later, as was the case with Rio Ferdinand. If the player fails to report back for his test, it cannot be done.

How often do players get tested?

With around 1,200 tests a year and around 3,000 professionals in England alone, most players will only be tested about once every two years. Some players go untested for much longer. Others, who play more often at targeted matches in Britain as well as abroad, could be tested several times a year. Players with previous involvement with drugs or refusals to be tested are usually "target-tested", meaning they undergo more frequent and genuinely random tests.