Graham Kelly: Team doctors suffer from lack of Fifa drug guidance

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The Independent Online

The excessive penalty imposed on Rio Ferdinand for his failed drugs test looks likely to cost England as well as Manchester United dear. Suspicion arose that Ferdinand's transgression was the cause of Michele Verroken, UK Sport's highly regarded director of anti-doping, being asked to step down from her £55,000-a-year post. But as she approaches the end of her gardening leave, an alternative scenario presents itself.

The excessive penalty imposed on Rio Ferdinand for his failed drugs test looks likely to cost England as well as Manchester United dear. Suspicion arose that Ferdinand's transgression was the cause of Michele Verroken, UK Sport's highly regarded director of anti-doping, being asked to step down from her £55,000-a-year post. But as she approaches the end of her gardening leave, an alternative scenario presents itself.

No reason at all was advanced by UK Sport chair Sue Campbell shortly before Christmas when she told Verroken that she believed the time had come to part company. I suspect that, because Verroken had been fighting for a system where the doping control arm is separate and independent of the funding element, she had tested the patience of Minister for Sport Richard Caborn, who maintains there is no conflict of interest in retaining both functions under his direct command, once too often.

Caborn admits he endorsed her removal, but says he did not instigate it. Anyone reading his comments of 18 December on a discussion on the UK system with his close ally, World Anti-Doping Authority chairman Richard Pound, might be tempted to question his version of events: "It was discussed with Dick Pound when he was here last week, and he supported our stance [in keeping funding and doping control under one roof] on this matter."

Conspiracy theorists will draw succour from the fact that Verroken was in the vanguard of a veritable demolition brigade that laid waste to Pound's cherished Wada code only a matter of days before she received her summons upstairs. He had been invited to the Royal College of Surgeons in London for a joint meeting with King's College and the British Association of Sport and the Law. He had a nightmare. A source who went along expecting a lawyers' love-in said that both Pound and his anti-doping code were torn apart.

"You must grant a right of appeal," said Verroken, in response to Wada's determination of a sportsman's absolute liability for what is a prohibited substance detected in a sample. "How the hell can you say this is an offence, but that isn't?" She told Pound that athletes were the victims of the system, that governments were not, in fact, signatories to any code and that doping was a matter of professional misconduct, not a penal act. Far too many drug-testing programmes were in the hands of those who had vested interests, whereas sport was meant to be a partnership.

Adam Lewis, a leading sports barrister, didn't pull any punches either: the system was being brought into disrepute because the rules were designed by people to make it easy to accuse athletes of drug-taking; we need to catch drugs cheats; doping was getting mixed up with borderline cases.

Lewis advocated the removal of drugs that do not have a performance-enhancing effect from the banned list. "There can only be justification for the automatic disqualification of individual results if an advantage has been obtained," he concluded.

In the face of these onslaughts, Pound tried to claim that strict liability was essential by laying down its law that the listing of a drug is "not subject to challenge". But the Wada code attempts to enforce absolute liability where no defence is available to an accused. He said: "You don't write a code for athletes to read," yet claimed, "there has probably been more consultation on the Wada code than in any other sport," although no athletes at all wrote in support of it when it was in draft form.

Verroken retorted: "This is the most mandatory code ever. Why?"

Two cheers for Fifa, who have steadfastly refused to give anything other than the most cursory nod to Wada - whose code contravenes the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights - while the anti-doping rules in force at Euro 2004 have been modelled on those handed down by the International Olympic Committee's Medical Commission, which owe far more to the skills of analytical chemists than to players' performances or health.

Three years ago the Fifa doping control sub-committee reported that the IOC laboratory in Cologne had tested hundreds of supplements and found that 14 per cent of them contained nandrolone, the readings being as high as 630ng/ml, over 300 times the IOC limit.

But with no guidance from Fifa as to which supplements will produce positives, it may well prove impossible for team physicians in Portugal to keep their players topped up with nutrients, fully hydrated and "drug-free". Guillermo Coria lost the recent French tennis final because, not daring to drink an unfamiliar cola until it was too late, he cramped due to dehydration.

If an England player tests positive for nandrolone in Portugal, will Caborn and his Wada pals call for a minimum suspension of two years for that "very serious offence" as they did for Ferdinand?

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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