'Blow the whistle' on cheats, says UK Sport

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The Independent Online

UK Sport, which oversees Britain's anti-doping programme, yesterday urged anyone with links to those suspected of using illegal performance-enhancing drugs to name the guilty parties.

UK Sport called on coaches, medical chemists, nutritionists and the athletes themselves to contact a confidential hotline with any information that could help weed out the cheats in the wake of a spate of cases linked to tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), a United States-developed substance for which the British sprinter Dwain Chambers tested positive at his summer training camp in Germany.

"It is clear that some sportsmen and women still look to cheat by the misuse of prohibited substances," UK Sport's executive director, Richard Callicott, said. "What we are asking for is help from the vast majority of people in sport, whether they be competing, coaching or working on the medical side of things. We need to work together to combat cheating and we encourage anyone with information to make use of the facilities we have made available. We are inviting them to blow the whistle."

Callicott called on innocent athletes across the country to be even more vigilant about what they were taking in the light of the Chambers case. "No one should take any supplement unless they know exactly what is in it and without checking to make sure what the effect is on their system," he said. "One way of doing that is by only using pharmaceutically approved products."

Yesterday, Rugby World Cup organisers in Australia announced they intended to test for THG with immediate effect. Callicott said UK Sport would do likewise across the board but only when it received the green light from Wada, the world anti-doping agency. First, he said, THG had to be legally classified as an anabolic steroid that was punishable under normal anti-doping procedures.

"Clearly we want to catch the cheats but we also want to protect the innocent," Callicott said. "We don't want to do things that may be challengeable under law. It may well be that information has been rushed out to organisers of the World Cup in Australia but we are waiting for the technical and scientific data in order to make a decision as to how we are going to handle it. It's too big an issue to make a quick decision. In Europe, the situation can be complicated because of human rights legislation."

Once they are convinced that THG is punishable under law, UK Sport looks certain to include professional football in any testing programme.

"If the recommendations from Wada are to test for THG as a prohibitive substance, then my understanding is that these will apply to all sports," Michele Verroken, UK Sports' director of drug-free sport, said. "I can't see a reason why we wouldn't test for football. It could even be a matter of days before the relevant analysis is available."

Verroken said she was not surprised by the revelation of the previously undetectable drug, for which Chambers tested positive just before the athletics World Championships in August and which was brought to the attention of anti-doping authorities by an anonymous coach.

"There have for some time been rumours of designer drugs," Verroken said. "The whole basis of masking agents has been to try and hide the fact that a prohibitive substance was present. But the conspiracy of silence about illicit substances has made it very difficult for us."

Asked whether it was possible for Chambers and other athletes to have ingested THG without knowing of its existence, Verroken replied: "Of course it is possible, but athletes remain responsible for what is in their bodies and to whom they entrust what they consume."

The former Olympic champion Sebastian Coe yesterday warned Chambers that ignorance is no defence. Chambers has blamed his California-based nutritionist Victor Conte. But Coe said: "The responsibility of every athlete is what they consume. You cannot move an iota away from that. Once you do that then you are into 'my auntie spiked my tea, granny stuck a tablet in my cornflakes'.

"The responsibility of the sport is to make sure that athletes are competing on a level playing field, and you cannot move from the responsibility of the athlete as to what they consume.

Coe added: "This is actually the first occasion when a drug has been systematically produced (a), to avoid detection and (b) to enhance performance. This is absolutely a conspiracy and an attempt to pervert human performance, and we have to stamp that out.

"If people sitting in the stadium do not believe that what they are watching is legitimate then we are on the way to hell in a handcart, and very quickly."