Positive dope tests increase by 46 per cent

The more you look for, the more you find," said the Football Association's Alan Hodson yesterday, after UK Sport had published an annual anti-doping report that showed a record 107 positive test results - a year-on-year increase of 46 per cent - during 1999-2000.

The more you look for, the more you find," said the Football Association's Alan Hodson yesterday, after UK Sport had published an annual anti-doping report that showed a record 107 positive test results - a year-on-year increase of 46 per cent - during 1999-2000.

Hodson's comment summarised the dilemma facing all sports in this country: as the authorities attempt to maintain the highest standards of doping control in international sport, they will inevitably attract damaging headlines whenever another positive test is reported.

Even though his sport had to deal with 16 positive findings, some involving players having used more than one banned substance, Hodson feels the FA's approach is showing clear signs of success. "I find it encouraging," he said. "I'm satisfied. It's what the clubs want."

During the past season, the FA has doubled the number of tests it conducts to 1,000. The positive findings came for a range of "social" drugs, from a 17-year-old player addicted to heroin, to three women from a single match in January this year who between them tested positive for a combination of amphetamines and cannabis.

"We're part of a society that has a drug problem," Hodson said. "When you're in a war, you're always getting a beating, whether you fight it or not. We've chosen to fight it."

The "fight" includes an education campaign aimed at children from as young as nine-years-old, and ranges to the very peak of the Premiership, with more than 300 visits to clubs during the past season.

Hodson said that five League clubs, mainly from the lower divisions, had requested and paid for extra tests during the year, and that a system of doping "flying squads", sent to "target test" certain players who the clubs suspected of drug use, had also been introduced.

Yet for all of football's current riches at the moment, Hodson's annual budget for doping control is £258,000. Much of the testing in football is paid for from UK Sport's budget. UK Sport spent £1.8million of public money in conducting 6,141 drug tests across 44 different sports - the largest such programme in the world - during the period covered by the report.

Despite soothing platitudes in the report, about 98 per cent of tests being negative for banned drugs, the dramatic increase in positive findings - there were 73 in 1998-99 - in a pre-Olympic year shows that doping in sport is still a significant problem. And, in the case of the steroid nandrolone, it is an ongoing problem. The spate of nandrolone findings contributed to a record number of positives since UK Sport took on the role of the drug police in Britain in 1988.

In 1998-99, there had been just 20 positive tests for any anabolic agents. But last year that shot up to 33 positive findings, of which a startling 24 were for nandrolone alone. Michele Verroken, UK Sport's director of ethics and antidoping, said: "The number of findings involving nandrolone has caused consternation throughout the sports world."

Verroken is clearly of the view that many of these positives could relate to the inadvertent use of a banned substance through taking nutritional supplements that have their contents inadequately labelled.

"Discussions have been set up and are ongoing with representatives of the sports supplement industry with a view to improving the confidence of consumers in this area," the report states.

UK Sport has also been funding a special nandrolone review committee, headed by Emeritus Professor Vivian James. "The work undertaken by Professor James and his committee has been invaluable in the attempt to clarify the issues surrounding the substance," Verroken said. "Their report has moved the debate forward a great deal, whilst narrowing the field of focus and exploding some of the myths."

It was not just in track and field that nandrolone occurred. The range of sports trying to deal with the problem includes professional boxing, cycling, both rugby codes, weightlifting and powerlifting.

As well as football's 16 "social" drug finds - which are generally classed as stimulants - there was also a significant increase in the number of findings for stimulants such as salbutamol, the active substance in Ventolin inhalers used by asthmatics.

There were 19 cases of cyclists and track athletes registering adverse findings. No disciplinary action was taken, though, as all the athletes had registered with their governing body to use the drug therapeutically.

UK SPORTS' MAJOR FINDINGS

POSITIVE DRUG TESTS IN BRITAIN

1993/94 43 1994/95 68 1995/96 81 1996/97 79 1997/98 74 1998/99 73 1999/00 107

POSITIVE TESTS BY DRUGS

(April 1999-March 2000)

Stimulants 55 Anabolic agents 33 Marijuana 9 Others 10

POSITIVE TESTS BY SPORTS

(April 1999-March 2000)

Athletics 26; Karate 1; Basketball 2; Modern Pentathlon 1; Body Building 4; Motor Sports 3; Boxing (professional) 8; Powerlifting 12; Cycling 14; Rugby League 5; Football 16; Rugby Union 4; Horse Racing 10; Snooker/Billiards 1; Hockey 1; Weightlifting 6; Ice Hockey 2.

(These are the positive tests reported by UK Sport, including minor offences, such as stimulants, as well as steroids and refusals to test. More than one report may relate to the same competitor)

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