Thousands of athletes to be retested for drugs

A new dope test has uncovered use of a previously undetectable steroid by US record-holders. Now Britain's top sports stars are to come under renewed
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Sports officials are to re-examine the drug test records of thousands of British athletes in the wake of a new doping scandal involving US athletes. Two decades of records threaten to unmask British sportsmen and women who have used a steroid that has been undetectable until now.

UK Sport, the UK drug-testing body, has launched the investigation after it emerged that 20 unnamed US athletes had tested positive for a new designer drug known as tetrahydrogestrinone or THG. Following a tip-off from a coach, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) discovered that these athletes, including world record holders and Olympic champions, had been using the anabolic steroid. UK Sport is now working closely with the USADA to discover if any British athletes are implicated in the scandal.

Michele Verroken, director of Drug-Free Sport at UK Sport, said this could mean examining all the agency's drug test data which go back to1988. "We shouldn't discount any possibility that we would and could look at the tests of any of our athletes," she said. "This is as much to protect their reputations. We want to make sure those athletes get given the best opportunity to show they are drug-free."

This comes as cities including London and New York, which are bidding to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, are desperate to present a respectable image to the International Olympic Committee. The US athletics community has already been trying to clean up its image after a number of athletes were implicated in drug-taking.

At the World Athletics Championships in Paris this August, sprinter Kelli White failed a drugs test after winning the 100m and 200m gold medals. Earlier this year, it also emerged that US Track and Field, the US athletics body, had concealed the fact that several of their leading athletes, including eight-time gold medalist Carl Lewis and more recently relay star Jerome Young, had tested positive for drugs.

Until now, no test existed that could detect THG. Officials believe the steroid has been deliberately designed so that it does not show up in conventional tests. The USADA believes the source of the drug is the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (Balco), a Californian-based company which officially markets legal nutritional products to sportsmen and women.

The company's website features the names of 50 famous athletes, including the tennis players Ivan Lendl and Jim Courier. Balco also claims to have helped Dwain Chambers, the British European 100m champion and a favourite for an Olympic gold medal in Athens next summer.

The row over THG is also likely to increase pressure on the Football Association (FA) to take a harder line on players who test positive for drugs or refuse to take tests. There was widespread criticism of Manchester United earlier this month when it emerged that Rio Ferdinand, the club's England defender, had failed to turn up for a drug test. The club is now threatening to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, if the FA decides to ban Ferdinand.

Football is one of the few sports not to have signed up to the World Anti-Doping Agency code. World football's governing body, Fifa, and the FA fear that clubs and players will threaten legal action against any bans that are imposed for drug-taking.

The sports minister, Richard Caborn, said that sports officials and politicians needed to unite in keeping drugs out of sport. "Athletes are responsible for what they take and the ultimate responsibility is with the individual," he said. People know that the International Olympic Committee is very serious about wiping drugs out of sport. We can't afford to have any of these medals tarnished by cheating."

* Manchester United are seeking an injunction to stop a Sunday newspaper printing extracts today from a book by the club's former head of security, Michael Kelly, a former SAS soldier who left the football club last year following allegations that he was touting tickets.