Anti-doping watchdog faces investigation as Premier League clubs dismiss drugs claims

Doctor is filmed telling athlete: “What we don’t want to be doing is kind of doping you up with loads of stuff and all your stuff goes off the scale and then you’re going to end up into trouble.”

Ian Johnston@montaukian
Sunday 03 April 2016 07:49
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The UK Anti-Doping watchdog is to launch an independent investigation into its handling of allegations that a private doctor supplied performance-enhancing drugs to top footballers and other sports stars, as leading Premier League football clubs denied having anything to do with him.

Dr Mark Bonar was secretly filmed by The Sunday Times claiming he had treated 150 British and foreign sportspeople, including Premier League footballers from clubs such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester City and Birmingham City, an England international cricketer, British cyclists, a British boxer, tennis players and martial arts fighters.

He was recorded as he prescribed the banned substance erythropoietin (EPO), which increases the production of red blood cells, to an aspiring athlete and he also alleged he had prescribed drugs including steroids and human growth hormone. Dr Bonar even claimed to have treated two professional dancers who have appeared on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing.

The Omniya health and beauty clinic in London, where Dr Bonar worked, said he had been sacked on Friday after it emerged he did not have a licence to practise medicine in the UK. He is also facing disciplinary hearings that could see him struck off for a separate allegation of providing a patient with inadequate care, the General Medical Council said.

There were also calls for Nicole Sapstead, the chief executive of UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), to resign after it admitted that allegations by a sportsperson during a meeting with officials two years ago that Dr Bonar was supplying performance-enhancing drugs had not been taken further.

In a statement, David Kenworthy, UKAD's chair, said: "An independent review will be conducted into the issues raised by the Sunday Times. The independent person who will conduct the review will be appointed as soon as possible.

"They will be asked to look at the way the information supplied by the sportsperson [two years ago] was handled and whether proper procedures were followed. They will also be asked to make any recommendations to improve the way in which intelligence is dealt with in the future so that UKAD can be as effective as possible in keeping sport clean."

In the secret filming, Dr Bonar, 38, warned the athlete: “Some of these treatments I use are banned on a professional circuit. So, you have to be mindful of that. Having said that — I have worked with lots of professional athletes who do use these treatments.”

Saying he had “never met a clean athlete”, he added: “I mean the truth of the matter is drugs are in sport. What I do is I prescribe responsibly and I try to keep my patients the optimum level of normal.

“What we don’t want to be doing is kind of doping you up with loads of stuff and all your stuff goes off the scale and then you’re going to end up into trouble.”

However, when confronted by The Sunday Times, Dr Bonar denied he had given drugs to improve the performance of athletes, which would be a breach of the General Medical Council’s rules, insisting that he was simply treating a medical condition.

“The fact that some of my patients happen to be professional athletes is irrelevant. If they have proven deficiencies on blood work and are symptomatic, I will treat them,” he said. “They are … fully aware of the risks of using these medicines in professional sport and it is their responsibility to comply with anti-doping regulations.”

It is not known whether the claims made by Dr Bonar about doping Premiership footballers and others during the secret filming are true.

Culture, Media and Sport Secretary John Whittingdale said the independent investigation into UKAD should find out “what action was taken when these allegations were first received and what more needs to be done to ensure that British sport remains clean”.

“Sports fans are entitled to be sure that what they are watching is true and fair with all athletes competing on a level playing field,” he said.

“There is no room for complacency in the fight against doping and the Government is already looking at whether existing legislation in this area goes far enough.

“If it becomes clear that stronger criminal sanctions are needed then we will not hesitate to act.”

In a detailed response, UKAD said the sportsperson, who spoke to its officials in 2014 while facing punishment for doping offences, had given it more than 100 names, including 69 from the sports world, “on the basis that he hoped to reduce his sanction by providing substantial assistance”.

“One of those names was that of Dr Bonar and the Wellness Clinic – this was the first and only time that this doctor’s name has been brought to UKAD’s attention,” the agency said. “The sportsperson told UKAD that he had been prescribed testosterone and EPO by Dr Bonar.”

“During two of those interviews, the sportsperson alleged that Dr Bonar was providing performance-enhancing substances to an unspecified boxer.”

Ms Sapstead said UKAD had eventually decided that there was “nothing to indicate that Dr Bonar was governed by a sport and UKAD had no other intelligence to corroborate the sportsman’s allegations”. “As a result, UKAD recommended to the sportsperson that more information was needed and as Dr Bonar fell outside of UKAD’s jurisdiction, that information could be passed, if appropriate, to the General Medical Council, which does have the powers to investigate possible medical malpractice and pursue if necessary,” she added.

However Toni Minichiello, who coaches Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill and has seen the film of Dr Bonar, called for Ms Sapstead to resign.

“Her clear error of judgment in failing to ensure Ukad properly investigated Bonar makes her position untenable because she has failed in her fundamental duty to protect clean athletes,” he said.

“This case shows that British sport has a bigger doping problem than any of us imagined.”

The only British footballer currently banned by UKAD is Jordan McMillan, who used to play for Partick Thistle but was banned for taking cocaine.

In a statement, the clinic said: "We have checked our records thoroughly during the period Dr Bonar worked at Omniya and apart from the undercover athlete the Sunday Times used in its investigation, we can find absolutely no trace of a single high-profile sportsman or woman who has been treated or been seen at the clinic by Dr Bonar. We were never aware that the UK Anti-Doping watchdog had been provided with any evidence of Dr Bonar's previous alleged activities, presumably because nothing happened as a result of it.

"It goes without saying that as a medical practice the Omniya Clinic vigorously condemns the prescribing and use of any banned substances by professional athletes."

Dr Bonar, who has more than 25,000 followers on Twitter, did not respond when asked to comment via the social media site.

Chelsea said that the club had "never used the services of Dr Bonar and has no knowledge or record of any of our players having been treated by him or using his services". “We take the issue of performance enhancing drugs in sport extremely seriously and comply fully with all anti-doping rules and regulations. Chelsea FC players are regularly and rigorously tested by the relevant authorities," it added.

Arsenal said it was "extremely disappointed by the publication of these false claims which are without foundation. The Sunday Times knows that these allegations are baseless but has preferred to publish regardless". “The club takes its responsibilities in this area very seriously and our players are well aware of what is expected," it added. "We strictly adhere to all guidelines set by the World Anti-Doping Agency and our first team players participate in approximately 50 random drugs tests during each football season. None of our players has ever failed such a test."

Leicester City said its players were banned from taking any drugs without permission from the club and that the use of banned substances could result in the player being sacked.

Birmingham City said it had "not used the services of Mark Bonar and has no knowledge or record of any of our players, past or present, doing so". "These claims are baseless and there is no independent evidence to back them up," the club added.

The BBC said it had not been given any details of the allegations against the Strictly dancers, such as who they were or when they appeared on the show. "In the absence of any evidence or further information being presented to us, we will not be commenting," a BBC spokeswoman said.

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