UK Sport cautious over BOA’s doping review

A high-powered independent review of British policies on drugs in sport which is to consider, ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games, whether to send drug cheats to jail, was received cautiously this morning by UK Sport, the government agency which distributes Lottery funding to the country’s Olympic hopefuls and also oversees the national drug testing system.

“We are in no way complacent, and are continually striving to ensure the highest possible standards across all areas of anti-doping – both in terms of our testing and athlete education programmes, ” John Steele, UK Sport’s chief executive, said this morning.

“Against that we must be wary of constant investigation and review, in particular where there is no formal mandate for it. The last thing British sport needs as we build up to Beijing 2008 and London 2012 is distraction, confusion about roles and duplication of effort. We all have significant roles to play – let’s just get on with them.”

Steele was responding to the announcement earlier today from the British Olympic Association that it is to review all matters related to anti-doping through establishing a special commission.

The commission will be chaired by Lord Moynihan and is to include modern pentathlon gold medallist Dr Stephanie Cook, WADA and IOC member Sir Craig Reedie and Professor Arne Ljungqvist, the International Olympic Committee’s long-standing anti-doping campaigner who is publicly in favour of criminalising drugs in sport.

The BOA has no formal anti-doping responsibilities, although since 1992, when the late Sir Arthur Gold was BOA chairman, it has maintained a bye law that bans anyone who has committed a doping offence from ever being part of the Great Britain team at future Games. Whether or not such a bye law is properly enforceable has been a matter of some debate: since 1996, the BOA has considered 28 appeals against the imposition of the bye law, and 25 of those have been granted, allowing the competitor to be considered again for British Olympic teams. The three whose appeals failed are shot putter Carl Myerscough, pole vaulter Janine Whitlock and swimmer Mike Fibbens.

Notably, before Lord Moynihan, himself once Minister for Sport in Margaret Thatcher’s government, became chairman of the BOA, he worked on an independent review of British sport with the former Labour sports minister Kate Hoey. Among their recommendations was the formation of an independent anti-doping body, separate from UK Sport. The question of an independent agency figures prominently in the BOA commission’s remit.

Today’s announcement comes less than a week after Lord Moynihan met with the new Minister for Sport, Gerry Sutcliffe MP.

Included in the terms of reference for the BOA’s commission, it will review the status of its drugs bye law. Among other tasks, it will “consider how best to provide the relevant agencies with investigatory powers to further the advances in prosecuting non-analytical cases. In so doing the Commission will consider several other nations’ legal and regulatory systems including France, Italy, Sweden and the USA…”

It will also look at the recommendations of the recent Commons Science & Technology Committee Report.

“This is one of the highest powered Commissions ever established in the UK,” Lord Moynihan said. “The BOA as the nation’s National Olympic Committee has obligations to each of WADA, the IOC and our constituent national governing bodies in this area. As the host Olympic nation in 2012 collectively we, the Government and its agencies have a duty to be a world leading country in the fight against doping. Our work will seek to address the agenda to ensure this happens.”

Responding to the announcement, UK Sport’s John Steele said: “The fight against drugs in sport is central to Britain’s sporting success and we are totally committed to maintaining the UK’s role as a world leader in anti-doping. At the same time there needs to be clarity about who is responsible for what in sport, and make sure that our collective efforts and resources are channelled to areas of greatest need in the build up to both the Beijing and London Games.

“We would never say that the BOA should not consider an issue as fundamental as doping, in particular their own bye law, and the individual expertise on the Commission is not in doubt. However, as the body responsible for managing anti-doping in the UK, it would have been helpful for us to have the opportunity to help frame their work. Until there is greater clarity on the Commission’s purpose, therefore, it is difficult to see what value it is going to add over the next year and at a time when the UK system is already under close scrutiny.”

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