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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 October, 2003, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Football's anti-doping flaws
By Tom Fordyce

Footballers in England are far less likely to be tested for drugs than professionals in other sports.

A graph showing the chances of being dope-tested in various sports

It is just one of a number of flaws in football's anti-doping measures that leave the game's reputation open to criticism.

Data from UK Sport shows that football carried out 1,256 tests from April 2002 to March 2003, more than any other sport.

But these figures are misleading. There are approximately 5,000 professional footballers in England, so a footballer has roughly one in four chance of going through a drugs test.

By contrast, UK Athletics administered 509 tests in the same period against an elite performer base of 250 people - meaning an athlete is eight times more likely to be tested.

By the same measures, cricketers are twice as likely to be tested, rugby league players three times and swimmers a daunting ten times more likely.

English footballers can be tested both after matches (in competition) and at training sessions (out of competition).

But while athletics, swimming, weightlifting, powerlifting and Scottish rugby also allow for the out-of-competition testing of individuals - i.e. testers can turn up unannounced at a sportsman's house - football does not.

Individual footballers are not tested when away from their clubs. In theory this leaves a loophole in the system where someone taking drugs on a Saturday night would not be tested until training on Monday morning, at the absolute earliest.

A drug like cocaine leaves the human body within 24 hours of being taken, meaning that it if were taken on a Saturday night all traces would be gone by the time of any test.

'Horrible mess'

In May, an investigation by BBC One's Real Story found that 46% of footballers surveyed knew of a colleague who used recreational drugs.

In addition, 46% thought football had a drug problem and 5.6% knew of a colleague who used performance enhancers.

The BBC survey, which used a sample of 700 professional players, also questioned whether the visits FA testers made to clubs and training grounds had become so predictable that offending players could escape unpunished.

One of UK Sport's Independent Sampling Officers (ISO) told the BBC Sport website: "The whole thing is a horrible mess.

"If a club knows in advance we're coming, and the club suspects one of their players, they keep him off training and his name doesn't appear on the list I am given.

"I visited one Premiership club recently and the player selected told me it was the first time he had been tested in 12 years of his career."


The FA claims it carries out more tests per year than any other European nation except Italy.

"We do probably around twice as many tests as they do in Germany, France or Spain," a spokesman told the BBC Sport website.

"We test at more levels than any other country and we put the onus far more on out-of-competition testing."

So far, not a single Premiership player has ever tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. But whether this is because the game in Britain is cleaner than elsewhere or because the anti-doping policy is not tough enough is open to debate.

In the 1999-2000 season, testers were present at just 32 of the 3,500-plus league games, taking samples from two players of each side.

That represents a tiny fraction of the total players in action. At that level of testing you would have to play professional football in England for 432 years before having a 50% chance of being tested at a match.





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