HC Deb 16 December 1983 vol 50 cc1362-70

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Garel-Jones.]

2.53 pm
Mr. Colin Moynihan (Lewisham, East)

The subject of drugs in sport is concerned with much more than simply enhanced performance. It is about the image of sport and, above all, the long-term health and welfare of our sportsmen and women.

Without sufficient measures to combat drug abuse on both the domestic and international fronts, international competitive sport has fast become the competition of chemical athletes. That must be stopped. Abuse can lead to serious physical consequences. In particular, there are acute, potentially fatal, health hazards, and the possibility of chronic disability. Moreover, there are ethical considerations. Drug abuse contravenes what is meant by sport. It is a form of cheating that can result only in the degeneration of sport.

This year, the prevalence of drugs in sport was highlighted dramatically. At the Pan-American games in Venezuela, a major forerunner to the Olympics, some improved drug testing equipment was installed unbeknown to the athletes. Stretching medical advance by its ability to detect steroids taken not just in the previous few days but throughout the previous several months, 11 weight lifting medal winners from nine countries, including Cuba and the United States of America, were tested, found positive and disqualified. On hearing this, 13 members of the American track and field team suddenly flew home without competing.

The Americans have been notoriously lax in enforcing drug control, with countries behind the Iron Curtain only marginally better. If the Americans are to lead the sporting world by holding the 1984 Olympics, they have a duty to lead the world in drug detection in sport at the same time. The recent era when the Americans nominated a convicted drug taker as their athlete of the year must end now. To do this the most modern drug-testing equipment must be used extensively at Los Angeles at the coming Olympic Games.

At home we have a duty to put our own house in order. Last year's Sports Council initiative in investing £150,000 to ensure that random testing fully subsidised by the Sports Council was available to every sporting body needs developing further. This small but excellent pilot scheme needs to be replaced by a major drive towards minimising drug abuse in sport. It is no good having voluntary random testing if governing bodies fail to take the initiative in what should be to them a matter of the highest priority.

Excuses, be they apathy, evasion, unawareness of the seriousness of the problem, lack of facilities or lack of will, are all wholly unacceptable. With a few notable exceptions such as cycling, athletics and rowing, our own governing bodies have failed to take up the important Sports Council initiative both to the detriment of their sports and to the detriment of the health of our sportsmen and women. The administrators simply have not been tough enough. Where dope-testing is used it is no good if, on confirmation of positive tests, governing bodies of sports have neither regulations to penalise those who cheat by taking drugs nor the will to enforce life-time bans.

Governing bodies, both national and international, have a crucial role to play in the control of drug abuse. Without their active support and commitment the fight against the spread of drugs and all that that entails for sport and sports people is lost.

What is now needed is a code of conduct pioneered in Britain but far from exclusive to Britain. The rules and regulations of governing bodies should contain five essential conditions. Drug abuse must be strictly forbidden. A clear definition of drug abuse should be included in governing bodies' rules.

It should also be stated that any athlete must, if requested by a responsible official, submit to a drug test. Refusal to do so should be taken as if a positive result had been obtained and should be dealt with accordingly. Furthermore, if an athlete withdraws from competition after having been selected for testing, he or she should be required to undergo testing.

The finding of a banned drug or one of its major metabolites in the body fluid should constitute an offence and the offender should be penalised with a ban for life. There can be no mitigating circumstances save where drugs are prescribed on strictly medical grounds.

These cases should be referred to an appeals procedure controlled by each governing body seeking, where necessary, the assistance of men of the highest calibre in sports medicine such as Professor Raymond Brooks, Professor Arnold Beckett and Arthur Gold, all of whom in their own right have led the world in developing, recognising and explaining the serious consequences of drug abuse.

Furthermore, any person—not least coaches keen for the glory of their proteges—assisting or inciting others to drug abuse should be considered as having committed an offence against the governing body and should be subject to disciplinary action.

I also recommend that a current list of examples of banned substances be included in the body of the rules. The one best adopted at present is the International Olympic Committee list, which should be regularly updated to cover the advent of new drugs. Those recommendations must be considered essential.

At present, the chances of detection are minimal and the punishments are nominal. For many athletes today, taking drugs is a calculated risk. In Britain, we should substantially extend the present system of random testing, analysis and detection, making sure that tests are implemented throughout the calendar year, not just during major events. That can be the only sure deterrent.

The Chelsea college drug control unit, which is one of the world's foremost accredited centres for drug control, should continue to take the lead in undertaking tests, financially backed and co-ordinated through the Sports Council. Agreement to participate in the scheme, adoption of a suitable set of rules and regulations for governing bodies, reflecting the Sports Council code, should be a prerequisite to the receipt of financial assistance from the Sports Council. Lack of adherence to the code, either from the outset or in its implementation, should be sufficient completely to cut off Government aid through the Sports Council.

As hon. Members know, the Sports Council is an independent body, set up under Royal Charter, but in considering these matters I urge all those on the Sports Council to bear in mind that many right hon. and hon. Members have expressed to me the view that determined action now is vital.

In Britain, we have no need to legislate to implement such a scheme. The Sports Council, with its financial control in sport, has a built-in, ready-made administration and framework. The Chelsea unit can be developed and extended to handle the additional tests at minimum cost, compared with the Sports Council's projected budget. Other centres can be accredited too.

No one knows which or how many of our sports men and women are on drugs. Suffice to say that in the calendar year 1982, of the tests undertaken, 15 were positive, which included British sports men and women. There should be no reason for not publicising their names.

The problem continues today. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) visited the Chelsea centre on Tuesday. The first test that he saw—a footballer—proved positive. It is time to lift the shroud of secrecy that now covers today's tests. In the future, we shall need to develop new tests for new drugs, and in particular for the new so-called wonderdrug, Somatatrophin, which is drawn from the pituitary glands of human cadavers and is sickeningly available by mail order from the British drug runner, Paul Townsend, who is at present earning his black market income from a base in France, from which he sends out a list of dangerous drugs, some with fatal side effects. It is no surprise that, as a result of such people, the case of four Canadian weightlifters, who were stopped recently at Montreal airport on their way back from an international event, revealed a stock of 22,000 anabolic steroid pills in their luggage.

It could be argued that we are putting ourselves on a moral or idealistic limb, out of touch with all other countries. That is not so. Not only do two wrongs not make a right, but in Europe the French and Belgians have passed laws against drugs in sport, and Denmark and Norway are both shortly to do so, already having far more comprehensive independent testing groups empowered by the Government to swoop when and where they like.

Action now to implement a code of conduct, both at home and through our influence abroad, both through international sports governing bodies and the Committee of Ministers on the European anti-drug charter for sport, provide the only method to pre-empt a repetition of the black days of the Pan-American games, when frightened drugged athletes scampered back home and medalists were rightly stripped of their titles, exposing their shame.

Corporate will by a few people in certain powerful international bodies is required. One day we shall see the arrival of a machine capable of tracing all known illegal substances taken during the previous year. But until we move to that, we need to employ strong deterrent measures. We shall not remove the problem, but we can certainly minimise it. It is not just the handful of medal winners with whom we should be concerned, but some hundreds of young people who, if the sporting world does not act now, will think that drugs are the route to follow. Without determined action by our opinion formers, doctors and sports administrators today, the chemical games will regrettably be here to stay.

I should now like to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) who has considerable interest in the subject and would like to conclude with a few words.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Does the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) have the Minister's consent also to take part in the debate?

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

Yes, Sir.

3.6 pm

Mr. Rob Hayward (Kingswood)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) for allowing me a few moments in which to comment about drug abuse in sports. I echo his comments about the experts at the Chelsea drug centre who so diligently and tirelessly try to end the abuse of drugs by athletes, and sportsmen and women throughout the world. I refer, in particular, to Professor Beckett and Dr. David Cowen. Reference has been made to the Pan-American games. They demonstrated to the world the disgraceful drug abuse that goes on, particularly in the United States of America and the Americas generally.

It is significant that last year dope tests were taken at 51 major European sporting events, while no drug tests were carried out at any major sporting event of any sort in the United States of America. The Olympic games to be held in Los Angeles next year will be the first time that dope testing is widely used in the United States of America. Compliments should be paid both to Mr. Simon and Dr. Daly in respect of their efforts on behalf of the United States Olympic Committee to introduce dope testing for the first time in any sporting event in the United States.

Without any shadow of doubt the United States is ahead of even the East Europeans in the abuse of drugs not only in athletics, but in weight lifting, cycling and many other sports. It is a shameful state of affairs that people should be winning medals and participating as a result of their expertise in taking drugs rather than their athletic prowess. I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend about banning people who are found guilty of taking drugs before any form of sporting occasion. Under current circumstances, there is little alternative to that ban.

With the increasing use of drug testing and the adoption of some code of practice by many European countries, it should be possible in future for Western Europe's sporting federations to refuse to participate in events with those countries that do not apply similar drug testing codes. Some people might choose to describe that as a boycott, and that may well be the appropriate word. We should not only address ourselves to the Olympic games, the World Cup and other major sporting events, but be willing to accept random tests at any sporting event anywhere in any year, and not just in the season leading up to the Olympics, the World Cup or whatever.

For those reasons, I support the comments of my hon. Friend.

3.8 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) for raising this important topic and to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) for his comments. It is probably very appropriate that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East should have raised this subject, as he is not only a member of the Sports Council, but is a sportsman of international repute. In the former capacity my hon. Friend is also a member of the council's drug abuse advisory group. That group brings together a unique blend of sporting and medical expertise in the area of drugs and sport—unique not only to this country, but perhaps to the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East has therefore spoken from a position of some authority and I have considerable enthusiasm for the thrust of his remarks. I shall deal with them in more detail shortly. I feel, however, that I should begin with more general remarks.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East has confirmed, this country is among the world leaders in the techniques of drug detection. However, the problem of drugs in sport is not merely one of technicalities, but goes much deeper. Indeed, without exaggeration, the drugs problem— doping —cuts through to the very core of sport itself. Most obviously, it poses a threat to the metabolisms of the sportsmen and women who dope themselves. These medical risks to the individuals concerned are real, but the greatest dangers of doping are for sport itself; for the ideals of fair play, and open and equal competition, of sportsmanship.

Sport is a form of physical activity, involving a greater or lesser degree of co-ordination of mind and body. It is an end in itself where success is achieved through competition with others — a trial of ability and application. Doping distorts this so that success increasingly reflects the misguided expertise, the medical and scientific support available to the various competitors. In my view, the problem of doping is therefore fundamentally an ethical one. Put simply, doping is no more and no less than blatant and premeditated cheating. It is yet another manifestation of the triumph of ends over means.

Doping is perhaps the most pernicious and intractable problem in sport today. There is, however, no prospect of success in combating it if we do not appreciate its essential character. The efforts of experts such as Professors Beckett and Brooks, and their colleagues at Chelsea college, which I visited last year, and throughout the world provide the techniques of detection—no more. They are pursuing a moving target. The users are devoting just as much effort to staying one step ahead. The real problem is ethical and it will not be overcome without changed attitudes, without winning over the hearts and minds of those involved — the competitors themselves, the coaches and the administrators who support them.

Government tread only tentatively in the realm of ethics. This is true in sport as in other fields, perhaps more so. Sports bodies are proud of and protect their autonomy as few others can and do. I do not begrudge them this; on the contrary, I am firmly committed to helping sustain their independence. The Sports Council, created by a previous Conservative Administration, embodies this. It exists at arm's length from the Government but is charged by them with promoting the interests of sport and recreation and with spending public money to that end. Its role, like that of the Government, is, however, limited. The governing bodies and their members are similarly autonomous and responsible for their actions, in doping as elsewhere.

I am pleased to say that the Sports Council has for its part given a firm lead, notably through its support for the testing centre at Chelsea college under Professor Beckett, and the associate research with Professor Brooks at St. Thomas's. Most recently this support has been extended to include 100 per cent. subsidies to governing bodies to cover the costs of tests. Over recent years this has represented the Sports Council at its best. Its approach has been forward-thinking, far-sighted and responsible, and I was delighted that the chairman chose to highlight this area when presenting the council's annual report last month.

The council's support for the centre last year, 1982–83 —its contribution towards its operating and equipment costs—totalled more than £100,000, and this figure did not include the open-ended contribution towards the costs of individual tests. Last year these cost only £12,000 for some 800 tests. This take-up is frankly disappointing and I know that hon. Members will be disappointed. Only 14 governing bodies make use of the facilities, and some of them only intermittently.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East can take some satisfaction from the leading role of the Amateur Rowing Association of which he is a member. However, he will, I am sure, take less pleasure that boxing, in common with other major sports such as football, cricket or hockey, is among those which have not yet taken up the opportunity offered by the Sports Council. My concern is that they have not done so. Is it that they and the other sports without any programme know that there is no drugs problem in their sports? If so, how have they established this? I suspect that the explanation is rather more prosaic—that they cannot contemplate the possibility of such, and if they do are not prepared to face the responsibility to combat it.

In the United Kingdom the facilities exist, but neither I nor the Sports Council can compel their use. This responsibility lies with sport itself. There is certainly no prospect of legislation, as my hon. Friend said. It would be wholly inappropriate and contradictory to the spirit of voluntarism which is so important to the organisation of sport in the United Kingdom. Moreover, such legislation would also not be feasible. The substances which can aid a sportsman's performance are many and varied, and not all of them are controlled or generally proscribed; indeed, in other contexts some can be beneficial. Consequently, I find it impossible to conceive of an approach which would proscribe usage of certain substances by sportsmen but not by others—after all, most of us are sportsmen for some of the time, if only for a half hour of incompetent squash every week. I see no welcome for the creation of a new "drugs police" force for sport. There would not be much approval for that from my hon. Friends.

One alternative of course, as my hon. Friend suggested, is to extend the Sports Council's powers of persuasion. I can see the attractions of making grant-aid to governing bodies conditional on their instituting drug-testing regulations and programmes. However, such moneys do go to benefit the development of the sport as a whole, including, of course, the grass roots and especially young people. The problem is, therefore, that the innocent would pay the penalty along with the guilty. In effect, that might be deemed blackmail, and the ethical basis of such an approach is, perhaps, to be questioned.

My own view is that there could be some potential in that approach if it could be focused sufficiently to exclude the innocent from its gamut—for example, by limiting financial sanctions to the council's grants towards the costs of international preparation, training and competition. However, that is a matter for my hon. Friend, in his capacity as a member of the Sports Council, to advance. He knows that I never interfere in the day-to-day running of the Sports Council. The use of that approach, if applied bluntly, might also incidentally leave the Sports Council with a large financial surplus in its initial years. Nevertheless, despite those doubts I would, of course, be delighted to discuss the potential of that approach with him if he has specific proposals. The decision ultimately would, however, be for the Sports Council.

This discussion has confirmed my long-held view that the problem lies outside the Government and in the sport itself. Internationally, the same appears true. At the intergovernmental level, the Council of Europe, supported by non-governmental sports organisations, has maintained a consistent interest in and concern about this problem. Interestingly and reassuringly, it has looked consistently to United Kingdom practice for much of its inspiration.

In 1979 the Council of Europe adopted a recommendation urging member states to act to combat drug abuse in sport. This applies to the 23 western European members of the Council of Europe, and it clearly identified sport as being in the lead, the role of Governments being to support the efforts of the governing bodies of sport to eradicate the problems. Indeed, much of the recommendation's detailed provisions appear to have been modelled on how we were already approaching the problem here. It called on Governments to encourage the development of testing techniques, to promote research, and to consider —where this had not already been done—the establishment of a national anti-doping committee along the lines of the Sports Council's drugs abuse advisory group.

That was a good beginning, but no more, and efforts to promote European co-operation continue. In particular, the Council of Europe has formed an expert group to prepare a code of practice, a set of guidelines for Governments and sports bodies to follow in their efforts to eliminate drug abuse in sport.

As my hon. Friend has pointed out, the United Kingdom is representd on this group by a fellow Sports Council member, Arthur Gold, of athletics fame, who is one of our most experienced, talented and distinguished sports administrators. The work is continuing, but the preliminary draft produced by the group, which I have seen, has the makings of a most impressive document.

The expert group's work draws heavily on the pioneering work of the International Olympic Committee, which maintains a list of banned substances, and of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, whose guidelines on carrying out doping controls are annexed. The recommendations fall into two groups—those for Governments and those for sports bodies. The former urge Governments to develop and consolidate their supporting role, elaborated in the earlier 1979 recommendation. Most of the detailed provisions — promotion of research, provision of subsidies for tests and the dissemination of anti-doping advice — are already part and parcel of United Kingdom and especially Sports Council practice. The problem is, of course, to encourage a more positive response, if that is not ambiguous phraseology in this context, on the part of sport itself.

The working group work has highlighted one area where the Government can do more. My hon. Friend referred to the activities of overseas drug suppliers, and a Mr. Paul Townsend in particular, who offer a drugs-by-post service to supposed sportsmen. That was, of course, highlighted by the press at the time of the Helsinki athletics world championships earlier this year. I share the deep concern which my hon. Friend and the media have expressed about this. It is an international problem and the co-operation of other Governments is obviously a key factor in stopping this scheme. However, my investigations suggest that in this case we may be able to act within the United Kingdom to inhibit the activities of Mr. Townsend and, possibly, others like him who ply their destructive trade.

Many of the substances banned in sport are not proscribed more generally — some may indeed be beneficial. Some are, however, classified as controlled drugs, and their supply, possession and import are criminal offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. These include the psychomotor drugs such as amphetamines. Many of the substances associated with drugs abuse in sport fall into a second category—prescription-only medicines. Their manufacture, import and supply are regulated by the Medicines Act 1968 and require a licence. These include anabolic steroids.

It is here that I believe there may be a loophole which should, if possible, be closed in the interests of sport. The Medicines Act allows exemptions, and in particular section 13 permits individuals to import prescription-only medicines for their own use. Legally, therefore, sportsmen are free to make use of the services of people such as Paul Townsend, so long as they do not forward their purchases to third parties. I am concerned by this and will discuss with my colleagues at DHSS possible solutions. One way might be to amend section 13 to limit the right of importation to authorised individuals only. The only guarantee that I can give today is to look into it.

For sport, the effects of the European charter would be more far-reaching; it looks for action which has been sadly lacking in many cases. The draft charter itself is very comprehensive and leaves reluctant sports few excuses to drag their feet. In more detail the charter calls for the institution of random tests throughout the season, and as a condition of eligibility for selection athletes and sportsmen generally should have to agree to random testing.

I welcome and support such moves and was heartened to hear Mr. Arthur Gold advocating the establishment of a voluntary register of athletes prepared to agree to such testing when he addressed the Central Council of Physical Recreation annual conference last month. Certainly I am looking forward to discussing this proposed charter when I and my fellow Ministers with responsibility for sport gather in Malta for the fourth conference of Ministers next May. I realise that this will not meet the optimistic timetable which my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East has outlined, but the Council of Europe is not renowned for its speed of progress. I should regard it as a major achievement if this document could be adopted by the Council of Europe before the Los Angeles games in August of next year.

There is clearly much hard work to be done here. The task inevitably falls to the international sports federations led, of course, by the International Olympic Committee. As my hon. Friend said, next year is Olympics year, and all eyes are turning westwards. I am pleased to note that Chelsea college is one of about a dozen drug-testing centres accredited by the International Olympic Committee. These are concentrated in Europe. The United States has no such centre, though Los Angeles is awaiting accreditation as a pre-condition of hosting the games.

My hon. Friends touched on the incidents at the Pan-American games, when a large number of United States athletes withdrew, and other participants gave positive samples. There is a real problem in American sport. Many people would say that a great deal of the problem originated in America. The participants had not been expecting such rigorous tests and were caught literally unawares. They had not phased their drugs programmes correctly. I was delighted by the response of Mr. Bill Simon of the United States Olympic committee, who announced that in future random tests would be a precondition of selection to represent the United States of America. I support his policy wholeheartedly and I hope that many people will take note of that. People should take notice of these examples.

In the United Kingdom the governing bodies need to face the problem and make use of the facilities available at Chelsea college. As Sebastian Coe commented at the Baden Baden Olympic Congress in 1981, speaking on behalf of the competitors: We consider this"— doping— to be the most shameful abuse of the Olympic ideal: we call for the life ban of coaches and the so-called doctors who administer this evil". Sport must face this call.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes past Three o'clock.