Britain wary of doping ahead of 2012 Olympics

Urine samples are processed at London's King's College. The Drug Control Centre analyzes over 7,500 samples each year from sportsmen and women for prohibited substances.Lefteris Pitarakis / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Britain’s top anti-doping official fears that pressure on the country’s Olympic athletes to succeed at the 2012 London Games will drive them to use performance-enhancing drugs.

“The desire to be on the start line for London 2012 must be a huge carrot for any young and developing athletes and we’ve got to make sure we put in place the procedures to make sure when they do, that they do that clean,” Andy Parkinson, acting director of UK Sport’s anti-doping division, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Britain is targeting a fourth-place finish in the medals table in 2012, the first Olympics in London since 1948.

“That pressure is natural,” Parkinson said. “For a host city, the pressure will always be big. There’s an enormous amount of money going into the games and we need to match that with a greater commitment and a greater development of our own anti-doping programs.

Parkinson discussed the issue at King’s College London’s Drug Control Center, one of 33 laboratories accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency. He acknowledged that officials will never be able to eradicate doping.

“We’re never going to be ahead of the game,” he said. “Athletes are becoming more and more sophisticated in the ways that they cheat. The pressure on young athletes is immense. The pressure to succeed — particularly when we look at the 2012 Games — is just going to increase.”

Long-term threat
The Drug Control Center, which was co-founded by Prof. David Cowan in 1978, carries out around 8,000 tests a year, of which around 1 percent come back positive for banned substances.

The long-term threat could be from gene doping, which involves using gene therapy to improve sports performance. But Cowan believes athletes won’t be using the practice yet by the London Games.

“The common view at the moment is that it will not be with us for the next four or five years,” said Cowan, who will be working with the IOC anti-doping operation at next month’s Beijing Games. “It is something that is being researched and I am fairly confident that, when it is being used, we will be able to detect it.

“We are monitoring the situation so that, should it become a reality by 2012 or any other time, that we will be up to speed.”

Weeding ahead
Scientists in the London laboratory were testing samples Thursday of urine containing steroids and cocaine. The specimens were provided by WADA for analytical purposes, as the labs seek to weed out any cheaters ahead of the Beijing Games.

“Without being too pompous about it, we think we are fairly good at picking up the things that go on,” Cowan said. “The general perception has always been that there is a big gap between the cheats and the authorities.

“The level of sophistication the cheats go to in trying to beat the system is well-documented, but that is now being matched by those on our side of the fence.”

Parkinson, who was the head of operations at Britain’s Drug-Free Sport since August 2006, will be responsible for implementing the new World Anti-Doping Code, which comes into effect next year.

His focus is preventing banned substances from arriving into Britain.

“We will not only be looking at the traditional methods of testing athletes, but who is supplying and who is providing athletes with those substances so we can nip in the bud at the point of entry to the country,” he said.

Parkinson will also work with the British government on plans to transfer anti-doping responsibility to a new independent National Anti-Doping Organization.