Drugs in sports

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
September 20, 2011, 9:05 PM GMT+0

Most Britons would support the banning of professional sportspeople from competing if they were found to have taken recreational drugs, our poll shows. However, results were split over which would be an appropriate ban time ‒ with some saying competitors should face a life ban, and other views ranging from between 6 months and over five years.

The results come in light of the recent broadcast of Channel 4 Dispatches television programme ‘The Truth about Drugs in Football’, which sparked off the debate on whether the FA is right to keep the names of English professional footballers failing out-of-competition drug tests a secret.

We sought to find what, if any, line of justice the British public think should apply to professional sports players for dabbling in purely recreational, non-performance enhancing drugs.

  • 71% think some kind of ban should apply to a sportsperson having found taking recreational drugs
  • 19% think that sportspeople should face a life ban
  • While just under a quarter (24%) think there should be no ban at all
  • Just 18% believe only a warning should apply as punishment, while only 6% say that no action at all should be taken

A problem in professional football?

The FA’s policy of protecting the identity of players who fail out-of-competition tests for recreational drugs is not in breach of any World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) regulations, but it is argued that the policy of protecting those exposed suggests that there is something to hide and that there is a drug problem in English football.

The UK anti-doping database, which provides a list of offences, suggests that recreational drug use amongst English players is not a severe issue, but it does state that since 2003, the agency has caught up to 43 professional footballers using cocaine, ecstasy or cannabis in out-of-competition testing.

Meanwhile, the FA points out that it proactively tests all samples for social drugs. However, the investigative television programme for Channel 4, Dispatches, alleged that hundreds of random doping tests have been missed over a three-year period. There were, it said, 240 ‘abandoned’ tests between April 2007 and August 2010, as testers arrived at training grounds to discover that the players targeted were not there.

Olympics: Lifetime bans

The question of drug bans in football (albeit non-performance enhancing ones) ahead of the 2012 Olympics has also re-raised questions surrounding sanctions for athletes who fail drug tests – in this case with regards to performance-enhancing substances. In Britain, any Olympic competitors who fail such drugs tests receive lifetime bans. The UK Anti-Doping chief executive Andy Parkinson is a well-known opponent of the hardline rule, but the British Olympic Association (BOA) head recently told the BBC that ‘the BOA’s position against cheating in sport remains robust’. He also pointed out that where there are genuine mitigating circumstances, a ban can be overturned ‒ a famous case of which concerns British athlete Christine Ohuruogu, whose lifetime ban was successfully challenged in 2007.