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Minister's comments come as UK Anti-Doping braces itself for huge funding cut...

Minister for sport Tracey Crouch says the government is considering whether to make doping a criminal offence, something that would bring the UK into line with countries such as Italy and France which already have such legislation.

Speaking to BBC Sport, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Chatham and Aylesford said that bringing such a law in is “an interesting idea.”

She continued: "I've asked officials in my department to have a look at the issue. We will make a judgment based on that in the near future."

From the start of this year, drugs cheats have faced harsher penalties with the latest edition of the World Anti-Doping Code setting a four-year ban for first-time offenders.

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"UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) are just one member of a world anti-doping movement and that is something we have to take into consideration,” Crouch went on.

"There are some interesting ideas for and against it. Whatever we do we have to make sure people who compete for this country are clean.

"UKAD do an excellent job in terms of education and awareness and I have confidence in their ability to assess athletes in terms of their cleanness but I want to make sure we do look at all the options going forward," she added.

The minister’s comments, however, come just days after it was reported that UKAD faces huge cuts in its budget in the government’s forthcoming comprehensive spending review, due next month.

- ‘Integrity of UK sport is at risk’ says UKAD chairman after being told by government to expect huge budget cut

Talking about the prospect of its funding being slashed, UKAD chairman David Kenworthy said: “Something’s got to give, so the testing certainly would go. I mean tests are very expensive.

“A standard urine sample to be analysed costs £371. You’ve heard a lot in recent months about the athlete biological passport. That costs £439 to do each test for an ABP.

“So those are areas where we can make instant savings. I have to say I’d be horrified if we had to reduce our intelligence and investigations because we are dealing there with not just the athletes, but with the suppliers, the coaches – the people who are encouraging athletes to dope.”

 

He called on sports governing bodies in the UK to help bridge any shortfall, saying: "Think about the amount of money that goes into sport in this country. 66 medals are forecast for Rio – at a cost of £4.6 million for each medal.

“That's almost our budget – for one medal. If one of those medals is proved to be false, the damage done to our reputation is enormous. I'd hate to see the integrity of this country sacrificed.

"The money that goes through our turnstiles is huge, as is the broadcasting rights money. All that money is invested in sport, and the only one keeping us clean is UKAD."

In Italy, where athletes who cheat by using drugs as well as those who supply the substances already face criminal as well as sporting sanctions, two high profile investigations – one led by magistrates in Mantua, the other by their counterparts in Padua – have been dragging on for several years.

- Doping: Padua magistrate says nothing has changed in cycling

It’s questionable, given funding cutbacks, whether law enforcement agencies in the UK would have the resources or the inclination to devote to investigating doping in sport ahead of other priorities should doping be criminalised.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.