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Doping in amateur sport "Becoming a crisis" says UK Anti-doping boss

Half of members of sports clubs and teams believe doping is "widespread" according to BBC Survey...

The chief executive of UK Anti-doping (UKAD), has said that the use of performance enhancing drugs is “fast becoming a crisis” at all levels of sport, including in the amateur ranks.

Nicole Sapstead, who joined the agency when it was created in 2009 and moved into her present role two years ago, was speaking to BBC Sport in response to research the broadcaster has conducted.

A survey commissioned by the broadcaster and carried out by ComRes found that 35 per cent of amateur athletes said they knew someone personally who had doped, while 8 per cent admitted taking steroids themselves.

Other findings of the poll of 1,000 people who belong to sports clubs or teams included that 49 per cent of respondents believe banned drugs are “easily available” among those who regularly play sport.

Meanwhile exactly half believe that doping is “widespread” among regular participants in sport.

Currently, 50 athletes or coaches are listed in the UKAD website as serving bans for committing an anti-doping rule violation and according to BBC Sport most – around six in 10 – are amateurs. Around one in eight are professionals, and one in five semi-professional.

Sapstead, who earlier this month gave evidence to a House of Commons select committee that is investigating doping in sport, commented: "Certainly the figures as regards the prevalence of performance-enhancing substances at an amateur level are incredibly alarming.

"That said, it does confirm what UK Anti-Doping has long suspected and also seen through some of our intelligence-led testing.

"I don't think any sport can say that they don't have a problem at an amateur level.

"I think now is the time for everybody to sit up and acknowledge that this is a reality in every single sport and that you can't just be washing your hands of it or hoping that someone else will address it."

In the research, 79 people who admitted having taken anabolic steroids, with 41 per cent saying there the main reason was to improve their performance and a similar proportion, 40 per cent, citing pain relief – a response peaking among those aged 35-55.

Sapstead said: "I think there are clearly a group of individuals seeking to enhance their performance by taking prohibited substances and then there are others who were taking these substances because they have a body image problem, or actually because they think it's the done thing."

Besides anabolic steroids such as nandrolone, testosterone or HGH, used by 8 per cent of the sample, 26 per cent admitted having taken prescription medicines such as cortisone injections or using an asthma inhaler, and 14 per cent said they had used a recreational drug including cocaine or cannabis.

More than half of the 50 people currently listed as banned by UKAD are play or coach rugby – 18 in union, and 10 in league.

Boxing comes next on the list, with five people serving bans at the moment, followed by weightlifting on four, the same as cycling.

One amateur cyclist who has served a ban, Dan Stevens, told BBC Sport: "I think it is widespread in all ranks. I think it is widespread in celebrity, I think it is widespread in the beauty industry; I think it is certainly widespread in the sports industry.

"I also think it is just a way of modern day life - we are living in a pharmacised world."

Now 41, Stevens, who used thyroxine and testosterone under prescription but also took the banned blood boosting agent EPO, said:  "I'd always been a clean athlete and this situation happened to me when I was 39 years old. That was enough to see a huge, huge gain.”

> Amateur cyclist reported to be whistleblower in "doping doctor"

He claimed that he had taken the substances more out of curiosity than anything else, but said that among amateurs he believed attempting to win was not the prime motivation for doping.

“You've got a situation where someone is overweight, a little bit fat, need to lean down, get in shape,” he said.

“And they get in shape. They then get railroaded into doing a marathon or a long bike ride or some kind of competitive event and they improve their fitness levels again and they become a healthier individual and become more body conscious and more health-orientated."

Sapstead, who called on governing bodies to provide more money to fight doping, insisted though that it was immaterial whether the person using drugs was a professional or amateur.

"Cheating impacts against the people you are competing against,” she explained. “So it doesn't matter if you're an Olympian, or a Paralympian, and it doesn't matter if you don your trainers at a weekend for a fun run.

"Actually, you're competing, and therefore it absolutely matters that everyone is toeing the line and playing a fair game."

Last year, a Nottingham cyclist who has never raced competitively was given a four-year ban after the UK Border Force intercepted package of steroids he had ordered online.

Ian Edmonds refused to undergo an anti-doping control when a UKAD employee visited his home three weeks later – although, as a British Cycling member, he was obliged to do so.

> Amateur cyclist who says he's never raced gets four-year doping

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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