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Could lie detector tests be the solution to catch doping cheats?

Anti-doping conference floats the idea of the controversial tests

The chief executive of UK Anti-Doping has said that the organisation would support the use of lie detector tests to combat the increasingly wily ways of professional sports dopers.

Andy Parkinson spoke after the demonstration of the type of testing machine - used to provide evidence against Alberto Contador - this week at a Tackling Doping in Sport conference at Twickenham.

The detector works by monitoring stress reactions to questions.

Any formal introduction of lie-detector testing would have to be approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Mr Parkinson told the Guardian: "Potentially the lie detector could provide some assurance when you ask a banned athlete if they are doping over the period of their suspension," he said. "It might give you additional assurance that the athlete is taking that ban seriously. There is some potential around it.

"The premise of looking at lie detectors and hair testing is based on the fact that we need to be innovative. I think we need to be more innovative. If you can do it and do it reliably, then great. We would only bring it in if it was approved by Wada and the Court of Arbitration for Sport as a legitimate means for presenting evidence.

"We've looked into it and I think it's similar to hair testing in that there are some benefits – any test in anti-doping for evidence needs to be able to be implemented on a worldwide basis. If it is used it cannot just be the single piece of evidence. It should give you an indication rather than a definitive yes or no."

There are known problems with lie detector tests though, with many experts deeming them unreliable. In Contador's case, he passed apolygraph tesst saying that he'd not knowingly taken the steroid clenbuterol, despite testing positive for the substance.

Mike Morgan, a lawyer for Squire Sanders, who represented Contador, said it was not foolproof: "If you're forcing someone to take the test and they don't want to take it, it increases the unlikelihood of an inaccurate test."

"There is still a margin of error and the possibility of a test not being accurate, so it can never be definitive. If you're an athletic authority you're not going to hang your hat on one polygraph result but what it could do is help in an investigation."

Whatever the solution to catching doping cheats though, the message taken away from the conference was that action needed to be taken - and fast.

Writing in Inside the Games, the sports writer Mike Rowbottom said that it was time to take swift action.

He said: "An amnesty might deal swiftly with the mass of cases now emerging within cycling, which might otherwise continue to drip-feed into the public consciousness as they are dealt with singly; full disclosure through a time-limited amnesty could clear this up, and make a significant reassuring marker in terms of public perception; information gleaned might be beneficial to a wide range of other sports seeking to combat doping – indeed, this might be the only means of obtaining such information."

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on

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