Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Dec 1997

Vol. 484 No. 1

Other Questions. - Drug Testing in Sport.

Bernard Allen


20 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he will make a statement on the current situation regarding his plans to introduce a drug testing programme in sport. [21313/97]

The sports anti-doping advisory committee was established under the Irish Sports Council in 1997. It is at present finalising its report which will incorporate recommendations on developing and implementing a sports anti-doping policy. When the report is completed and submitted to me, which I expect will be shortly, I will begin preparing plans for introducing a drug testing programme in sport.

Deputies will not be surprised that this is one of the first issues I put on my agenda on coming into office and I look forward to discussing this report with Deputies and the relevant sports authorities on receiving it.

Does the Minister hold the same opinion he held three months ago, namely, that if he introduces a drug testing programme he will also introduce blood as well as urine testing? What discussions has he had with the federations that will have to amend their constitutions and impose sanctions in the event of any athlete being detected as using drugs?

My initial plan is to introduce the drug testing programme in Ireland. We have approached most of the national governing bodies with a view to them changing their constitutions, in the event of blood testing being introduced, to include sanctions. All bodies are in agreement with this.

I intend to proceed as far as possible with introducing the type of testing referred to by the Deputy and I hope we will be in position to make a further announcement in the new year.

Will the Minister work in co-operation with the Northern Ireland sports council on this matter? Will he set up laboratories which will need to be accredited by the OCIR? Will he use the Chelsea laboratories which some of us visited? Does he intend to introduce this system in 1998?

Of course I intend to work with the Northern Ireland authorities. I have said on numerous occasions that I consider the issues of tourism and sport, and the associated work, on an all-Ireland basis.

Regarding testing and working with the Chelsea laboratories, the Deputy must understand that we develop this issue one small step at a time. Introducing blood testing is difficult. There are constitutional difficulties but we can introduce testing and with the help of the organisations and the federations we can go some way towards being at the forefront in this area. It is necessary to start by taking small steps. I hope to introduce this scheme in 1998.

As the Tour de France is due to be held in Ireland, will the Minister consider using that occasion to implement the procedures in this matter? Will he ask some of the famous figures due to come here for the Tour de France to highlight the problem of drug-taking in sport?

That is a matter for the tour operators and I understand they have a strict regime. The Deputy highlighted one specific sport but the problem is that the medical profession seems to be held back by regulations which keep doctors one step behind the abusers. The technology is in place and medical science has progressed to such an extent that we can identify persons who have taken any substance, but the current regulations apply only to certain substances. Pharmacology is very advanced in this area. The abusers think they are outsmarting the medical research facilities capable of identifying them, and I am simply trying to ensure that we get one step ahead of the abusers. That is the objective of drug testing and the various federations will have to realise it is only through blood tests we will be in a position to do that definitively in the future.

I thank the Minister for the attention he gave this matter early on in his term. As he alluded to it in his reply, will the Minister tease out more definitively the merits of blood testing over urine testing as I understand urine testing is open to miscalculation or is not as foolproof as blood testing? Will that have a bearing on the action he proposes to take in the future?

Has the Minister any plans to implement a programme to highlight awareness among young athletes of the risks associated with taking steroids or drugs of that nature? Will the plans include drug testing of under age athletes also because in the United States and other countries, under age athletes are taking drugs to increase performance?

Does the Minister intend to introduce a drugs education programme along with a drugs testing programme? While he works out the legalities and implications of introducing blood testing next year, will he introduce the internationally acceptable urine testing as quickly as possible? Does he intend to set up a statutory testing authority independent of his Department? Also, because of the legal and medical implications, does the Minister intend to set up an independent appeals board to allow athletes who believe they have been dealt an injustice have the right of appeal to an independent body? What are the Minister's thoughts on these issues?

We hope to set up an anti-doping board and we will discuss at a later stage whether that will be on a statutory basis. Legislation may be required to do that. With regard to the appeals board, we should set up the other board first and then discuss that. That issue will be discussed by the relevant committee which was set up under the Deputy's auspices.

With regard to the drugs education programme, it is hoped that programme will be introduced. There is a question about that on the Order Paper and if it is reached, the Deputy will hear my reply. Deputy Sargent asked about urine and blood testing. That is a complicated area of physiology which I could talk about all day.

In regard to the effects of drugs in urine and in blood, we now have what are known as half life substances which are flushed out of the system very rapidly. It is easier now to determine the effects these drugs have had. Testing on-site at major competitions is of little value. Testing should be carried out in between competitions at training grounds and so on. That is where the real positive results are obtained. Many athletes believe they are one step ahead of medical science but I disagree. We will have to start thinking about testing in between competitions.

In regard to under age athletes taking drugs, everybody here would be concerned about that but we will have to comply with rules that might be introduced covering the age at which testing can be done. Many of our young people who use gyms in this city and others around the country are being offered substances of which I am sure their parents are unaware. I would like to put in place an education programme because prevention is better than cure. I hope to discuss this matter with all Deputies when we introduce the Bill later in the year.