Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe has confirmed that the new UK national anti-doping agency (NADO) will take on the responsibility for drug testing from UK Sport, the body that also funds elite sport later this year. The agency, provisionally called UK Anti-Doping, will cost £7.2m a year, a 60% hike on the current testing budget. “The Nado will build on UK Sport’s excellent work,” said Sutcliffe. “But the global fight against doping sport has shifted and the move to a new, stand-alone Nado reflects that change.”
As well as continuing UK Sport’s “world-leading” athlete education and testing work, Sutcliffe said the new body will be given “significant new powers” to ensure Britain’s remains in the forefront of anti-doping efforts in the build-up to London 2012. These new powers will include a more centralised approach to pursuing doping cases, and much closer links will be sought with law enforcement agencies, particularly Customs and Excise and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).
First announced to universal approval in December 2007, the agency was supposed to have opened for business last year but arguments between UK Sport and the Government over start-up costs have stalled the project. Those up-front costs are believed to have been trimmed from £3m to £1.8m but there are still important issues, such as a name and location for the Nado, to be resolved. The latter is believed to be the most problematic: the anti-dopers wish to stay in London (close to most of the major stakeholders in British sport, the World Anti-Doping Agency laboratory at King’s College, law enforcement agencies and sports law experts) but this runs contrary to current government thinking on moving agencies to cheaper sites outside London. What is clear, however, is that the separation of UK Sport’s elite performance and testing divisions brings Britain in line with established practice in most serious sporting nations and ends any debate over potential conflicts of interest for an agency that both funds and polices British sport.
Britain’s commitment to setting up an independent Nado was also given a warm reception by Wada, which has been championing closer links between drug-testing bodies and other government agencies for some time. “The sharing of information between law enforcement and anti-doping organisations can be crucial in exposing anti-doping rule violations,” said Wada’s director general David Howman.
But one step the Government and Nado will not be taking is to make doping a criminal offence, as has started to happen elsewhere in Europe, most notably in Italy. Speaking to Radio 4’s Today Programme earlier on Wednesday, Sutcliffe said criminalisation was a “step too far” and the “sporting sanctions were tough enough”. The maximum penalty for a serious doping offence has just been doubled from two to four years.