It’s perhaps unsurprising that an organisation staffed by former police officers should be encouraging snouts to drum up evidence of wrong-doing.
Yet it’s disturbing that an initiative announced yesterday by the UK Anti-Doping agency wants whistle-blowers to report suspected drug cheats.
The launch of a confidential 24-hour hotline encourages anonymous callers – athletes, coaches, support staff, and even concerned parents and friends – to provide tip-offs about those they think might be cheats, or supply and traffic in performance-enhancing substances.
At first sight this may appear sound. More cheats have been outed in the US on the evidence of whistle-blowers than by the tens of millions of dollars invested in anti-doping tests by the Olympic movement and World Anti-Doping Agency.
Informants presented evidence of a designer steroid and testimony about cheats. But in the US, those providing such evidence were all identified and examined individually, usually by the FBI. They did not remain anonymous. Significantly this triggered the Balco affair which exposed a raft of cheats, including multiple Olympic medallist Marion Jones who was jailed. Not for failing an anti-doping control, however (she passed 167 tests) but for lying to the FBI.
That the world’s greatest serial cheat should pass tests developed at a cost of millions explains UKAD’s latest initiative. Drug tests are not cost-effective.
I detest drug cheats with a passion, but it’s self-evident that the anonymous British system will be open to abuse, a charter for envious rivals to make malicious mischief and waste public money by dialing the Report Doping In Sport hotline (0800 032 2332) which will be staffed by Crimestoppers operators with appropriate training.
Evidence will be as suspect as that from underworld informers with an agenda. Any number of law-abiding members of the public can use steroids, beta blockers, or countless other substances which would be judged cheating in the sports arena, but not elsewhere. Some banned substances are legitimately used by athletes holding a valid therapeutic-use exemption certificate. Why would a whistle-blower be aware of who possesses one? Countless meaningless calls are guaranteed. Every athlete using an asthmatic inhaler or taking any kind of medication, TicTac or Parma Violet risks needless – and pointless – invasion of privacy.
Where will it end? Can’t stand that guy who beat me in the squash ladder last week. He’s jolly muscular. Must be on the gear.
UKAD chief executive Andy Parkinson believes clean athletes will be protected from malicious calls, “as we are going to verify that intelligence before we act on it”.
I think he is living in a dream world. Yet UKAD considers this a key tool in protecting the integrity of sport on the run-in to 2012.