HEAVIER bans and much greater efforts to catch drug cheats in professional team sports will be the new focus of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), according to its president John Fahey.
The latest wave of drug scandals, including last week's Australian Crime Commission Report, which indicated worrying levels of illegal peptide and human growth hormone use in two team sports locally (allegedly Aussie Rules and rugby league), has convinced WADA to finally put increased pressure on governing bodies to introduce much more thorough testing regimes, like blood tests and biological profiling, in team sports.
Speaking at the Irish Sports Council's (ISC) annual anti-doping report in Dublin, Fahey acknowledged that WADA has concentrated on individual athletes in the past, but that team sports now "need to do a lot more".
He also indicated that WADA is seriously contemplating increasing the minimum drug bans from two to four years when they produce a new anti-doping code next year, which will come into force in 2015.
Fahey expressed severe reservations about the absence of blood testing or biological profiling in sports like Premier League soccer, and he acknowledged that the ISC's blood-testing regime is a world leader in this area.
The ISC introduced blood testing two years ago for what it regards as 'high risk' sports and increased the numbers of those tests (133) by 204pc last year.
Ireland's track and field athletics (49 blood tests) and cyclists (33) were the top targets for this much more thorough form of drug testing in 2012, but three other sports – rugby (17) swimming (13) and triathlon (12) – were also blood-tested, as were some individual paralympians. Dr Una May, the director of Ireland's anti-doping scheme, said soccer is among the global team sports which need to "start doing some serious testing and investing some money.
Once again the bulk of the nine doping violations in Irish sport in 2012 were due to either supplements or social drugs, but one disturbing new feature was the suspension of a boxing coach (Martin Sweeney), who received the heaviest ban (27 months) for administering a prohibited substance to a young athlete.
Dr May has indicated that the substance (a diuretic) was "not of a serious nature," but said the punishment was relatively high because the athlete concerned was so young (18).
Of the eight Irish athletes to receive bans ranging from seven weeks to 18 months in 2012, four were for cannabis (two weight lifters, a cyclist and a motorsport competitor), while the other four (one soccer player and three members of the same tug-of-war team) tested positive for methylehx-anamine, a stimulant which can be found in some supplements and energy drinks.
Ireland's track and field athletes were once again the most tested in the country, the subject of 158 tests (including 89 urine out-of-competition tests) and 49 blood tests. Next highest was cycling (130), and third highest was GAA (87), which, surprisingly, was more tested than professional sports like rugby (81) and soccer (46).
But Dr May said the GAA figures were skewed because they included two sports (football and hurling) and she said the track and field numbers (up 40 from 118 last year) were particularly high, because it was an Olympic year. She also noted that testing in the GAA included in and out-of-competition (OOC), whereas all of rugby's tests were OOC, including 17 blood tests.
Boxing, Ireland's most successful Olympic sport, has not attracted any blood testing yet, but May said its introduction is imminent.
She confirmed that, in their meeting with WADA yesterday, Ireland's anti-doping chiefs suggested that more team sports should be targeted internationally. But she said that international rugby is one of the team sports that "seems to be doing quite a lot with their programme."
WADA officials said the level of blood testing in rugby varied across the world and they also revealed that professional women's golf actually has a more thorough testing regime at present that the men's PGA.
The Sports Council employs a 'multi-agency' and intelligence-based system to target doping suspects, including the Gardai and customs officials.