Monday 26 September 2016

Ireland's Thomas Barr: Make doping a criminal offence and lock cheats up

Cathal Dennehy

Published 05/08/2015 | 02:30

Barr is one of the most tested athletes under the Irish Sports Council’s anti-doping programme – one he feels is among the best when it comes to clamping down on drug cheats.
Barr is one of the most tested athletes under the Irish Sports Council’s anti-doping programme – one he feels is among the best when it comes to clamping down on drug cheats.

Thomas Barr believes making doping a criminal offence may be a necessary step to combat drugs in sport after it emerged that as many as one in three medals won at world and Olympic level since the turn of the century may have been won by drug cheats.

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The report, published in a Sunday newspaper, revealed blood-test data leaked by an IAAF whistle-blower, detailing 12,000 test results from over 5,000 athletes between 2001 and 2012.

Experts who reviewed the data concluded that 800 athletes recorded tests that were "highly suggestive of doping or at the very least abnormal".

Austria, Italy, France and Spain are among the countries which have already criminalised doping offences, with athletes or coaches who encourage athletes to dope facing up to three years in prison.

In the wake of the report, Barr believes it may be time for other nations to follow suit.

"It could work," he said. "The people that are doping are stealing from you because they're taking away money and endorsements, and that might be an extra deterrent."

Barr is the 10th fastest 400m hurdler in the world this year - having run a national record of 48.65 seconds at the Rome Diamond League in June - and as he prepares for the IAAF World Championships in Beijing later this month, the 23-year-old is keeping his focus firmly on the task at hand.

"It's not going to discourage me from the sport," he says. "It's annoying lining up against someone with an unfair advantage, but you're still going to go out there and do your thing.

"If I let it get into my head, it's negative energy."

After a breakthrough season in which he lowered his own national record and won gold at the World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea, Barr is one of the most tested athletes under the Irish Sports Council's anti-doping programme - one he feels is among the best when it comes to clamping down on drug cheats.

"Ireland is one of the most stringent in the world," he said. "I know that I'm clean, know that I'm tested in and out of competition 10 times a year.

"It's disheartening, but it's become more of a reality that there's a lot (of doping) going on. All I can do is hope that when I line up in Beijing that I'm not against anyone with an unfair advantage."

Barr will run his final race before the World Championships at this weekend's GloHealth National Championships in Santry, where he is hoping to win his fifth title over 400m hurdles.

The Waterford athlete has been plagued by hip pain in recent weeks - owing to a long-standing tear in the cartilage - but he feels he has now got the issue under control as he enters his final block of training.

Surgery

"Unless I get surgery which would have me out for a full year, all I can do is manage it," he says. "My coaches have said two or three weeks will finally get me back to where I need to be."

Heading into the World Championships, Barr believes he has every chance of making the final, particularly after proving at the World University Games that he can produce top performances on back-to-back days, an essential requirement at major championships.

"It was a learning experience," he said. "The pressure was really on in the final and I'm glad I had it on the day. I know now I can handle the pressure.

"If I can keep going as I am and get the best out of myself, there's no saying what will happen in Beijing. The final is where I want to be."

Irish Independent

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