Athletics: We're not immune in doping epidemic
IT is timely given recent events that two leading officials from the World Anti-Doping Agency will be in Ireland this week for a series of meetings – timely because it will be a reminder that this country is no more immune from cheating in sport than the next.
Despite the fact that we have had some high-profile cases in the last two decades, there is often a sense in Ireland that we are different from the rest and that when we talk of drugs in sport we are really talking about something that is otherworldly. Nothing to see here.
On Wednesday afternoon, there will be a short refresher course that the opposite is the case. John Fahey, WADA's president, and David Howman, WADA's DG, will join with sports minister Michael Ring and Irish Sports Council chief executive John Treacy to announce details of the Sports Council's anti-doping testing figures for 2012.
Athlete Martin Fagan's positive drugs test for EPO – for which he received a two-year ban – was the most high-profile in Irish sport last year.
The visit of the two WADA officials is tied in to Ireland's presidency of the European Council for the first six months of the year and although the Sports Council's testing figures are not normally announced this early in the year, it was decided to capitalise on the fact that Fahey and Howman will be in Dublin this week.
As part of the presidency, Michael Ring heads up the sports ministers' council of Europe and the Mayoman will be at the centre of meetings this week. In particular, the WADA delegation will be keen to discuss issues relevant to EU member states, while it's understood the minister will use the occasion to make a strong statement.
There has probably never been a greater focus on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs' corrupting influence on all sport than right now. Since Lance Armstrong's admission that he had cheated through most of his career, there have been more revelations which have done huge damage to the sporting world. Among the sports implicated in the last few weeks are soccer, golf, tennis, athletics, boxing and baseball. A report published in Australia last week claimed doping was rife in sport in the country, while a newspaper in Miami claimed it has uncovered details of systematic doping in a Florida clinic which has echoes of the Balco scandal.
Football, in particular, has been under the microscope, especially with the Fuentes trial in Spain. On Friday, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said: "Honestly, I don't think we do enough. It is very difficult for me to believe that you have 740 players in the World Cup and you come out with zero problems." And he added: "We are at the level where people are ready to do anything to win."
As part of the event in Dublin on Wednesday, Dr Una May, who is director of the Irish Anti-Doping unit, will outline recent advances on the research and intelligence side of the fight against drugs, even if the advances in avoiding detection are constantly improving too.
Meanwhile, it's a busy week for the Irish Sports Council, and a baptism of fire if you like for the latest addition to the board, former Tipperary hurling manager Liam Sheedy.
The council's first board meeting of the year is on Tuesday, at which Sheedy will be confirmed as a new member, appointed by the government to replace Brian Mullins, whose five-year term expired in December.
And his is a shrewd appointment, in fairness, given his successful track record and he is expected to be a good addition to the board.
Sadly for Sheedy (pictured), he may not get the full five-year term as a board member as Ring and his ministerial colleague Leo Varadkar are determined to push ahead with the merger of the council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority (NSCDA). Legislation is expected to be brought forward before the end of the year. As it is the first board meeting of the year, one of the main items on the agenda for Sheedy and his colleagues will be signing off on the council's eagerly awaited Olympic review.
The council's high performance committee met last week and is satisfied with the report, so once it's passed by the board, the various sports will receive the chapter relevant to them and the report will be published. And it should make for interesting reading.