Thursday 14 December 2017

Microchip athletes 'like dogs' to stop doping, says Olympians' chief

Mike Miller, the chief executive of the World Olympians Association, has offered a controversial view. CREDIT: AP
Mike Miller, the chief executive of the World Olympians Association, has offered a controversial view. CREDIT: AP

Ben Rumsby

All athletes should be microchipped like dogs to stop them from doping, one of the country’s leading sports executives has proposed.

Mike Miller, the chief executive of the World Olympians Association and chairman of the Association of Football Agents - and former chief executive of the International Rugby Board (now World Rugby) - said the technology was coming that would allow an implant both to track people’s movements and detect any performance-enhancing drugs in their systems.

“We chip our dogs,” he told a Westminster Media Forum on integrity and duty of care in sport.

“We’re prepared to do that and it doesn’t seem to harm them. So, why aren’t we prepared to chip ourselves?”

Admitting he was “no Steve Jobs”, the man who leads an organisation which boasts of representing 100,000 living Olympians, also called for drugs cheats to be banned for life.

“We need to keep in front of the cheats,” he said.

“I believe that, in order to stop doping, we need to chip our athletes where the latest technology is there.

“Now, some people say it’s an invasion of privacy. Well, it’s a club and people don’t have to join the club if they don’t want to follow the rules.”

Stressing this was his personal opinion and not that of the WOA, he added: “The technology is not quite there yet but it’s coming.

“The problem with the current anti-doping system is that all it says is that, at a precise moment in time, there are no banned substances.

“But we need a system which says you are illegal substance free at all times, and if there are marked changes in markers, they will be detected.

“Some people say we shouldn’t do this to people. Well, we’re a nation of dog lovers; we chip our dogs.

“We’re prepared to do that and it doesn’t seem to harm them. So, why aren’t we prepared to chip ourselves?”

Miller, who was IRB chief executive for a decade until 2012, is not the first person in sport to propose athletes are microchipped in the fight against doping.

The focus has previously been on whether their movements should be tracked, allowing testers to locate them at all times rather than relying on them reporting their whereabouts for a one-hour period each day, as they are required to do under current rules on out-of-competition sample collection.

But although that would simplify the existing system for all involved, it would raise major issues with regards the right to privacy and even athlete welfare given the recent spate of leaks of confidential medical data by Russian hackers.

The chief executive of UK Anti-Doping, Nicole Sapstead, was sceptical about Miller’s proposal.

“We welcome verified developments in technology which could assist the fight against doping,” she said.

“However, can we ever be sure that this type of thing could never be tampered with or even accurately monitor all substances and methods on the prohibited list?

“There is a balance to be struck between a right to privacy versus demonstrating that you are clean.

“We would actively encourage more research in whether there are technologies in development that can assist anti-doping organisations in their endeavours.”

Speaking at the same conference, Sapstead revealed the extent to which doping and athlete welfare were linked.

Citing one case which included allegations of “domestic abuse”, she said: “It is quite clear to me that if there is abuse, bullying, or just inordinate pressure on an athlete to succeed, that immediately increases the risks of doping and incitement to dope.

“We should be alive to that risk, especially when we are talking about very young or very vulnerable athletes or athletes at the twilight of their career.”

She added: “Sometimes, what appears at first to be an anti-doping case, upon further investigation actually turns out to an issue of athlete welfare.

“We have uncovered harassment and bullying and have referred cases to the police and to the sports.

“In the main, the welfare issues relate to recreational drugs, supplement use or painkillers.

“UKAD has referred 17 cases in the past 12 months, because of clear welfare issues, to the appropriate authorities.”

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