21 Feb 2013

Anti-doping agency considers school testing

8:34 am on 21 February 2013

Anti-doping agency Drug Free Sport New Zealand says it is considering testing high school students after anecdotal reports that some are using performance-enhancing substances.

Concern that the use of these type of drugs has spread from adults to high school students has been raised after the agency told a parliamentary select committee on Wednesday the practice was happening overseas and should be checked out in New Zealand.

Drug Free Sport New Zealand chief executive Graeme Steel told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday there is more pressure on younger athletes to perform and his agency has been told that increasing numbers are using supplements.

"And we know well that when you begin using supplements, unless you're very careful, you can use the wrong ones - some that are contaminated, some that contain banned substances."

Mr Steel says the agency will do further research into what other organisations are doing in terms of testing young athletes.

At present, any athlete in New Zealand or competing overseas is subject to an anti-doping code.

In his submissions, Graeme Steel mentioned rowing and rugby as sports which may require testing at high school level.

But Andrew Carr Smith from the New Zealand Secondary School Rowing Association says his sport is not prone to drug-cheating.

"To the best of my knowledge, we've never even had any allegations that we've got drug cheats within the sport. Obviously, it's a highly competitive sport at school level, but our schools tend to always row within the limits of our rules rather than pass them."

Mr Carr Smith says rowing was only on Drug Free Sport New Zealand's radar because it has had drug testing provisions in its constitution for decades.

New Zealand Schools Rugby Council chairman Garry Chronican says the organisation has never heard a word about drug use in its ranks.

"I've never had a conversation about it before today. There's no inkling whatsoever, it's the first time the matter's been raised. It's just not been on our radar at all."

Banned drugs use 'not as widespread' as in Australia

Drug Free Sport New Zealand told the parliamentary select committee on Wednesday that early indications are that the use of banned drugs is not as widespread in New Zealand as in Australia.

An investigation in Australia recently revealed that the use of banned drugs is endemic in professional sport.

The Australian Crime Commission also found that organised criminal networks are involved in distributing drugs to athletes, their doctors and coaches.

The Government has asked whether those findings have any implications in New Zealand.

Drug Free Sport New Zealand chief executive Graeme Steel told MPs that early indications are positive, but there is further work to be done and whether there is any gang involvement will be looked at also.

"That's something that we will be talking to the police about and if they are distributing, is it to elite-level athletes, or just a more general part of the community. So what we need to be clear about is our jurisdictions in this."

A report for the Sports Minister would be prepared as soon as possible, he says.