Alan Hubbard

An acquaintance of mine whose talented son is on the books of a London football club was saying recently how shocked he was to learn that the boy had to undergo a random drugs test. The lad is nine-years-old.

This begs the question of whether the anti-doping authorities under whose auspices the test was conducted, are very much on the ball or are going way over the top in the battle against doping in sport.

What it does indicate is the seriousness of the ongoing battle raging within all sports - some more than others - to ensure that youngsters are not tempted to follow the example of some at the top of their games and take banned substances to enhance their own performances.

For decades now we have been increasingly aware that cheating has become endemic, not least in the Olympics where the motto "Faster, Higher, Stronger" is one that cannot necessarily be interpreted as a goal to be achieved through natural ability alone.

But when nine-year-olds have to be checked out to see if they are on illegal stimulants to play ball games, doesn’t it want to make you despair?

The subject of doping has a special relevance this year because of two major international glamour events taking place in the coming months. First the World Athletics Championships in Beijing, then the rugby union World Cup in United Kingdom.

Track and field has been so tainted by drugs that there is a tendency to shrug and say "Well, what did you expect?" whenever a new scandal is unearthed; and so it will be if there are a plethora of positives in Beijing.

But there are far greater worries that rugby’s showpiece may be marred by revelations that some of the muscled mammoths inhabiting the tournament have been pumping more than iron to achieve such astonishing physiques.

Organisers of this year's Rugby World Cup will be hopeful the competition isn't overshadowed by any drug scandals
Organisers of this year's Rugby World Cup will be hopeful the competition is not overshadowed by any drugs scandals ©Getty Images

Last weekend London’s Sunday Times reported growing concern over the number of rugby players, both union and league, who have tested positive for doping offences.

Of 47 British sportsmen and women currently sanctioned for doping, 18 are in rugby union and nine in rugby league.

Since United Kingdom Anti-Doping (UKAD) was set up in December 2009, 137 competitors in all sports have been banned, 32 of them in rugby union.

So, is rugby the new athletics for doping offenders?

World Cup organisers will be on tenterhooks that no major scandal emerges this autumn in a tournament seen, like the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, as prestigious flagship for Britain.

Ian Ritchie, the Rugby Football Union’s (RFU) chief executive, has acknowledged there is a drugs issue in the sport - although not so much at elite level - and it is one that is being addressed "and not put under the carpet".

Good. Because youngsters, like my 13-year-old grandson, who play rugby at junior club level, must not be lured into following the bad habits of some of their more cynical elders in the game. They need to be given proper guidance.

Last month it was revealed that three boys, all from the same school, had been suspended by the RFU for being in possession of testosterone, the male hormone. One of the most high profile cases was in 2013 when Sam Chalmers, the teenage son of Craig Chalmers, the former Scotland fly-half, was suspended for two years for taking anabolic steroids after being told he was too small for the game.

All this of course, may have implications for the debut of rugby sevens in the Rio Olympics next year. Never mind "Faster, Higher, Stronger". These days the rugger buzzwords are "Bigger, Bulkier, Beefier".

RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie has acknowledged there is a drugs issue in rugby
RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie has acknowledged there is a drugs issue in rugby ©Getty Images

As Nicole Sapstead, the UKAD chief executive says, if you compare a rugby match played in the early 2000s, and the size of the players, then fast forward to today, the change is "incredible". Generously, she puts it down to "more intense professionalism and better diet".

Maybe. I really hope she is right but the World Cup may put it to the test, so to speak.

A month before the rugfest kicks off, the hope is that by mid-August Great Britain’s Sebastian Coe will be presiding over the World Athletics Championships as the new boss of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) after beating off the challenge of busy rival Sergey Bubka. I believe athletics is a sport Coe was born to lead from the front.

But should he win, he will inherit the proverbial can of worms.

The sport has been freshly torpedoed by claims of a doping epidemic in Russia and other embarrassing drugs issues in Kenya and Jamaica, over which the IAAF seem to have reacted with extraordinary tardiness.

Additionally, some 150 athletes remain under a cloud over suspicious blood samples while three quarters of the American 4x100 metres team that defeated Usain Bolt and co at the IAAF world relays in the Bahamas recently have served doping bans.

The fastest man in the world this year, Justin Gatlin, has twice been suspended for drug offences yet is free to run, alongside United States compatriot Tyson Gay, another proven drugs cheat, in a World Championships that will embrace several other known druggies in the field. How moral is that?

The good news is that neither Gatlin nor Gay have been invited to compete in events in Britain, an admirable stance by UK Athletics whose chair Ed Warner has accused the IAAF of feet-dragging over drugs issues, not least the alleged systematic doping in Russia.

“I have a suspicion that people in power just do not care,” he says.

The United States' Justin Gatlin has twice been suspended for drug offences
The United States' Justin Gatlin has twice been suspended for drug offences ©Getty Images

Well, let’s hope that Lord Coe does care should he assume power.

No doubt he will though I'm surprised that he does not place doping at the top of his electoral agenda. "We are not the only sport that has this challenge...I think we have other challenges out there far more profound than one facet," he argued in a recent interview.

I do not often disagree with his Lordship’s judgement but on this I feel he is wrong. The entire credibility of athletics is at stake with the public continuing to raise eyebrows every time an athlete raises the bar.

Doping is a nightmare that seems to have been with us forever. It just won’t go away.

This has been shown by the resurfacing this week of old allegations that Scottish sprinter Allan Wells took drugs before winning the Olympic 100m gold in Moscow 35 years ago.

This allegation, believed to be part of a forthcoming BBC Panorama investigation, was first levelled at him 20 years ago by teammate Drew McMaster, with whom he had a bitter rivalry.

McMaster was part of the Scottish sprint relay team which won gold at the 1978 Commonwealth Games with Wells, Cameron Sharp and David Jenkins.

McMaster and Jenkins later confessed to taking drugs.

Both Wells, now 63, and his wife Margo, who was his coach, continue to vehemently deny the "false and malicious" accusation, claiming his success was all down to a revolutionary training regime which Margo orchestrated.

Wells has decided to go public with his repeated denial after receiving a letter from the BBC’s investigations correspondent Mark Daly claiming that he and six fellow athletes were given the banned steroid Stromba by the late Jimmy Ledingham, who was doctor to the British Olympic men’s team between 1979 and 1987.

"Training, exceptional coaching, a dedication and a desire to win were my only driving forces," he says. "It is sad that these assertions continue to be made."

Great Britain's Kid Galahad recently failed a drugs test and has been banned for two years
Great Britain's Kid Galahad recently failed a drugs test and has been banned for two years ©Getty Images

Meantime, Coe is right when he says that athletics is not alone in fighting a doping war. British boxing is reeling from a new drugs shock, with the revelation that one of the fight game’s brightest young prospects, the unbeaten super-bantamweight star Kid Galahad, the Commonwealth champion, has failed a drugs test and been banned for two years.

Born Abdul Barry Awad in Qatar, the 25-year-old from Sheffield tested positive for Stanolozol, the drug of choice in Seoul by Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson - after a home-town bout last September.

Embarrassingly, the positive test came a month before he was named Best Young Boxer of the Year.

Curiously, the test result was kept under wraps until this month, when the ban was announced with Galahad claiming an energy drink had been spiked by his brother in an argument over money. He is appealing the ban. Good luck with that one. Gives a whole new meaning to rope a dope...