Drug Free Sport NZ mulls high school testing

Last updated 14:25 20/02/2013

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Authorities are considering whether high school athletes need to be drug tested, given overseas evidence that performance enhancing drugs are being used by that age-group.

Drug Free Sport NZ chief executive Graeme Steel said he had received research in recent days looking at how to assess whether there was a problem with performance enhancing drugs at high school level, without jumping in and testing straight away.

"So we're looking at the methodology to try to work our way into that, not jump in and just test, but really how can we approach that in a measured way that gives us a sense of what's happening," he told the government administration committee.

"Then if we need to test we know with our eyes wide open what's likely to be there."

In South African high schools good evidence had been found of a serious problem with steroid use, Steel said.

Problems about the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport across the Tasman were highlighted in a report published by the Australian Crime Commission a fortnight ago. It identified widespread use of prohibited substances including peptides, hormones and illicit drugs in professional sport.

The report said organised crime was involved in the distribution of performance and image enhancing drugs to athletes and professional sports staff. The commission was concerned at increasing evidence of personal relationships of concern between professional athletes and organised criminals, which may have resulted in match fixing and the fraudulent manipulation of betting markets.

Sports minister Murray McCully has ordered a report into performance-enhancing drugs in New Zealand.

Steel reassured the select committee that there is no evidence of a widespread doping culture in New Zealand sport.

But McCully wants to be sure, and has asked for a report, due in two to three weeks. He is also meeting with police, customs and medical regulatory body Medsafe.

But he refused to be drawn on whether doping is in use on this side of the Tasman. Steel had answered the question in front of the select committee. "I'll let his expertise speak for its self in that regard," he said.

Steel said he was unaware of any significant connection between athletes and organised crime in this country.
Issues with betting were "clearly a looming, significant problem for sport, in fact an actual problem, in many parts of the world ... That's something you can't ignore, that's serious."

The use of steroids in New Zealand may have grown in the past decade with the rise of the body conscious culture, Steel said.

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"There's seemingly now a much broader part of the community that is interested in getting bigger and looking better."

A gym with concerns about the issue recently approached Drug Free Sport and they had initiated a response that it was hoped could be rolled out in other gyms. It was about gyms getting their membership to understand the issues and agree to a code of conduct, and to report any use of drugs.

Asked which sport had the worst record with performance enhancing drugs, Steel said power lifting was one sport that came to the fore.

Drug Free Sport also did no testing with body building because the organisations involved did not recognise doping rules, and consequently received no government funding.

His organisation had to be careful how much time it spent on body building.

"Equally, they are probably the heaviest users and therefore are part of the distribution network for those drugs. So, in a sense, they have a significant impact from that point of view," Steel said.

They could conceivably have an impact on other sports. If they were using the drugs, then the next step might be selling them.

"If they're in the gym alongside rugby players and athletes and cyclists there is the potential for that."

Outside the committee room, Steel said Drug Free Sport had been in touch with Australian authorities to find what information they could provide that was relevant to New Zealand, beyond what was in the crime commission's report.

No further information had been provided but there was an undertaking to provide Drug Free Sport with whatever information could be passed on, when that could be done. There were all sorts of issues around the Australians' ability to release information, he said.

- Stuff

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