Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

School sport drug cheats next

Dave Currie, chief executive of College Sport. Photo / Paul Taylor
Dave Currie, chief executive of College Sport. Photo / Paul Taylor

Drug testing is on the horizon for secondary school and age-grade sport.

As the issue of drug cheats dominates the Olympic agenda ahead of Rio next month, a Parliamentary document has revealed the Government is "very concerned" about drugs in amateur sport and "some testing of young athletes is planned to demonstrate the seriousness of doping".

The report, which was released by the Government Administration select committee, also highlights concerns from officials about the growing use of sports supplements, which could contain banned ingredients, among young hopefuls.

The four-page paper doesn't specify the ages of those who could be tested, but top sports officials told the Herald on Sunday it is only a matter of time before testing elite school and age-grade players occurs in New Zealand.

Dave Currie, chief executive of College Sport, the body that co-ordinates school sports in the greater Auckland region, said educating vulnerable youngsters was the immediate priority, but testing was an eventuality.

"Should we be aware of it and looking at it? Yes, I think we should be," Currie said.

"The more pressure that comes on in college sport, the more temptation there is for people to be seduced by undesirable elements.

"Will testing at some point happen? Yes, I think it will."

Currie - who was Chef de Mission of the New Zealand Olympic team for 12 years - said starting a testing programme would be time-consuming.

The legal rights of teenagers, potential parental opposition and schools operating as "individual entities" would all have to be considered.

Graeme Steel, chief executive of Drug Free Sport New Zealand (DFSNZ) - the country's sports doping watchdog - said his organisation was actively working with high schools to ramp up education on the perils of performance-enhancing drugs.

"We don't have strong evidence of a significant amount of doping, but all the precursors are there," Steel said.

"Testing is a discussion which is all but inevitable at some point."

Steel said youth sport was a "fertile ground" for doping for a number of reasons, including the pressure to win and the major financial rewards on offer for those who crack the big time.

"Rugby and league would be the ones, where size and speed are of particular value," he said.

"The pressure on first XVs to win is extraordinary.

"And we know that in rowing, there's a lot of pressure on those Maadi Cup teams [to succeed]."

In May's budget, DFSNZ secured a $1 million funding boost to $3.2m a year. Steel said it was the organisation's first budget increase in seven years and would allow DFSNZ to carry out 1450 adult athlete tests in the next 12 months.

- Herald on Sunday

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