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Anti-doping in Sport

Volume 464: debated on Tuesday 9 October 2007

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Claire Ward.]

This is the second time that there has been a debate on the Floor of the House about the case of my constituent Mr. Paul Edwards. The previous debate was held in May 2002 by my predecessor, Mr. Andrew Hunter. In that debate, Mr. Hunter most precisely and eloquently put forward to the then Minister for Sport, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), the case of my constituent Mr. Edwards, who was banned from competing in athletics for the rest of his life as a result of a drugs test in June 1997.

In that debate Mr. Hunter detailed deep concerns about the validity of the tests that had been undertaken. In his response, the then Minister came forward with some practical and helpful suggestions about procedures that my constituent could follow to have his case reviewed and try to ensure a satisfactory outcome. The fact that we are here again, some five years on from that debate, suggests that the course of action put forward by the then Minister has not brought the matter to a satisfactory conclusion. However, I hope that the Minister today will follow in his predecessor’s footsteps, by responding positively to the debate and again offering some practical advice and support for my constituent, so that we can end almost a decade of uncertainty surrounding the case.

I asked for this debate because in September 2005 new and critical information was obtained by my constituent under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. When examined by six independent toxicological experts, that information confirmed that there were clear grounds to call for a re-examination of the 1997 decision to ban Paul Edwards from competing in athletics. This newly disclosed evidence was never considered as part of the original disciplinary hearings, or of the appeal. I wrote to the then Minister asking him to outline the procedure that my constituent should follow in the United Kingdom to ensure that the new evidence could be assessed, so that a view could be taken based on the strength of the evidence as to whether the case could be reopened.

In his letter of 9 May 2006, the then Minister said that I should write on my constituent’s behalf to the International Association of Athletics Federations—the IAAF—to ask for an appeal. Indeed, the Minister indicated that he understood that the case was already under review. I followed his advice and duly wrote to the IAAF. Some time later—I have to say that it took about three months—I received a reply from Mr. Pierre Weiss, the general secretary of the IAAF, stating that there were no provisions under IAAF rules to allow for the reopening of Mr. Edwards’ case, even though there was the potential for important new evidence to be presented.

I was somewhat surprised by that response, given that the then Minister had clearly stated that the procedure for seeking such an appeal was to write directly to the IAAF. I therefore wrote to him again, but I did not receive an explanation of why the initial guidance from the Department appeared to be incorrect. This time, however, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that I contact the World Anti-Doping Agency—the organisation responsible for monitoring the appeals processes of international federations, including the IAAF—which I duly did. The reply that I received from the agency stated that issues such as this were simply not within its jurisdiction.

So I contacted the then Minister’s office for a third time, explaining that his new suggestion, too, had proved somewhat unfruitful. Again, I did not really get an explanation of why it had not worked, but it was suggested that I contact the Court of Arbitration for Sport to ask whether it might review the case. Dutifully, I did so, and in February this year—about a year and four months after my constituent had uncovered important, previously undisclosed evidence—I received a reply stating that the court was not in a position to review its own decisions, and that the only entity entitled to review the case and possibly reduce the sanction was, yes, the IAAF, the organisation that had stated that it had no provision in its rules to reopen cases that it viewed as closed, even when there was new evidence.

After almost two years of correspondence—and, some might say, going round in circles—I have come to the House today simply to ask the Minister to clarify once and for all the UK procedures for dealing with cases such as my constituent’s, in which compelling new evidence is available that might call into question previous decisions to ban sportsmen and women from taking part in competition.

The Minister who is here today, in his role at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, is responsible for ensuring that we have a workable anti-doping policy for the UK, and within that, the disciplinary procedures and appeals processes that are an important part of the process set out in the world anti-doping code and set out locally in the UK national anti-doping policy adopted in May 2005. Although the implementation and management of that policy is, rightly, delegated to UK Sport, the responsibility to ensure that UK athletes and other sportsmen and women have fair and transparent access to drugs monitoring, enforcement and disciplinary procedure rests with the Government.

My constituent Mr. Edwards has had the freedom to compete in athletics taken away from him for the rest of his life. Competing in sport was the centre of his life, and receiving a lifetime ban has had a profound effect on both him and his family. The new evidence that he obtained in September 2005 has never been reviewed by a sporting body or considered by any tribunal, although it has been carefully scrutinised by six independent toxicology experts. All six agree that the information provides firm grounds to require the 1997 decision to ban Paul Edwards from competing in athletics for life to be reconsidered.

It is not for me, or for this House, to judge the merits of that evidence, but it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that a fair, transparent and equitable appeals process is available to athletes such as Paul Edwards. I am therefore hoping that the Minister will outline the procedure that should be open to Mr. Edwards to ensure that this new evidence can be fully considered. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how best to proceed on this matter. What can the Minister take to our representatives on the International Association of Athletics Federations to help review the way in which these procedures affect UK athletes?

The UK will be hosting the Olympic games in less than 60 months’ time, so the Government have a duty to ensure that we have in place an open and workable procedure for dealing with drugs and doping in sport, including a transparent appeals process. It would appear that European bodies such as the IAAF, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Court of Arbitration for Sport do not operate as the Minister’s office and his Department think they do. If that is the case, can the Minister be really sure that the UK system is as fair to athletes like Paul Edwards as I am sure he wants it to be?

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) on securing the debate. I also congratulate her on her steadfastness in representing her constituent, Mr. Edwards, which she has done to a very great extent. I want to assure her from the start that I have looked into the case in great detail. As she said, there is a lot of correspondence and many issues have been raised previously. I shall discuss the Government’s overall position on doping in sport. Tonight provides a great opportunity to consider it in detail. I will come to the particular case of Mr. Edwards at the end.

Doping undermines the integrity of sport. To those watching sport and to the young people seeking to emulate them, athletes are seen as role models. It is very important to me that those people believe that their role models are competing in an event, race or game free from the spectre of drugs.

The anti-doping movement is entering a particularly important time, with the coming months pivotal in the development of the future landscape of anti-doping internationally. November will see the culmination of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s wholesale review of its world anti-doping code at the world conference on doping in sport. I look forward to representing the UK Government there in Madrid. That conference will draw to a close 18 months of intensive consultation during which WADA has—successfully, in my opinion—sought the views of Governments, anti-doping organisations, international federations covering all of the Olympic and Paralympic sports and the majority of professional sports from all around the world.

That has been no mean feat. I know that a huge amount of work went on here in the UK to ensure that the views of this Government, UK Sport and our national governing bodies were listened to by WADA, and I am pleased to say that, on a number of issues, it has done that. I pay tribute to UK Sport’s hard work in consulting all the governing bodies. We have come a long way in a short time, and the House should remember that WADA came into being only eight years ago in November 1999. The importance of this review cannot be underestimated.

The first world anti-doping code was introduced back in 2004 and, at that time, it represented a watershed in the fight against those who would seek to cheat by doping. This review gives us the opportunity significantly to improve the code, based on the knowledge that sports’ governing bodies and anti-doping organisations have developed after three years of practical implementation.

Alongside the code, a number of other significant developments are worthy of mention. The first is the ratification and coming into force of the UNESCO convention against doping in sport. The genesis of the convention was the Copenhagen declaration, signed by Governments at the last world conference on doping in sport in 2003, signalling their support for the measures being taken to harmonise the approach to doping in sport through the code. The UK is signatory to the Copenhagen declaration and was one of the first countries formally to ratify the UNESCO convention in April 2006. This was a legally binding document, mandating Governments to take action to fight doping. The convention came into effect in record time, again showing the priority afforded to anti-doping by this Government and other Governments around the world. The United Kingdom is already compliant with the convention, but, as the hon. Lady said, our important role as host nation for the London 2012 games requires us to be sure that we are doing all we can to stop athletes from doping, and to be seen as a world leader.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Claire Ward.]

I have met ministerial colleagues at the Home Office to discuss ways of strengthening our approach across government. I look forward to a further meeting on 7 November with a range of colleagues to seek ways of making further progress.

Anti-doping has been the subject of two Select Committee inquiries—by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in 2004 and by the Science and Technology Committee in 2006. The Government welcome the valuable contributions that those Committees have made to consideration of the UK’s approach to doping in sport.

Let me return to the subject of the code. That brings us to the athlete’s right to a fair and transparent hearing, and the right of that athlete to appeal. Those rights are clearly embodied in the code and, to my mind, that is absolutely as it should be. The code and the supporting international standards provide a blueprint setting out the roles and responsibilities of the various agencies involved when an athlete is found to have committed a doping offence. It is within that framework that the United Kingdom’s national anti-doping policy has been developed by UK Sport, supported by a set of model rules that stipulate the clear process under which athletes who are found to have taken a doping substance can expect their cases to progress.

I am aware that in the case of the hon. Lady’s constituent, Mr. Edwards, his doping violations occurred before those model rules were in place. However, I also understand that the processes to which he was subject in accordance with his right to a hearing and an appeal complied with the requirements set out in the model rules. In Mr. Edwards’s case, the evidence was subject to an independent review and a disciplinary hearing was conducted by the then British Athletics Federation in 1998, followed by an appeal hearing by the BAF in 2000. Those processes were in line with the requirements.

Mr. Edwards has seen three further reviews of his case—by UK Sport in 2002, 2004 and 2005, drawing on advice from those with scientific expertise in the area of anti-doping—and the International Amateur Athletics Federation considered his case in 2006. Moreover, as the hon. Lady said, the case was debated in the House back in 2002, in another Adjournment debate. I shall do my best not to repeat what was said then, as it is already on record.

May I remind the Minister of the letter that I received from his colleague on 9 May 2006? Far from suggesting that the door had shut, it suggested that the case was still under review, and advised me on how to support my constituent. I understand what the Minister is saying, but it seems to be slightly at odds with what his colleague told me.

As I told the hon. Lady earlier, I have examined the case in great detail. I am trying to set out clearly what we believe to be the route that must be followed. She is right about the way in which some organisations have dealt with the issue, but I am talking about what happened in Mr. Edwards’s case. It is a complex case, which has been the subject of a great deal of correspondence between the hon. Lady and her predecessor and my predecessor.

The hon. Lady has referred to the scientific evidence and arguments behind the case. I am not a scientist—I do not know whether the hon. Lady is—and we have to rely on the experts who examine such cases day in, day out. My role as a Minister responsible for sport is to ensure that the correct structures, programmes and processes are in place to ensure that our athletes compete in a drug-free environment, and, when that is found not to be the case, to ensure that they have recourse to a fair appeal. Fundamental to any anti-doping programme are three key elements: robustness, consistency and fairness. In looking at Mr. Edwards’s case, I am convinced that those three elements have been met. As the hon. Lady will have heard my predecessor say, it is not the role of the Minister for Sport to intervene in individual doping cases. When an athlete is found to be in violation of the anti-doping code, it is the responsibility of that athlete's national governing body and the international federation to decide what action to take, in line with the procedures set out in the world anti-doping code, and in the UK's national anti-doping policy. Again, I understand that the correct processes have been followed in this case. I have no remit to act outside of those, as has been set out in my previous correspondence. There is no mechanism by which we can become involved.

In the last letter from my predecessor, dated 23 January 2007, the advice given was that the Court of Arbitration for Sport would be the final route of appeal for the hon. Lady’s constituent. That advice was also given in the previous Adjournment debate in 2002. Therefore, I am a little surprised that Mr. Edwards has not taken the opportunity to go to that court.

I thank the Minister for giving way; he is being very generous. He may recall from my earlier remarks that I wrote to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to ask whether it was able to review the case. It said that it was not within its jurisdiction to do that. In the letter that I received from his predecessor, the indication was that the process is to go to the International Association of Athletics Federations, but the IAAF does not agree with the Government that that is the process. Going back to the Minister’s earlier remarks about there being procedures in place, it seems not to be a strong argument. I am not sure that he is right.

I am trying to go through the matter in great detail. I have asked for the details of the case to see what could be done and if anything needed to be done, but I have been assured that the processes that have been in place have given Mr. Edwards every opportunity under the existing codes and guidelines to put his case. I am advised that the Court of Arbitration for Sport is the final route. Clearly, the hon. Lady has had a different view from the court. If we need to pursue that, I give her the undertaking that that is what we will do to clarify the route. It is not for a Minister to act on behalf of an individual. I understand that it is not just a letter that needs to be sent; the details of the appeal have to be sent, too. We are saying that that is the final route that Mr. Edwards has to go through. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Lady. If it is not, she and I will have to get together. I am happy to do that to sort out the final route, if that is appropriate.

Fairness for all athletes must be the fundamental principle of any anti-doping system. From what I have been told, I am confident that Mr. Edwards has received fair treatment, notwithstanding the final appeal. The reviews that have taken place have been concluded to my satisfaction in terms of the detail that has been given to me. I believe that it is now time to move on to face future challenges. Clearly, with the route that I have outlined, that will be the final act, as it were, in terms of what we are able to do.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the case. I hope that I have clarified to some extent some of the issues that she faces. I will work with her to clarify the final route of appeal.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes past Ten o’clock.