Minister under fire over ‘soft’ drugs call

The sports minister came under fire last night for suggesting that athletes should not be banned for using recreational drugs such as cocaine and cannabis.

Richard Caborn’s call was condemned by the head of the World Anti-Doping Authority (Wada), Dick Pound, who warned that even if such drugs did not improve performance they did present a health risk.

The Conservatives also described his remarks as “illogical and damaging” and called on culture secretary Tessa Jowell to disown them.

There have been a number of high-profile drug cases in sport in recent years, including those of footballers Shaun Newton, who was banned from West Ham for seven months, and Adrian Mutu, who was sacked from Chelsea, both for taking cocaine.

Giving evidence to the science and technology select committee yesterday, Mr Caborn suggested it should up to the police to deal with sportsmen and women caught taking recreational drugs, provided they were not taken to enhance performance.

“We are not in the business of policing society. We are in the business of rooting out cheats in sport. That’s what Wada’s core function is about,” Mr Caborn told the MPs.

He said the authority’s code on drugs was based on three principles – whether they enhanced an athlete’s performance, were harmful to the individual or harmful to the sport.

“I would give far more weight to the performance-enhancing of the three. And I would also look very seriously at the list, to take off what I believe are some of the social drugs,” he said.

But Mr Pound reacted angrily to the suggestion, saying: “Apart from the fact there is a health risk, they [recreational drugs] are contrary to the spirit of sport.”

“There is a body of thought that there is not a demonstrably high health risk and that there are few sports where there would be an advantage in taking cannabis.

“But who’s to say that by taking cannabis in a sport like gymnastics, where there is a fear element, you are not giving yourself an advantage by being more relaxed?”

Shadow sports minister Hugh Robertson added: “Richard Caborn’s comments are wrong and appear directly to contradict UK sport’s very clear stance on drug taking by elite athletes.

“The performance of an elite athlete in any sport will be affected by taking recreational drugs and top sportsmen and women act as role models for many young people. I hope that Tessa Jowell will disown these illogical and damaging comments.”