The British Government are considering the possibility of making doping a criminal offence. Tracey Crouch, who became Sports Minister in May of this year, told the BBC that she has instructed her officials to look into it.
"It is an interesting idea," Crouch told the BBC. "I've asked officials in my department to have a look at the issue… We will make a judgement based on that in the near future."
It is a turnaround from two months ago when - following the Athletics doping scandal in August - Crouch said that the current sanctions imposed were strict enough. "UKAD do an excellent job in terms of education and awareness and I have confidence in their ability to assess athletes in terms of their cleanness but I want to make sure we do look at all the options going forward."
Countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Spain, France and Italy have already criminalised doping, plus several more in Europe. In 2010, the manager of former cyclist Bernhard Kohl was handed a 15-month prison sentence for blood doping and selling doping products. In 2006, Liberty Seguros manager Manolo Saiz was arrested, among others, on doping charges.
The news comes just days after the World Anti-Doping Agency spoke out against making doping a criminal act. WADA said it didn't believe that further sanctions for athletes outside of what is already set down in their own code. "WADA does not wish to interfere in the sovereign right of any government to make laws for its people," they wrote in a press release issued on Sunday.
"However the Agency believes that the sanction process for athletes, which includes a right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), is a settled process, accepted by all governments of the world, and further that the sanctions for a doping violation by an athlete, which now includes a longer, four-year period of ineligibility, have been globally accepted by sport and government. As such, the Agency does not believe that doping should be made a criminal offence for athletes."
WADA did accept, however, that the act of criminalising doping had been effective in catching support personnel, particularly in Italy where there have been a number of large scale police investigations. "The Agency acknowledges that countries that have introduced criminal legislation for doping have been effective in catching athlete support personnel that possess or traffic performance enhancing drugs. It seems that, given the threat of being imprisoned, these personnel are often more cooperative with anti-doping authorities.
"We have seen evidence of this in Italy, for example, with a large number of Italian nationals currently listed as having 'disqualifying status' under the Prohibited Association clause of the Code."