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UK Anti-Doping calls on broadcasters and sponsors

UK Anti-Doping boss Nicole Sapstead wants broadcasters and sponsors to invest in clean sport to protect themselves from the risk of scandal and restore public confidence in elite performance.

According to research commissioned by the agency, nearly half of all British adults believe doping is widespread in top-level sport.

Carried out by ComRes, the poll also found that nearly two thirds of the 2,027 adults questioned last month said recent coverage of high-profile cases has had a negative impact on their trust in sport's integrity.

Speaking to Press Association Sport, Sapstead admitted these numbers were "alarming" and "damning" but said she took some reassurance from the findings that six out of 10 adults believe Britain has a stricter anti-doping system than elsewhere and nearly two in three think sport is cleaner in Britain than in other countries.

But the UKAD chief executive said she would like to see both of those figures much higher and that will take more money than the agency's current budget of just over £7million, of which more than £5million comes from government.

"The question of more money for anti-doping should not just be one for the various sports - I would also ask the question of sponsors, broadcasters and anybody who is financially involved," said Sapstead.

"If you are going to stake your brand and reputation on something, wouldn't you want some reassurance that what you are investing in is compliant with the rules? It should be a part of their due diligence but I don't think enough sponsors are asking that question.

"But if they are asking that question, my guess is they are not going to get the reassurance they need very often. That is when they should come to us.

"Doping should be on their risk registry and they should do anything they can to mitigate the threat of reputation damage - it is very clear to me that we cannot keep expecting the public purse to foot the bill for clean sport."

As well as more money, Sapstead would also like greater powers to investigate, as anti-doping has become about so much more than collecting and testing samples. Many of the most famous cases in recent years owe much more to old-fashioned police work, or investigative journalism, than laboratories.

Sapstead said one obvious improvement in this area would be the ability to quickly follow up leads on rogue coaches or doctors that are often held up by data protection laws.

"We often just get a name and it would be very helpful if we could find out if this person is registered with a sport so we can get a number or address - this should be a condition of their licence to operate within that sport," she said.

"But if we get more powers we would need more money to be able to use them - so I would always take more money."

Set up as an independent body in 2009, UKAD has been through a particularly busy and, at times, bruising period.

Having taken on the responsibility of helping the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to rebuild Russia's discredited drug-testing system early last year, UKAD lost a highly-charged case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport against British cycling star Lizzie Deignan over her missed tests in the build-up to the Rio Olympics and then started a long and expensive investigation into alleged wrongdoing within British Cycling and Team Sky.

That investigation is ongoing, although it is understood to be nearing a conclusion, but the postponed case against former world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, another highly contentious inquiry, remains bogged down in legal disputes.

There is also the growing threat of cyber attacks from foreign hackers trying to discredit the entire anti-doping system, as occurred last week when the so-called Fancy Bears released stolen data from the International Association of Athletics Federations.

UKAD's Russian intervention, however, is a more positive story, as the revamped Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) is getting closer to regaining its WADA stamp of approval.

Sapstead believes this is the kind of work UKAD should talk about more often so the public can "see the full picture" and this is why it has launched National Clean Sport Week, a series of educational projects around the country from July 10-17th.

"I don't think the public knows about all the positive work we are doing and I think we have to get better at telling those stories, telling people that we are here and that our athletes are tested," she said.

"Of course, if we never had any adverse outcomes, people would question our effectiveness and the reality is bad news sells, we all know that.

"But what I would like us to do more of is filling the gaps between scandals with the more positive stories about our work."