For the first time, professional snooker players have been drug tested out of competition.
UK Sport has confirmed that five such tests took place from July to September of this year.
“This is the first time we’ve done it in snooker, although out of competition testing is nothing new for us,” a UK Sport spokesman told me.
He added that the WPBSA “can request out of competition testing whereas in competition testing is conducted on a random basis.”
Put bluntly, this means that if the WPBSA suspect a player to be taking an illegal substance they can have them tested.
“World Snooker has the authority to test players in and out of competition in accordance with our anti-doping policy,” a WPBSA spokesman told me.
Indeed it does.
And indeed it should.
Any professional sport should ensure that its house is fully in order and free from speculation about the behaviour of its participants.
Snooker was one of the first sports to implement a drugs testing programme in 1985.
It followed lurid newspaper reports that Kirk Stevens was a cocaine user, later confirmed by Stevens himself. He never failed a test at a tournament, though.
There have been relatively few instances of players failing drugs tests. When they have they tend to be either through taking a cold cure and not checking the contents or through using social drugs such as cannabis.
Famously, Ronnie O’Sullivan was stripped of the 1998 Irish Masters title after testing positive for cannabis during the event.
Out of competition testing may turn up further instances of players using illegal substances between tournaments – stop and test 100 people at random in the street and you’ll find at least three or four who have recently used drugs.
But do drugs enhance performance in snooker?
In his autobiography, O’Sullivan writes of how he was taking Prozac when he won the 2001 World Championship.
This is not a banned substance. It was medically prescribed and I would argue enabled O’Sullivan’s performance rather than enhanced it.
Similarly in the 1980s Neal Foulds was unfairly dragged into a row over Beta Blockers, which he had been medically prescribed and perfectly entitled to take.
I can’t think of many substances a player could take between tournaments to enhance how they play in it.
To be very blunt, snorting a line of cocaine a fortnight before playing in a tournament is not going to improve a player’s performance in it but it is, of course, illegal.
There is not a drugs problem in snooker. The amount of positive tests over the years is far smaller than in most other sports.
However, I think out of competition testing in snooker makes sense as it is commonplace in other sports.
I do not know whether the WPBSA asked UK Sport to test specific players or whether the five tests done so far were based on random selection.
I asked the WPBSA to clarify the process for out of competition testing but have received no reply.
In contrast, UK Sport could not have been more helpful. Their spokesman told me: “the governing body can request that we test a player. There is no need for the player to be notified in advance.”
In this case, the WPBSA must ensure players know that if drugs testers turn up they should co-operate. ‘Failure to comply’ is considered to be as serious an offence as failing a test.
The British 400m runner Christine Ohuruogu missed three tests and received a ban, although she later won gold medals at the World Championship and Beijing Olympics.
One thing is for sure: should any player fail a test or fail to take a test we will find out.
The WPBSA disciplinary process is cloaked in unnecessary secrecy but UK Sport publishes all its drug findings in quarterly reports.